I have a fear about John Derbyshire's new book, We Are Doomed -- that the over-the-top cheekiness of its title and the wit and snap of its prose will distract from its deadly serious thesis. n short, it's so funny that I'm afraid some people may not take it seriously. And this is a book that needs to be taken seriously.
I asked Derbyshire in a phone interview if he had similar worries. "Not really," he told me. His goal, he says, is partly a "subversive," one: to inject seemingly verboten ideas into the public argument. If those ideas need to be flavored with a little wit to help them go down easier, then so be it, he tells me.
Derbyshire has succeeded, sometimes brilliantly. We Are Doomed is a hilarious and heartbreaking read. Derb is merciless: He piles facts upon facts, argument upon argument, and then practically dares you to hope for the best. This does not mean he is always right, but more on that later.
First, let's be clear: We are not doomed in a metaphysical, planetary sense (at least, not yet). Derbyshire's book is not a "global warming will soon drown us all" apocalyptic screed. Rather, the "we" who are doomed refers to American conservatives (to whom the book is addressed) in the immediate, and more broadly to the American Republic itself.
The fate of the two are inextricably intertwined, for conservatism has been the ballast of our ship of state, anchoring it from the pull of the social democratic rocks upon which nearly every other Western nation has foundered. But in the Revelation according to St. Derb, the divine, cultural, demographic, and political trends are eroding the foundations of conservatism and thus endangering our republican institutions. And conservatives themselves are partly to blame: "A large part of the reason [things] have gotten so bad is that too many of us have fallen into foolishly utopian ways of thinking," Derbyshire reprimands.
Take immigration. Derb shows little respect for conservatives -- fools! he calls them -- who think we can sustain increased or even present levels of immigration and still survive as a nation. Supporters of generous immigration policy (liberal and conservative) often point to earlier waves of immigrants, most of whom assimilated with great success. True, Derb counters, but then he ticks off the reasons why that is a false comparison. Earlier immigrants came mostly from European countries with a shared Western heritage; newly arrived immigrants were separated from their homelands by a vast and dangerous ocean; there were then plenty of manual labor jobs available for low-skilled arrivals; and America in those days had as yet no welfare regime, but did boast a robust and confident Western identity. All of these factors gave earlier immigrants little choice but to assimilate.
That was then, and this is now, Derb reminds us. Today's immigrants come largely from south of the Rio Grande. They can -- and do -- travel freely to their home countries and back through our entirely porous border. There is, in addition, "a diminishing number of low skilled jobs" in present day America for immigrants. And of course, "immigrants who fail here nowadays have no incentive to go home ... the welfare state will care for them."
These and other factors discourage assimilation, and in fact contribute to its opposite -- what Derbyshire calls absimilation, or the tendency for succeeding generations to become less and less assimilated. The consequences of these trends, he tells us, could be catastrophic -- first for conservatism, because Hispanics generally are more inclined to support big-government socialism and its variants; and secondly for the United States, which Derb feels "more likely than not" will eventually "cease to exist as a nation-state because of ethnic conflicts."
Derbyshire is perhaps most incendiary when he turns his unforgiving pen to the subject of race. Earlier this year, one may recall, Attorney General Eric Holder called America a "nation of cowards" for failing to honestly discuss race. Fine, Derbyshire says, taking up the challenge -- then let's talk about it: "Ice People (white and East Asian) parents will simply not send their children to schools with student bodies that are majority Sun People (black and Hispanic)," he writes bluntly. Why? "Because Sun People kids are, in the broad generality, unacademic and unruly." It's hard to imagine Mr. Holder appreciating Derbyshire's candor.
And then there is the Iraq War, which Derbyshire initially supported but now laments. In his book, he lambastes democracy-installation efforts in the Middle East as a dangerous, utopian fantasy. In our conversation, I asked him if, in the event that a peaceful democratic government takes root in Mesopotamia, the Iraq War will have been worth it. "No," he tells me. "It's none of our business what government they have." Derbyshire would have preferred to take out Saddam and then install another, more friendly dictator in his stead -- the so-called "whack-a-mole" strategy.
Here I think Derbyshire is engaging in some fantastical thinking of his own. The average nation can perhaps afford to ignore the governments of other countries, but the United States is no average nation. As the only superpower, the governmental system of every nation is profoundly our business -- democratic governments pose less of a threat to our national security, and so it is very much in our national interest that more countries than not have such governments. And in spite of the astronomical costs of the effort to help democracy take hold in Iraq, it may well be more cost-effective in the long run than to keep going back endlessly to smack down whatever thug is currently in charge whenever he gets out of line.
Derbyshire rightly laments the depressing sameness of headlines regarding the Middle East throughout the long decades of the last century. He does not seem to consider, however, the possibility that Bush's approach -- the forcible intrusion of a competing political meme into the autocratic Arab swamp -- may have been exactly what was needed to break that cycle of war and conflict. Certainly the whack-a-mole approach has been tried time and again, with an utter failure to produce stability for the region or safety for those outside it.
Still, whatever happens in Iraq, Derbyshire's larger thesis is utterly correct: American conservatism is doomed, and with it our Republic. Who knows, though...maybe the Republic that he sees passing away never really existed at all, save in the minds of conservatives...and in the intentions of our Founding Fathers.
Now that's pessimism.
Matt Patterson is a National Review Institute Washington Fellow and the author of "Union of Hearts: The Abraham Lincoln & Ann Rutledge Story." His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.