Wrestling with Derbyshire’s Law

From: John Derbyshire To: Joey Kurtzman Subject: The Marx of the Anti-Semites Thanks, Joey. The title of my review, “The Marx of the Anti-Semites,” was thought up by one of the editors of The American Conservative, most probably Scott McConnell. … Read More

By / February 27, 2007

From: John Derbyshire To: Joey Kurtzman Subject: The Marx of the Anti-Semites

Thanks, Joey.

The title of my review, “The Marx of the Anti-Semites,” was thought up by one of the editors of The American Conservative, most probably Scott McConnell. My own suggested title for the piece was “The Jew Thing.” I don’t actually think that “The Marx of the Anti-Semites” is a very good title. Kevin MacDonald is a more conscientious social scientist than Marx was; and while dedicated antisemites use MacDonald for supporting evidence, they probably think him a bit of a milksop for not condemning the “Zionist Menace” more frankly and forcefully.

Working back through your questions: Yes, indeed I was, and am, “afraid of offending Jews.” Of course I am! For a person like myself, a Gentile who is a very minor name in American opinion journalism, desirous of ascending to some slightly less minor status, ticking off Jews is a very, very bad career strategy. I approached the MacDonald review with great trepidation. I gave my honest opinion, of course—the entire point of my line of work is to speak your mind and get paid for it—but I’ll admit I was nervous. Reading the review again, I think it shows.

I have somewhere formulated Derbyshire’s Law, which asserts that: “ANYTHING WHATSOEVER said by a Gentile about Jews will be perceived as antisemitic by someone, somewhere.” I have experienced the truth of this many times. Further, I have the awful example of William Cash before me. Cash wrote an article titled “Kings of the Deal” for The Spectator back in 1994, pointing out, in a perfectly inoffensive way (and, of course, quite truly) that lots of Hollywood movers and shakers are Jewish. You can google the consequences.

Why is Derbyshire’s Law true? I am not sure. It seems to me that Jews have a very strong preference that their Jewishness not be noticed. They want to “pass” as much as possible.

I remember thinking how strange it was, in that special issue of The New Republic devoted to The Bell Curve, that Leon Wieseltier should declare himself “repulsed” at the suggestion, by Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein, that Jews have higher intelligence than Gentiles.

“What an odd thing to say!” I thought to myself. “Why, if someone were to say that my common-ancestry group was smarter than others, I’d be proud!” But that was a very Jewish reaction on Wieseltier’s part. It’s not hard to see why this should be so, historically. Remember all those Jewish jokes with the punch line: “How many times do I have to tell you, Sammy—don’t make trouble!” I am sure Kevin MacDonald has an explanation for it somewhere, though I can’t recall a specific passage.

Were Scott McConnell and Pat Buchanan similarly fearful of being thought to have gotten the Jew Thing? I don’t know. You had better ask them yourself. I don’t know Pat very well, so I can’t speak to his case. I do know Scott quite well, and I am quite sure he is not an antisemite in any sense in which I understand the word. He does believe that Israel, via her lobbies in the USA, has a distorting effect on U.S. Middle Eastern policy; but that is (at least in Scott’s case) a geostrategic judgment, and not antisemitic.

What are we to think of MacDonald and his books? My own opinion of MacDonald is that he is a plain reactionary, at least so far as the Jews in America are concerned. Someone described George Orwell as being in love with 1910. I think MacDonald is in love with 1950—with the old Gentile supremacy, when Jews were kept out of golf clubs and hotels advertised themselves on their stationery as “near churches” (translation: No Jews, please). He doesn’t wish any harm to Jews, but I do think he resents the disproportionate representation of Jews in the media, the academy, and other elites.

I’ll confess I can’t work up any indignation about this. It’s not an unreasonable point of view, though I don’t share it—I still haven’t got the Jew Thing.

I like my elites to be as smart as possible, and, yes (sorry, Mr. Wieseltier), Jews in general are much smarter than the rest of us. Who doesn’t know it? But there is nothing more normal in human beings than group partiality—a fondness for one’s own group, and some measure of negativity toward other groups. That’s just human nature, and I do think it’s silly and counterproductive to pretend human nature is other than what it is.

We are social animals, and we organize ourselves into groups, and develop group loyalties and hostilities, as naturally as we eat and love. Nasty things happen if our groupiness gets out of control, of course; but you could say the same of eating and loving, or any other aspect of human nature. Here comes the need for ethical and legal systems, also very human.

I therefore approached MacDonald’s work dispassionately, interested to see what he has to say. I found his first two books tough-going, jargony, and not very well written. The Culture of Critique, though, is an interesting book, and I think he says things that are true, uncomfortably true—for example about the tendency, on the part of 20th-century Jewish-led intellectual movements like the Frankfurt School, to pathologize Gentile culture.

I was glad to see that someone had written about these things in a non-vituperative way. They are things that occur to any thoughtful American sooner or later, and it is satisfying to see someone who’s done a lot of reading on these topics, trying to fit them into some kind of coherent social-historical framework.

Is MacDonald’s analysis a correct one? Partly correct? Totally incorrect? Well, I guess we’ll get to that in our exchanges. I registered some of my doubts about The Culture of Critique in my review of it. I have since acquired some more. After reading Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century, for instance, I have a much clearer idea about the role of Jews in the Bolshevik revolution, a view at odds with much of what MacDonald says.

Before passing the ball back to you, though, Joey, I have a question. My eye was stopped dead by your use of the word Jewess. Is this word still current? I myself used it, in all innocence, about 10 years ago, and was sternly reprimanded by several people (this was on an email discussion group). Perhaps this is a word that Jews may use, but Gentiles may not? Give me a ruling, please.


John Derbyshire

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