John Derbyshire: Amy Wax, “National Conservatism,” And The Futility Of Nuance. Why Not Race Realism And An Immigration Moratorium?
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Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, available exclusively on

Amy Wax, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is in trouble again—in a way that points to the fundamental contradictions of Yoram Hazony’s recent National Conservatism conference a.k.a. The Gatekeeper’s Ball.

In March last year, Prof. Wax did a Bloggingheads interview with black Economics Professor Glenn Loury of Brown University. In the course of their chat, which was all perfectly friendly and collegial, Prof. Wax mentioned that she couldn't recall a case of a black student graduating in the top quarter of her class, and it was rare to see one in the top half.

That got her a Two Minutes Hate in the Twittersphere and a stern reprimand from her law school dean Ted Ruger [Email him]. Ruger’s reprimand would have been more convincing if he had produced some actual numbers from his files to refute Prof. Wax's claim, but of course he refused to do so.

A year before that, Prof. Wax had published a joint op-ed, with another law professor, in the Philadelphia Inquirer [Paying the price for breakdown of the country's bourgeois culture, August 9, 2017], arguing for the promotion of bourgeois values: get married, stay married, obey the law, don't swear in public, and so on.

That caused screaming, swooning, and clutching of pearls nationwide. "Redneck racist ideology," one commenter called it.

So Prof. Wax has a track record of saying obviously true things that our ideological Establishment—Main Stream Media, schools, corporations, churches, politicians—would much rather not be said.

I was so impressed after last year's Bloggingheads incident that I inducted Prof. Wax into the Honorable Company of Stone-Kickers.

Now she's been at it again, kicking that durn stone.

The National Conservatism conference was held at the pricey Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C. Here at we have long used the phrase "National Conservatism" to define our own positions, so we had some reasonable expectation that the ideas we write about here might get an airing in a posh, high-profile venue.

Vain are the hopes of mortal men! The conference turned out to be just another rescue mission for neoconservatism. The big keynote address, given on Tuesday morning, was by John Bolton—what else do you need to know? Editor Peter Brimelow was disinvited from attending, and American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor was refused a press pass. Your genial scribe would no doubt likewise have been denied had he been sufficiently alert and organized to apply for registration.

The brilliant and indefatigable blogger Zman did sneak in under the organizers' radar. He produced some scathing, and often very funny, commentary which I urge you to read. He also, separately, posted a thoughtful summary here at

Well, Amy Wax gave a talk at one of the breakout sessions on Monday afternoon. If you're not a conference-goer and don't know what a breakout session is, it's when the main conference breaks up into smaller groups to discuss particular topics in side rooms.

Breakout sessions used to be called "workshops," but perhaps that was ruled demeaning and hurtful to people who work in shops…don't ask me, I'm clueless about political correctness. The opposite of a breakout session is a plenary session, where everyone sits together in the same grand auditorium. Got that?

The topic for this particular breakout session was immigration. That's our main topic here at, so naturally this session excited our interest.

The title of Prof. Wax's talk: "American Greatness and Immigration: The Case for Low and Slow." Her remarks ignited yet another spasm of nationwide shrieking, fainting, and pearl-clutching.

This time, Penn Law School Dean Ruger told the world that her remarks were at best "a bigoted theory of white cultural and ethnic supremacy" and at worst—can you guess?—yes, "racist." [Penn Law Dean Condemns Professor Amy Wax's 'Bigoted,' 'Racist' Comments on Immigration, by Jenni Fink, Newsweek, July 25, 2019]

I guess you don't get to be dean of a prestigious law school by demonstrating a capacity for independent thinking or original speaking.

Something called LALSA, the Latinx Law Students Association at U. Penn., started a petition for Prof. Wax to be relieved of her teaching duties.

That must have been some heavy-duty rabble-rousing fascist Neo-Nazi stuff that Prof. Wax spoke—oh, sorry; I mean "spouted"—at the National Conservatism Conference.

So what did she say?

Prof. Wax is not, so far as I can figure, a race realist. (I should make it clear that being a race realist is not an essential qualifying condition for election to the Honorable Company of Stone-Kickers.)

In my world-shaking bestseller We Are Doomed I said there are three theories of human nature enjoying widespread support at present: Religious, Culturist, Biologian. To summarize:

  • The religious view sees our species as gifted by God or the Gods with supernatural attributes, for example the moral sense.
  • The culturist view allows that Homo sap. came up through ordinary natural processes; but, having arrived on Earth a quarter million years ago, has remained essentially undifferentiated thereafter in its psychic essence. Apparent statistical differences in that essence—in behavior, intelligence, and personality—between populations long settled in different regions, along with the social consequences of such differences, are purely environmental, with no biological causes.
  • The biologian view says that human nature is a collection of characteristics all susceptible to biological explanation. Regional differences are in part biological, as you'd expect from localized mostly-inbred populations separated from each other for hundreds or thousands of generations. As science writer Nicholas Wade put it in A Troublesome Inheritance,  "Human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional."

Prof. Wax looks to me to be a culturist—not a biologian. Indeed, she tells us in her National Conservative talk that the idea she is promoting for our immigration policy is "cultural distance nationalism," which

…is based on the insight and understanding that people's background culture can affect their ability to fit into a modern advanced society and to perform the roles needed to support and maintain it—civic, occupational, economic, technical, and the like.

