John Derbyshire: “Something Happened In 2013-2014”—Haidt And Codevilla On The Elite Drive For Civil War
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Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, available exclusively on comes to you from beneath the sign of Saturn. I am glum. It's nothing personal, thank God; I'm glum about the state of my country. Coming from the author of a book titled We Are Doomed, I guess that's not an astonishing thing to hear; but I'm glummer than usual. Specifically, one of my hobby-horses, the Cold Civil War, is achieving mainstream recognition. It’s not a comfortable feeling.

In support of this conclusion, I offer you two social commentaries.

The first comes from my favorite liberal. I'm not speaking sarcastically; I really like this guy, and the things he says. It’s Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist who teaches at New York University. He's the author of the 2013 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

Just note the date there before I proceed: 2013.

Professor Haidt is also more recently the co-author, with Greg Lukianoff, of the 2018 book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. have some slight personal acquaintance with Jonathan. I can affirm that while we disagree on many, many points of fact, particularly to do with human biodiversity, he is one of the sanest, most thoughtful, best-mannered, and, darn it, most civilized people I know—a man who has done real, interesting, original work trying to understand human nature.

Well, he's been on an Australian tour, to open which he gave an interview to The Weekend Australian. In the interview he is stunningly pessimistic:

I am now very pessimistic. I think there is a very good chance American democracy will fail, that in the next 30 years we will have a catastrophic failure of our democracy.

The current political civil war is between two groups of educated white people with radically different views about what the country is, what morality is and what we need to do to move forward.

Most Americans are non-political, but in the age of social media they have become like dark matter. The modern civil war is being fought by the extremes …

We just don't know what a democracy looks like when you drain all the trust out of the system.

[America’s uncivil war on democracy, by Paul Kelly, Weekend Australian, July 20, 2019]

I say again, this is a calm and reasonable guy, who investigates human nature for a living. It's not some frothing partisan. I can't even imagine Jonathan frothing.

And note that he mentions the Cold Civil War there. To repeat:

The current political civil war is between two groups of educated white people with radically different views about what the country is, what morality is and what we need to do to move forward.

To see Jonathan in recent action, watch this brief interview he did with Australian TV where he says some of the same things in more detail. It's well worth fifteen minutes of your time.

Haidt is especially concerned with a change he has seen on campus—in the lifestyles and attitudes of students that happened quite abruptly in, he says, 2014.

That's much of what his latest book, The Coddling of the American Mind is all about. That's why I said to note the date of his earlier book, which has an overall more cheerful tone.

Something happened in 2013-2014, Haidt suugests. Our society, the younger strata of it, turned some kind of corner. It’s the phenomenon that Matt Yglesias (who, to prove the point, has blocked on Twitter and therefore presumably won’t see this) has documented as the “Great Awokening.”[VOX, April 1, 2019]

I have heard the same thing from other academics. This youngest tranche of students, the ones raised on social media, are, they say, "different" in scary ways from what has gone before.

Key differences are their closed-mindedness and emotional fragility. They have high levels of depression and anxiety. They don't date much; they don't have sex much; they don't fall in love.

(And in parentheses here, having mentioned sex, I'd like to offer heartfelt thanks to Jonathan Haidt for saying "sex differences" instead of "gender differences." I'm approaching the point where I shall get up and leave the room if someone says "gender." It's sex, dammit. Thank you, Sir!),204,203,200_.jpgThere is a line of logic you can reconstruct from these apparently academic reflections on sex, love, trust, closed-mindedness and fragility to Professor Haidt’s gloomy predictions about "a catastrophic failure of our democracy."

This is a guy we should be listening to.

And here's another: Angelo Codevilla writing in American Greatness. Codevilla is the author of the 2010 book The Ruling Class.

Executive summary of that book: he doesn't like our ruling class. Neither do I; so I'm always up for an essay by Professor Codevilla. In this one he too argues that, yes, we are heading for Civil War:

The story of the contemporary American Left's sponsorship of hate and violence begins around 1964, when the Democratic Party chose to abandon the Southern constituencies that had been its mainstay since the time of Jefferson and Jackson. In less than a decade, the party found itself increasingly dependent on gaining super-majorities among blacks, upscale liberals, and constituencies of resentment in general—and hence on stoking their hate.

For the past half century, America's political history has been driven by the Democratic Party's effort to fire up these constituencies by denigrating the rest of America. As elements of cynical calculation melded into self-images of righteous entitlement to rule inferiors, the boundaries between the party and the constituencies’ most radical parts have eroded.

[Igniting Civil War, August 6, 2019]

They certainly have.

Look at the Democrat candidates on display in those debates last month. "Self-images of righteous entitlement to rule inferiors"? Speaking as an older heterosexual white male, and therefore quadruply inferior, I totally get the point.

Enough pessimism? I'm not through yet. Codevilla closes with the following, which I think might usefully be embroidered in cross-stich on a throw pillow, except it's a bit too long:

We know that our ruling class having largely made government into a partisan thing, America has crossed the threshold of revolution. While we have no way of knowing what lies ahead, we know that the spiral of political violence has already taken its first fateful turns, and that the logic of our partisan ruling class is pushing for more.

On that happy note, I’m happy that I’m about to leave for vacation in for the peaceable kingdom of China. But I hope that Derb delivery will continue as usual.


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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