It’s Not the Heat; It’s the Stupidity

I’ve taken to heart various warnings about using the language of warfare to describe political fisticuffs. So I am resisting the temptation to say that Ta-Nehisi Coates “demolished” or “destroyed” a column from Victor Davis Hanson predictably defending racial profiling. So how about “exposed” or maybe “subjected him to a pantsing?”

The main burden of Hanson’s argument is that his family’s experience with young black male criminals led his father to warn him against proximity to young black men, and Hanson himself to warn his own son (who he figures will pass along the warning to the next generation) similarly. Here’s Coates:

[I]n any other context we would automatically recognize this “talk” as stupid advice. If I were to tell you that I only employ Asian-Americans to do my taxes because “Asian-Americans do better on the Math SAT,” you would not simply question my sensitivity, but my mental faculties. That is because you would understand that in making an individual decision, employing an ancestral class of millions is not very intelligent. Moreover, were I to tell you I wanted my son to marry a Jewish woman because “Jews are really successful,” you would understand that statement for the stupidity which it is.

It would not be acceptable for me to make such suggestions (to say nothing of policy) in an enlightened society — not simply because they are “impolite” but because they betray a rote, incurious and addled intellect. There is no difference between my argument above and the notion that black boys should be avoided because they are overrepresented in the violent crime stats. But one of the effects of racism is its tendency to justify stupidity.

And now Coates looks around Hanson’s journalistic neighborhood:

These two strands — stupidity and racism — are inseparable. The pairing seem to find a home at National Review with some regularity. It’s been a little over a year since the magazine cut ties with self-described racist John Derbyshire for basically writing the same thing that Victor Davis Hanson writes here. Hanson couldn’t even be bothered to come up with anything new. He just ripped off Derbyshire. His editors could evidently care less. A few days later the magazine cut ties with Robert Weissberg for offering pro tips to white nationalists. I’m not quite sure why they bothered with the kabuki. You are what your record says you are and at some point one must conclude that these are not one-offs, that the magazine which once blamed the Birmingham bombing on “a crazed Negro,” is dealing with something more systemic, something bone-deep.

There are people at National Review who I am quite sure are neither racist nor stupid. But I’ve never quite understood why they keep Hanson around. He specializes in a kind of cultural/racial/ethnic apocalyptic lament–reminiscent of Jean Raspail’s 1973 racist classic The Camp of the Saints–in which barbarous hordes are forever besieging the virtuous folk who used to live and work in this country and in his own state of California (which he constantly describes as a dystopian nightmare). He made his reputation as a military historian. Perhaps he should stop writing about race and culture and stick to penning unconvincing apologias for the Iraq War–after he pulls up his pants.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.