John Derbyshire


John Derbyshire is a conservative writer best known for being a contributer to National Review.  He’s the author of a novel entitled Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, four books on science/mathematics and co-author of one on sailing.  His latest is We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism, scheduled for release September 29th.  See the my review here.  Mr. Derbyshire kindly agreed to an interview with HBD Books

You started out as a computer programmer.  That’s certainly not a typical background for a political writer.  How did you end up working at National Review?


I’m a chronic writer, always been writing something — Letters to the Editor, for example.  If you are like that, eventually you will get stuff published.  By the time I reached that point, I was a middle-aged conservative living in the USA, so NR was my natural home.


You weren’t always a race realist.  Can you talk about your journey from a sort of soft culturalism to biologism?


It was gradual.  Landmarks were reading Jared Taylor’s Paved with Good Intentions in the mid-1990s (and becoming an American Renaissance subscriber shortly afterwards), and being signed up in Steve Sailer’s Human Bio-Diversity listserv later that decade, and hobnobbing with actual biologists, anthropologists, etc.  Then a lot of reading and cogitation.  My scientific interests prior to that had been entirely physical and mathematical.


 Did you hesitate before coming forward at NRO with your views on the black/white achievement gap?


No.  I have always said exactly what I think at NR/NRO, and they have hardly ever spiked me.  (Every contributor gets spiked some of the time.)


Did you ever feel that your job was in danger?


Yes, but not for race realism.


Why do you think you continue to be a regular NR contributor when other politically incorrect thinkers like Peter Brimelow and Steve Sailer were, at least according to the alternative right, purged?


No idea.  I’ve heard all the theories about what happened in 1997, but don’t know which one is true.  I was hoping Rick Brookhiser’s latest book would shed some light, but it really doesn’t — Rick is too much of a gent.


That change of editors and direction (i.e. away from strong articles on immigration policy, and articles with an openness towards human bio-diversity topics) seems to have been driven by whims of Bill Buckley’s.  He was still very much in charge at that time, even though no longer editor, and inclined to sudden changes of favor, as Rick’s book does make clear.


Bill must always have had his doubts about the O’Sullivan/Brimelow/Sailer immigration line.  He was sentimentally inclined to Hispanics — his first language was Spanish, remember –and always sensitive to the feelings of his Jewish peers, who of course were all fanatically pro-immigration.  The story favored by paleos — that Bill was just taking out extra “Jew insurance” — seems to me simple-minded.  You have to factor in his age, character, part-Spanish childhood, friendships, and lifelong strategy towards ideas and people he perceived, with varying degrees of accuracy, to be in or beyond the outer borderlands of conservatism.


I myself don’t actually write much about race and HBD topics.  I am engaged (for a couple of years now!) in porting over all my web archives from the horrid old FrontPage format to something crisper and more manageable.  I have written VB (Visual Basic-computer science terminology-RH) routines to do the grunt work, but they don’t catch everything, and each piece needs to be hand-polished. So I am reading my way through my entire output since the 1990s.  Very little of it even touches on these topics.  Yes, I am a race-realist.  It’s not a big part of what I want to write about, though.


In Doomed you talk about meeting a conservative academic who argued for the noble lie when it comes to religion.  You don’t seem to believe in it.  But isn’t true pessimism recognizing that for a person with an IQ of say, 90, the religious view can give him something that a bunch of theories about bell curves and selfish genes that he doesn’t even understand can not?


Yes, I agree with you.  I don’t know that Doomed contradicts that.  The stories offered by religions are very comforting and consoling, and taken together the stories of one particular religion can offer a good overall framework for helping you through life, if you don’t have a strongly empirical way of thinking.  (Most people don’t.)  That by no means only applies to the bottom IQ quartile either.  Far be it from me to remove those consolations from anyone.  Doomed does not try to.


