The conservative blogosphere thinks of itself as the zone of true believers (don’t we all), a ragtag crew ranged against the hated RINO, against Washington, the moderate squish, and Babylon beyond. On first glance it would appear that this spat of Derbyshire (and his defenders) vs. the NR editoriat follows that pattern. I don’t think this is correct, exactly.
I think there is a different kind of cleavage happening here; it’s not a continuum of right vs. center, of the-real-thing vs those-who-compromise. When it comes down to it I think we’re looking at a genuine ideological disagreement. Derbyshire, for NR, was always a representative of a different kind of conservative, not just “more than” but different from average American Republicanism. “Derb” held a different set of ideas that are both Jacobite-ancient and internet-au-courant.
As in all things the borders are fluid, but let me sketch out two camps: one is Americanist. This is the basic National Review position, the average Republican position, the average sentiment of the red American. It’s conservative, but still sees itself as fighting for and working within the bounds of America’s founding mythology: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” you know the rest.
Derbyshire wasn’t ever on that team. His atheism ought to have been the tip-off. He played in a different pool. His work, and the work of people who write for the non-NR places he turned up, argued explicitly against the bounds of Americanism as an imperative of civilization: rights and equality sound very nice, but it’s all fake, and we are being destroyed. The article that got him fired is a straightforward argument against the Declaration. How else can you summarize it but “it is self-evident to me that men aren’t equal at all, now behave accordingly.” This is all he’s ever written.
As I’ve said before, there is a second conservatism haunting the internet. Look for Derbyshire’s name and you’ll find it. For a sympathetic view of it, take a look at ex-pat right-wing philosopher Nick Land’s praise and appraisal of one “Mencius Moldbug,” another name you will surely run into if you venture into the deep reacto-sphere.
Land calls this set of ideas “The Dark Enlightenment”; let’s just call them the Anti-Enlightenment. To give you some flavor, Land adopts the Moldbug term “Cathedral” to stand in for the great enemy of liberty and truth: it’s not just the State (as your Austrians would have it), nor Feminism (as your PUA political-misogynists would say) nor Equalism (your scientific racists’ bete noire) — the Cathedral is all these things, and more besides. It’s the whole of Western culture basically since the Reformation, including democracy. The modern democratic-national-Westphalian order is a sick, evil cult. “MM” is the at the outer edge of this line of thinking to be sure, but he’s a good enough example, and the lines connecting these people are short. The rejection goes very deep.
(I could write a whole post on Land; though I’ve never read any of his books, I’ve followed his online output for years now. If you’re a fan of Simon Reynolds, you may have run into Land, in a very different context.)
So what’s it worth, to point out how wrong Derbyshire is? To people of this camp, a thorough “owning” like this one from the liberal internet is nothing of the kind, just a weak prayer, another profession of the articles of the Declaration’s faith.
But curiously we can see the conservative disowning of Derbyshire take a basically similar shape: reasserting basic Americanism against the Anti-Enlightenment. You can see it from conservatives as hard as Andrew McCarthy, (who gives a little bit to Derbyshire’s argument):
We believe in the equal dignity and presumption of equal decency toward every person — no matter what race, no matter what science tells us about comparative intelligence, and no matter what is to be gleaned from crime statistics…To hold or teach otherwise is to prescribe the disintegration of a pluralistic society, to undermine the aspiration of E Pluribus Unum.
…and James Antle:
A small but growing number of people on the right seem to be embracing the idea that if these liberal observations [about race] are false, then the exact opposite of them must be true: interracial harmony is effectively impossible; affirmative action harms whites in exactly the same way Jim Crow harmed blacks; the era that gave rise to the civil rights movement wasn’t that bad; we are all at imminent risk of being attacked by predominantly black flash mobs; white racism doesn’t exist (proponents of this last bit seem divided on the question of whether it should exist). Needless to say, these views are also obvious nonsense. It will be hard for us to live together as Americans if we constantly believe the worst about each other.
A while ago I wrote that this other kind of rightwinger — the younger, internet-bred Derbyshire — is endlessly fascinating to me; getting an accurate judgment of their strength is a big preoccupation of mine. (It’s worth noting that this second camp of semi-underground arch-reactionaries is not synonymous with “the gutter” of hard-right internet rabblerousing. The Breitbart organs have come out in support of Derbyshire’s ouster. Mostly.)
In recent years they have scored a notable political-rhetorical success: the “alpha/beta” male typology beloved of antifeminists and evo-psych poonhounds has firmly entrenched itself in the conservative political internet and beyond. Derbyshire’s ejection suggests, at least, that the Dark Enlightenment will have limited success on overt racism; arguments on that score will have to be kept to a Murray/Hanson standard of long-winded classiness.
But my suspicion is, in the long term, little by little, the Anti-Enlightenment is winning on the right.
Depressing food for thought! (Though I suspect that the Internet presents a misleading impression of the size and scope of this particular band of creeps, just as it does for bog-standard Ron Paul cultists.)
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