JOHN DERBYSHIRE: The Affirmative Action Circle Simply Can’t Be Squared. Time To Try Freedom Of Association?
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Earlier, by Peter Brimelow (Forbes, 1993): When Quotas Replace Merit, Everybody Suffers

[Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively on]

Monday this week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases concerning Affirmative Action in college admissions.

The plaintiff in the case is a nonprofit called Students For Fair Admissions, which wants race preferences declared unconstitutional.

There are two defendants: the University of North Carolina, which is a public college, and Harvard University, which bills itself as a private college, although they of course get big subsidies indirectly from the public purse via research grants and student loans.

At one further remove, in fact, Harvard benefits financially from our government’s extremely lax policies on issuance of visas to foreign students, which doesn’t get talked about half as much as it should.

In the absence of a wide public acceptance of race realism, of which I see no sign at all, the Affirmative Action issue cannot be resolved in any satisfactory way. When your enemy is reality you may have the spirit, the support, and the money to keep fighting indefinitely, but you can never attain victory.

Nineteen years ago I published a review of Peter Wood’s book Diversity: The Invention of a Concept. In that review I said the following thing:

The real dilemma facing America is that we can have a meritocracy, or we can have equal outcomes by ancestry group, but, unless the information now coming in by every post from the human sciences is all utterly wrong, we cannot have both.

But both, of course, is exactly what we insist on having, and diversity is our current attempt at squaring this unhappy circle.

[E Pluribus Plurimum, The New Criterion, March 2003]

Nothing I’ve seen, heard, or read in the nineteen years since I wrote that has given me any reason to change my opinion. Nor have I seen any mathematically sound proof that circles can be squared. The issue is just intractable.

We may dream of the issue being resolved, and I do.

I have a dream today, brothers and sisters—I have a dream! I have a dream that one day our freedom of association in the private sphere will be restored. That would involve the repeal of so-called Civil Rights laws so I’m not holding my breath; but I have a dream!

I have a dream that a hurricane of reform will sweep through the whole stinking, corrupt apparatus of higher education. Get government out of the game as far as possible. The only area where it seems to me it’s not possible is key disciplines of direct public consequence, disciplines like medicine, engineering, and law. Enrolment in those disciplines should be rigorously meritocratic, enforced by government authorities.

(In the case of law, if they were so we would have been spared the spectacle of Justice Sotomayor, in Monday’s hearing, revealing that she does not know the meaning of the phrase de jure.)

Elsewhere let universities enroll whoever they like: legacies, athletes, blacks, whites, Asians,… hey. Freedom Of Association!

Students who need loans should get them in the private sector, like anyone else wanting a loan. Researchers in need of government grants should resign from the academy and take public employment. Public spending on scientific research is a public good; the researchers should be public employees.

That’s just dreaming, though. What the Supremes actually decide will not be vouchsafed to us until next year—probably at the end of the current term in June.

What will the decision look like? For sure it won’t impose meritocratic rigor on college admissions. The issues of legacy and athletic admissions aside, meritocratic rigor would see elite colleges with massive overrepresentation of Asians and massive underrepresentation of blacks.

In today’s USA that is simply unthinkable.

It follows that the court decision must be some kind of fudge, as all previous SCOTUS rulings on Affirmative Action have been. Given the known dispositions of the current nine justices, their ruling will make it more difficult for college admissions officers to practice race preferences—more difficult but not impossible. There will be enough cracks and fissures in the ruling for colleges to keep race preferences alive in them by subterfuge, dishonesty, and the copious use of weasel words like “holistic.“

I’ll just close here with some reading recommendations. The foundational text on Affirmative Action skepticism is Ron Unz’s long essay “The Myth of American Meritocracy,“ published at the Unz Review just ten years ago this month. Not only is it foundational to this topic, it is also an outstanding masterpiece of quantitative journalism.

It is long, though—longer than the Second Book of Chronicles, longer than any of the Gospels.

Ron posted an updated and much shorter version the other day, only a wee bit longer than Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians; and our own James Fulford published a crisp summary of Ron’s work the same day here at See Great Replacement At Harvard: Non-Jewish White Enrollment Down To Under 10%—Less Than Jews, Less Than Blacks or look at this chart:

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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