Something is always owed to truth, though.  The human race as a whole only gets ahead by figuring out true things about the world.  Ghosts, demons, angels, magical impregnations and resurrections, the Afterlife, are not true things.  If you are writing a book trying to orient people towards a darker, more pessimistic view of the human situation, that is something you want to point out.


You list the six nations (America, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden and New Zealand) out of 152 that existed in 1911 which have survived to the present day.  Notice they’re all countries founded by Germanic peoples.  While nonwhites have been making inroads, Northern Europeans still make up a majority in each country (except America maybe, which still has a white majority).  Do you think that there’s a human biodiversity explanation for that?


My guess would be that there is, though the evidence to date is circumstantial.  Why do some peoples do so much better than others?  That’s the great central problem of the human sciences.  There are some fascinating ideas in the air, often supported by good data and elegant writing (i.e.  A Farewell to Alms) but we don’t at present really know.


Kevin MacDonald for example thinks that Northern Europeans were selected for traits that lead to societal stability (at least when their nations stay homogenous.  


Hmm.  18th-century France, 17th-century England, 19th-century America — were they really so “stable”?  Try checking off some countries NOT in that list you quoted from Doomed….  Kevin’s written some interesting stuff, but always with a whiff of crankiness and confirmation bias.  Not icily empirical enough for me.


You talk about being fascinated by the problem of consciousness.  You’ve read books on the topic and attended a conference but don’t feel any the wiser for it.  I’ve also taken an interest in the topic but have been unable to find any kind of explanation of what consciousness is or why it exists.  An interesting thing that you once said was that you believed that the human mind hasn’t evolved to understand itself (you had a name for the philosophical position, though I can’t remember it now).   Do we simply wait for genetic engineering to make us smart enough to figure it all out?


New Mysterianism, yes.  Whether or not humanity is smart enough to crack what they call “the hard problem of consciousness,” I don’t know.  I feel pretty sure that **I** am not smart enough though, and will go to my grave not understanding any more than I do now.  The fascination with consciousness is a bit regrettable, like a nicotine habit.  It does you no good and ends in frustration.  I should swear off it.


You initially supported the Iraq war but now have turned against it.  I remember during the run up to the war everybody and their mother who opposed it was denounced by mainstream conservatives as a traitor (see David Frum’s Unpatriotic Conservatives).  Do you think you could’ve survived at National Review if you took the position you hold now from the start? I don’t believe a single writer at the magazine opposed the war at the time, correct?


Well, as I say in Doomed, it depends what you mean by “war.”  I wanted revenge and was very happy to see Iraq get smashed up.  I wasn’t shy about saying so, which kept me on side NR-wise.  I never supported “nation-building” though; and when it became obvious that was what Bush was trying for, I complained.  I certainly don’t remember holding back at any point.


My basic approach to terrorism, though, was the one I expressed on the morning of 9/11– lots of covert ops  — “small teams of inconceivably brave men and women, working in strange places, unknown and unacknowledged.”  That’s never changed.  That’s the War on Terror I’d like to see.  Perhaps I was naive to think I’d see it, though.  Any modern American administration would demand a good quota of lawyers in among those “small teams” to make sure nobody’s human rights got violated, or feelings hurt.


NR-wise, mine is more of a science/culture/China beat, so my opinions about a war probably wouldn’t get me fired in any case, since that’s not the stuff I write about.


You’ve said elsewhere that you’re a believer in Steve Sailer’s citizenism, where the government ignores race and simply favors citizens over non-citizens.  My main problem with that is that there’s no rational reason for NAMs to support the idea.   They benefit from the AA/diversity state, don’t they?  Surly Michelle Obama would’ve never earned $300,000 a year doing real work.


