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We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism Hardcover – September 29, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Derbyshire, a columnist and contributing editor for The National Review, confronts the "mendacity of hope" in this irreverent-sometimes-inflammatory screed. Appealing exclusively to American conservatives, Derbyshire impresses upon his audience the necessity of maintaining a pessimistic view of human nature; happy talk, he says, is for children, fools and leftists. Derbyshire, a Brit by birth, identifies himself as a "metrocon," a conservative city dweller, and his views embrace traditional American right wing beliefs (big government is bad; immigration is a threat) with a few notable aberrations (he's not religious) and a few universally off-putting stances (he's against female suffrage and approvingly quotes Hermann Goring on culture). Those who enjoy Derbyshire's work in The National Review will enjoy this harvest of provocations delivered with a witty, light touch, however heavy their implications.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Where will a more intelligent, hence pessimistic, yet sprightly conservatism come from? You are holding in your hands part of the answer."
—George F. Will, Pulitzer Prize—winning columnist and author of One Man's America

"John Derbyshire contends that a comprehensive pessimism is the natural home for realistic conservatives, a breed that understands human nature better than utopian liberals and 'happy talk conservatives.' His argument is wide-ranging, erudite, and invigorating, but, paradoxically, delivered with cheerful panache."
—Judge Robert H. Bork, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Tempting of America and Slouching Towards Gomorrah

"Just when you thought there was nothing to American conservatism but a bunch of blue-blazered fuddy-duddies who talk about global democracy, here comes John Derbyshire, who reminds us all of the place of pessimism and skepticism in the Western tradition. Not a moment too soon."
—Taki Theodoracopulos, cofounder of The American Conservative and editor and publisher of Taki's Magazine, takimag.com

"A funny and brilliant call to pessimism, Man's last, best hope for a tolerable life. Pessimists are not only the only realists; they have all the best jokes."
—Theodore Dalrymple, author of Not With a Bang But a Whimper and Our Culture, What's Left of It

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Forum; 1ST edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307409589
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307409584
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #789,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Randy Stafford VINE VOICE on October 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Most American conservatives, especially since Sept. 11th, exhibit signs of brain damage. And John Derbyshire diagnoses the problem: too much happy talk, too much optimism and not enough pessimism. There are limits about what man can do with himself and the natural world. Humans are not blank slates that can be remade to fit whatever utopian scheme can be dreamed up. Conservatives are supposed to know this and see things as they are. Liberals are there to take care of the happy talk and wishful thinking.

Now this is not an all purpose gloomfest. Derbyshire acknowledges all sorts of apocalyptic possibilities of the natural sort - resource depletion, climate change, and asteroid strike, but he doesn't talk about them. Rather he restricts himself to the social and political disasters that await America in the future. And he talks directly to conservatives. Wipe that smile off your face, he tells them. Get your mind around the fact that America does not and cannot exist outside the currents of history, that America has not been given a pass by God to do whatever it wants without horrible consequences.

And the particular delusions of optimism Derbyshire attacks? Diversity is not our strength, quite the opposite. It corrodes national identity. That presidents and legislators are not deserving of the respect, power, and money we give them. Harry Truman had to borrow money to write his memoirs. High culture has produced nothing of value after the 1950s. Pop culture has produced little of worth. A world of female empowerment is a world nudged closer to totalitarianism. Women are generally fanatical and unthoughtful about their politics. Education has become a cultish object of worship which assumes any child can become anything - if enough money is spent.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a fan of John Derbyshire; I regularly listen to his "Radio Derb," and I generally appreciate his perspective. I was, however, disappointed with this work, for the following reasons (I read it in a Kindle edition on my iPhone, so I won't give page numbers).

1. First, oddly enough, he is too optimistic! He attacks Mark Steyn on a few statistical issues for Mark's views on overpopulation, but Derbyshire's own views are hopelessly rose-tinted. Steyn argues that the population collapse of the western and industrialized world guarantees social chaos and cultural catastrophe in the years ahead. I think he is right. Derbyshire has the notion that some technical advance in Japan or China will solve the problem before we get there. This is nonsense. There is no technical advance that can solve the problem of having a tiny base of young adults supporting a massive population of aging, non-productive, and increasingly needy seniors. No technical advance can solve the problem of there being too few consumers to buy the next generation of iPads and other consumer products (this will create enormous economic problems). Derbyshire seemed to enjoy picking a few little holes in Steyn's work, but in the big picture, Steyn is right and Darbyshire is dead wrong.

2. Derbyshire goes on a rant against "Islamophobia." His main point is that he considers any belief in heaven, be it Christian or Muslim, equally absurd. So, he says, he has no reason to prefer one superstition to another. This completely misses the point of our current crisis. Whether he believes in any supernatural reality does not matter where the issue is public policy and the survival of our culture and civilization.
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Format: Hardcover
In "We Are Doomed", John Derbyshire asserts that the American conservative movement is in peril because it abandoned its healthy pessimism about the world, the same pessimism that undergirded the nation's founding, and embraced some of the wishful thinking about human nature, life, and the world normally found on the Left. This led, he believes, to critical errors in fiscal, foreign, and social policy that he believes will likely lead to a diminished future for our country over the next few decades.

Derbyshire discusses many of the problems extant in the country today that are symptoms of a lack of healthy pessimism, such as the desire for diversity merely for diversity's sake, the decline of our culture, the seemingly intractable problems in our educational system, and the scourge of illegal immigration. The author opposes the notion that the immigration of today is similar to the immigration of the early part of the last century and lists the reasons why today's immigration is destructive.

The author includes absorbing chapters on religion and the nature-nurture conflict in regards to human nature. The author makes a good case for taking the nature side of this conflict, although one can think of some individuals, such as Theodore Roosevelt, who took on the fierce challenge of essentially transforming their personalities by relentlessly attacking their weaknesses.

Derbyshire examines the debt time bomb our country faces, and if you have seen the figures concerning government debt, corporate debt, and family and individual debt, they are sobering indeed. However, some futurologists such as Ray Kurzweil (whom Derbyshire mentions in the book) think that the pace of technological change in the twenty-first century will be exponential, not linear.
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