We Are Doomed by John Derbyshire - Excerpt

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To his fellow conservatives, John Derbyshire makes a plea: Don't be seduced by this nonsense about "the politics of hope." Skepticism, pessimism, and suspicion of happy talk are the true characteristics of an authentically conservative temperament. And from Hobbes and Burke through Lord Salisbury and Calvin Coolidge, up to Pat Buchanan and Mark Steyn in our own time, these beliefs have kept the human race from blindly chasing its utopian dreams right off a cliff.

Transcript of We Are Doomed by John Derbyshire - Excerpt

  • ^WE AREDOOMEDRECLAIMING CONSERVATIVE PESSIMISM

    by

    JOHN DERBYSHIRE

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  • Copyright 2009 by John Derbyshire

    All rights reserved.Published in the United States by Crown Forum, an imprint of the

    Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.www.crownpublishing.com

    crown forum with colophon is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.

    Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

    Black Sparrow Books: Excerpt from Patriotic Poem from Emerald Ice: Selected Poems19621987 by Diane Wakoski, copyright 1988 by Diane Wakoski. Reprinted by

    permission of Black Sparrow Books, an imprint of David R. Godine, Publisher.

    The Overlook Press: Excerpt from There Are Bad Times Just Around theCorner from The Lyrics of Nol Coward by Nol Coward, copyright 1965 by

    Nol Coward. Reprinted by permission of The Overlook Press, New York, NY.

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available upon request.

    978-0-307-40958-4

    Printed in the United States of America

    Design by Lauren Dong

    1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

    First Edition

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  • CONTENTS

    1. A Call to Pessimism 1

    2. Diversity: Nothing to Celebrate 14

    3. Politics: Show Business for Ugly People 40

    4. Culture: Pooped Out 62

    5. Sex: Surplus to Requirements 87

    6. Education: Yale or Jail 97

    7. Human Nature: Ask Your Aunt 134

    8. Religion: What Shall We Do to Be Saved? 158

    9. War: Invading the World 183

    10. Immigration: Inviting the World 199

    11. Foreigners: Inspecting the World 213

    12. The Economy: In Hock to the World 230

    13. The Audacity of Hopelessness 249

    Acknowledgments 263

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  • 16

    A CALL TO PESSIMISM

    The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but theheart of fools is in the house of mirth.

    Ecclesiastes 7:4

    THE POLIT ICS OF DESPAIR

    This book is addressed to American conservatives. Its argument isthat things are bad and getting worse for our movement, for our na-tion, and for our civilization. A large part of the reason they have got-ten so bad is that too many of us have fallen into foolishly utopianways of thinking.

    Those ways of thinking are false because they are too optimisticabout human nature and human affairs. The proper outlook of con-servatives, I shall argue, is a pessimistic one, at least so far as thethings of this world are concerned. We have been misled, and theconservative movement has been derailed, by legions of fools andposeurs wearing smiley-face masks. I aim to unmask them.

    I have both a diagnosis and a prognosis to offer. The diagnosis isthat conservatism has been fatally weakened by yielding to infantiletemptations: temptations to optimism, to wishful thinking, to happytalk, to cheerily preposterous theories about human beings and thehuman world.

    Thus weakened, conservatism can no longer provide the back-

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  • bone of cold realism that every organized society needs. Hence myprognosis; hence my title. We are doomed.

    By abandoning our properly pessimistic approach to the world,conservatives have helped bring about a state of affairs that thought-ful persons can only contemplate with pessimism. If wed held on tothe pessimistic outlook thats proper for our philosophy, the futuremight be brighter!

    This looks like a paradox, but really isnt, as Im using the wordpessimism in two slightly different senses: to indicate low expecta-tions of ones fellow men, and to name a belief about the probable fu-ture. If we expect too much of people, well be disappointed, and ourschemes will fail. Heady optimism about human nature leads directlyto disaster. To put it in the style of John Bunyans Pilgrims Progress:the Road of Denial leads to the Precipice of Destruction. Didnt thegreat utopian experiments of the twentieth century teach us that?Weve repeated those experimentsin a less brazen way, to be sure,but with the same inevitable result now coming upon us.