Yes; but non-NAM liberals (that tag includes a lot of conservatives in this context) have to enable the NAM preference, since NAMs are a minority.  That NAMs support race-guilt policies is not the least bit surprising.  That non-NAMs throw in their lot with them is nuts.  Mrs. Obama got that $300K diversity-enforcer job because lots of non-NAMs thought it was a great idea to give it to her.  Why on earth did they think that?  Beats me.  The attitude of non-NAM — can I say “Ice People,” please? — liberals towards NAMs seems to be a mix of fear and contempt.  “Oh, give ‘em a few high-salary make-work jobs with fancy titles because (a) then perhaps they won’t break our windows, and (b) they’re too stupid to do much harm, so what’s it matter, long as it keeps ‘em off the streets?”  Attitudes like that, if I am right, are not conducive to a harmonious society.


You end your book on a pretty hopeless note.  You say that you’re not a white nationalist, but you have had respectful dialogues with Jared Taylor.  Could you see a point where minority activism and the racial double standards become so bad that you’d advocate white nationalism to counter it?


The USA I would like to live in would be one in which White Nationalism is not necessary, because 


(a) nonwhite nationalisms are not pandered to (removing the WN argument: “They have identity politics, why shouldn’t we?”) and 

(b) whites are a big, fat, and permanent majority, confident in their culture and proud of their ancestry, but tolerant and helpful towards their minority fellow-citizens.  


To get to (a) we have to scrap multiculturalism and the “Diversity” dog poop; to get to (b) we need rational, restrictive immigration policies, prefaced by expulsion of all illegal residents and revocation of “anchor baby” citizenships.


I admire Jared tremendously — a fine American gentleman of the kind we English brats heard about when growing up, from Louisa M. Alcott and Mark Twain, and saw on screen in that wonderful crop of mid-20C American-gent movie stars (Gable, Grant, Cooper, Stewart,…)  A dying breed now, alas.  Jared may be the best-mannered person I know.  He is certainly one of the most intelligent.


Break some news to ya though:  there are *not* a lot of Jareds in the white nationalist movement.  Way too few.  Way, way.  A real, science-based WN movement that wanted to get somewhere in public life would begin by cloning Jared.


Healthcare is currently dominating the political debate in America.  You’ve lived under socialized medicine in the UK and under the American system.  Which do you view more favorably?


Hard for me to judge, as I’m too darn healthy (touch wood).  I was pretty continuously sick — often hospitalized — through my childhood, but since then have interacted very little with any healthcare system.  Hardly ever think about my health.  My basic attitude is to just run my body as long as it’ll go, then die gracefully.  (I treat cars the same.)  I like St. Francis apologizing to his body at the end: “Poor donkey!”  There have been no valetudinarians in my family, and I don’t plan to break the run.


As a self-employed, I have a “plan” to cover me and my family, costing over $1K per month, which seems to me far too much, but other people tell me is cheap around here (i.e. New York).  We no way run up $12K bills a year, so it’s basically just catastrophe insurance, which it seems to me I could get much cheaper in a rational system.  Pegging health care to employment is ***NUTS*** — who on earth thought THAT up?


When I was a kid and using the NHS a lot, it was good to me.  My English friends and relatives seem to like it.  It’s way cheaper than our system.  People get denied things, but so do they here — hell, my policy is all premised on denial-of-service.  You have to argue a case; and I think all policies are like that.


The big question seems to me: can a nationalized system work in the USA?  That it works, to the satisfaction of most, in small European countries, doesn’t tell us much.  We’re not them.  We are SIMPLY TERRIBLE at socialism.  Something about our system, and those “profound demographic divisions.”


Do the tea bag movement and opposition to Obama’s centralizing plans give you hope or do you believe it will all come to naught?


Not to utterly naught, perhaps.  Noisy movements like the teabaggers can slow things down, perhaps change direction here and there.  In the end, though — after 2 more administrations — we shall be at European levels of pubic spending as proportion of GDP, with or without socialized medicine (though of course a bit sooner with it).


Does the fact that the fall of Western civilization is happening at the hands of a bunch of diversity bureaucrats and feminist scholars make it more depressing than if it were being destroyed at the hands of say, a superior military force?


Oh yes.  Isn’t civil war always a lot uglier than international war?