That's culturism as I defined it.

Prof. Wax is actually well-qualified to be a biologian—to be in the third of my three categories, along with us race realists. Her first degree, from Yale, was in molecular biology, and she went on to get an M.D. from Harvard Medical School before switching to the law.

Still, I can't see any hint of race realism in her National Conservatism talk, and I'm not aware of any in her other productions. Race-realism-wise, far as I can tell, Prof. Wax is clean.

So why the fuss? Isn't culturism perfectly respectable? Isn't it, in fact, the foundation of our state ideology: that where human nature is concerned, nurture is everything and nature nothing? That all group differences are merely cultural differences?

And that people like my geneticist friend who, when I one time used "culture" in the pure-culturist sense, jeered back at me with: "Culture? Culture? What are the upstream variables?"—people like that are bad people, probably Nazis.

Ah, but apparently there are divisions within culturism—divisions crucial to the discussion of immigration.

There are, you might say, "soft" culturists and "hard" culturists.

A soft culturist believes that if a population from Culture A is settled among Culture B, the group differences will quickly disappear. Within a generation or two at most, the As and their descendants will be indistinguishable from the Bs they settled among.

As evidence, soft culturists like to cite the Great Wave of immigrants into the U.S.A. prior to WW1: Irish, Italian, Poles, Jews. And look!—fifty years later they and their kids were just Americans!

Soft culturism is sometimes called Magic Dirt Theory. Prof. Wax actually used the phrase "magic dirt" three times in her National Conservatism talk. It's not original with her, though. It has an entry in the Urban Dictionary, posted in March 2017, and I was seeing it on Dissident Right blogs before that.

(Who came up with the term "magic dirt"? Some people have credited me; I used the expression in a posting here at but I had borrowed it from a post the previous month by blogger Vox Day. Prior to that I can only find cryptic, inconclusive references, and a mass of stuff about a nineties Australian rock band. If any listener with better internet search skills than mine can find the source, I'd be interested to know).

So Magic Dirt Theory is soft culturism. But Amy Wax sounds like a hard culturist:

Our country's future trajectory, however, will not be determined by Political Correctness, but by reality and facts on whether cultural differences really matter, whether they are stubborn, and whether they have consequences. And by the time that becomes clear and that dynamic plays out, it may be too late to turn the ship, and it may well be too late already.

Plainly Prof. Wax thinks that cultural differences are—or, at least, can be—stubborn: not necessarily rooted in biology, as I and my pal the geneticist suspect, only…stubborn. A generation or two of magic dirt won't expunge them.

"But wait!" cry the soft culturists. "They have been expunged! Those pre-WW1 immigrants—the Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews! They became Americans!"

So they did: Although, as we annoying immigration buffs point out, the forty-year lull in immigration from 1924 to 1965 surely helped.

And, as the naughtier ones among us also point out, the expunging was by no means total. Check the proportions of Irish, Italian, Polish, and Jewish names in the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans; or for that matter—and (with absolutely no offense intended whatsoever to Prof. Wax, who is Jewish) in the lists of professors at our most prestigious law schools.

Nevertheless, our state ideology, any contradiction of which causes explosions of outrage, is not merely culturism; it is soft culturism.

That's what has gotten Prof. Wax in trouble. She's a hard culturist. That phrase she promotes, "cultural distance nationalism," implies that some cultures—those at more of a distance from the U.S.A.'s own north-European roots—will resist acculturation more stubbornly than others.

Worse yet: Those peoples at more of a cultural distance from us are mostly non-white. Peoples closer to us in culture—for example, those Irish, Italian, Polish and Jewish immigrants of the Great Wave—are mostly white. [Scream.]

You don't have to frame any hypotheses about cause and effect, says Prof. Wax, that's just observable reality:

Embracing … cultural distance nationalism, means, in effect, taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer non-whites. Well, that is the result anyway. So even if our immigration philosophy is grounded firmly in cultural concerns, doesn't rely on race at all … these racial dimensions are enough to spook conservatives.

So the lady is saying that even a rigidly culturist, scrupulously colorblind immigration policy will, volens nolens, if it embraces cultural nationalism, favor whites.

Prof. Wax had much more to say than that, and I urge you to read her entire presentation. I'm just trying to make the point that even taking a spotlessly culturist line about human differences, eschewing biological race realism, will not spare you being denounced as a “racist” by the dean of a university law school

You might draw the moral of the story as: If even a punctilious culturism won't spare you from the witch-hunters—well, heck, may as well embrace biology and go full-bore race realist!

You might…but Heaven forbid I should put ideas into anyone's head.

Finally: All this tortured wrangling over immigration—should it be culturally selective? racially selective [scream]? strictly by merit? capped by country?—all this wrangling presupposes…immigration.

No offense intended to Prof. Wax, who I'm sure is just trying to promote the art of the possible: but to heck with what she calls her "low and slow approach to immigration."

Low immigration? Slow immigration? How about no immigration? How about a moratorium?

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

Readers who wish to donate (tax deductible) funds specifically earmarked for John Derbyshire's writings at can do so here.


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