    By embracing a proper conservative pessimism, we may yet rescuesomething from the coming ruin. At the very least, by returning tocold reality after our recent detour into sunny fantasy, well put our-selves in the right frame of mind for our new life in the wilderness.

    The winning candidate in the 2008 presidential election pro-moted something called the politics of hope. Ladies and gentlemenof conservative inclination, I call you to our true, our proper home. Icall you to the politics of despair!

    THE SCOPE OF THE ARGUMENT

    This book is about what we have done to ourselves, to our society andculture. Its about the hopelessness of any project to save the situationbased on current conservatism, perverted as it has been by smiley-faceschemes of human improvement. Its about composing ourselves to atrue view of humanity and human affairs, so that we can get throughour individual destinies usefully and with maximum peace of mind inthe dark age to come, preserving as much as can be preserved. Who

    2 W E A R E D O O M E D

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  • knows? Once back in touch with truth, we might even see a revival ofreal conservatism: self-support, patriotism, limited government, feder-alism . . . though of course, I dont hold out much hope.

    Please be clear about the scope of the pessimism I urge on you.Dont mistake my thesis for any of those tabloid Chicken Little prog-nostications about particular economic, ecological, military, or cos-mic misfortunes we may be able to science our way out of.

    Have we reached Peak Oil? I dont know. (Neither, so far as I cangather from some extensive reading in this area, does anyone else.)Will global warming melt the polar ice caps? Sorry, I have no clue.Are suitcase nuclear weapons secreted in our cities awaiting a word ofcommand from some terrorist mastermind or malevolent dictator? I really couldnt say. Shall we fall to some plague, some runaway particle-physics experiment, some asteroid strike or other celestialmishap? Or will human nature itself disappear into a singularityaround the middle of this century, as futurologist Ray Kurzweil pre-dicts? Beats my pair of jacks.

    My book is not primarily about any of those things, though speak-ing as a constitutional pessimist, Id lay odds that one or other ofthem is lurking just round the historical corner. Things are bad andgetting worse, any fool can see that, but I pin my dark banner to noone particular prediction. Despair should be large and general, notpetty and particular.

    Nor does my scope extend beyond this human state and thisearthly life. Possibly there are other states and other lives. Thoughno longer an adherent of any religion, I maintain an open mind onthese issues. They are in any case outside the purview of this book.Im writing about the communal arrangements of a particular socialmammal on a particular planet. Believe what you like about mattersbeyond that; this book isnt concerned with them.

    THE HAPPY PESSIMIST

    Thats all very well, you may say, but isnt pessimism enervating? Ifall is for the worst for us in this, the worst of all possible worlds, why

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  • bother? Why not sit around vegetating in a state of glum melancholia,like the angel in Drers ne engraving of that name?

    That would be to misunderstand the nature of a thoughtful, con-sidered pessimism. There is no necessary connection between a pes-simistic outlook and a melancholy temperament. At most Ill allowthat having a naturally glum disposition makes it easier to attain anunderstanding of human depravity, contrariety, mental incoherence,and imperfectibility. I myself do have such a disposition, and wontbe trying to hide behind any fake jollity. Later in this book, in fact, Ishall present some actual science suggesting that a glum melancholic isjust the person you want to go to for the truth about human affairs.Yet plenty of active, convivial, and useful people have a pessimisticoutlook. Some of them have done important things to improve theirsocieties and lift up their fellow men.

    Here are some of the gloomiest lines in all of English literature.They are by the poet Matthew Arnold:

    . . . the world, which seemsTo lie before us like a land of dreams,So various, so beautiful, so new,Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;And we are here as on a darkling plainSwept with confused alarms of struggle and ight,Where ignorant armies clash by night.

    Arnold was a witty and sociable man who loved sport and com-panionship. He worked hard at useful employment, was happily mar-ried to the same lady for thirty-seven years, and was a loving father tohis six children.

    Enervating? Not at all: Pessimism is bracing, like foul weather.(Arnold and I were both raised in England.)

    It also makes you a better person. Consider the optimist Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed human beings to be innately goodand who laid the philosophical foundations for progressive, child-

    4 W E A R E D O O M E D