Much thanks to John Derbyshire for his thoughtful answers.  All his writings can be found at his website.  


  1. Ray Sawhill :

    Sep 26, 2009 8:36 pm |

    Great q&a, many thanks to both of you for doing it.

  2. Jim :

    Sep 27, 2009 3:24 am |

    I’m really disappointed to see Derbyshire using the “teabagger” phrase, although maybe I shouldn’t be.

  3. ciccio :

    Sep 27, 2009 3:26 pm |

    There is still one, possibly the only, area where race is almost disregarded in the selection of candidates. The Rhodes scholarships. Their predominant concern is overall ability. Southern Africa, that includes Zambia, Zimbabwe,Lesotho and Botswana is entitled to 10 a year.Out of curiosity I checked the last 5 years. They gave out 47 out of the 50 scholarships. The blacks, who constitute more than 95% of the population garnered 6of the 47 scholarships.
    2 of those 6 appeared to be mixed race.

  4. jack :

    Sep 28, 2009 1:53 am |

    “I’m really disappointed to see Derbyshire using the “teabagger” phrase, although maybe I shouldn’t be.”

    It was Richard who called it “the tea bag movement” first.

  5. Eman :

    Sep 28, 2009 9:01 pm |

    Derbyshire, being a traitor to the White race in his marriage and breeding with an Asiatic female, has no right to be taken seriously in regards to White racial issues.

  6. Kudzu Bob :

    Sep 29, 2009 11:54 pm |

    A dynamite interview that deserves to be widely read throughout the Stevosphere.

    Mr. Derbyshire is one of the good guys…and so are you, Mr. Hoste.

  7. Mark :

    Sep 30, 2009 3:59 am |

    Can you interview a race realist that is a wholesome and proud racialist of Northern European descent, and married to the same with children?

    I get the impression that degenerate miscegenators like Derbyshire, Reed and Brand are typical of HBDers, narcissistic individualists with an Asian fetish that have no connection with their people.

    So what’s their end game? Have a non-white minority population that they like to breed with and marry, eventually turning the whole population non-white. They already tried that in Latin America, didn’t work.

    The use of non-NAM is silly, and obscure in his usage. Just say white people. As is the use of NAM minority, it’s redundant. I don’t like the use of minority anyway, they’re the majority of the world.

  8. Tarl :

    Oct 4, 2009 2:36 pm |

    “You list the six nations (America, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden and New Zealand) out of 152 that existed in 1911 which have survived to the present day.”

    What is this supposed to mean? There was no Britain, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, China, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Central American nations (Guatemala, Honduras etc), or Iran in 1911? Why did an English guy, Derbyshire, leave Britain off his list? What exactly is his argument, because I can’t believe it has been accurately represented here. If the real list is “nations that have had the same form of government since 1911″, that is a short list, but BRITAIN should also be on it.

    “Notice they’re all countries founded by Germanic peoples.”

    What???? NONE of those countries was FOUNDED by a Germanic people. In particular, America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were founded by ENGLISH people.

    What conclusion are we supposed to draw from the fact that the list of “Germanic” nations that existed in 1911 and today does NOT include, um, Germany? (Which in my world existed in 1911 and today, but whatever.)

  9. Moral Mathematical Man :

    Nov 3, 2009 6:44 pm |

    Absolutely horrid. How can an educated man be “very happy” to see a country that had no links to 9/11 and no weapons of mass destruction “smashed up”? I’m an American mathematics graduate student of Assyrian descent (Iraqi Christians from the 1st century A.D.), and the educated Westward-looking Iraqis have been completely supplanted in Iraq by Iranian-backed Islamist parties. To spell it out, the “smashing” of Iraq has been absolutely disastrous for U.S. power abroad and political stability at home. John Derbyshire apparently puts the suffering of pro-Western peoples and the rise of radical Islam above American security and prosperity. John Derbyshire is a cruel traitor.

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