The sans-culottes at National Review are getting the guillotine ready again. As predicted by many, it appears Mark Steyn will be the next to follow in the footsteps of the John Birch Society, Joe Sobran, Ann Coulter, and John Derbyshire? Jason Lee Steorts, an editor at National Review, writes:
I can’t agree with Mark that anything of value is lost when derogatory epithets go out of bounds in polite society. They tend to be bad even for humor, substituting stereotype and cliché for originality. People who used them in different times need not be regarded as monstrous, nor must the canon be censored; we could instead feel good about having awoken to a greater civility and make generous allowances for human fallibility. By way of criticizing speech, I’ll say that I found the derogatory language in this column, and especially the slur in its borrowed concluding joke, both puerile in its own right and disappointing coming from a writer of such talent.
To which Steyn responded:
I’m not inclined to euphemize intimidation and bullying as a lively exchange of ideas – “the use of speech to criticize other speech”, as Mr Steorts absurdly dignifies it. So do excuse me if I skip to the men’s room during his patronizing disquisition on the distinction between “state coercion” and “cultural coercion”. I’m well aware of that, thank you. In the early days of my free-speech battles in Canada, my friend Ezra Levant used a particular word to me: “de-normalize”. Our enemies didn’t particularly care whether they won in court. Whatever the verdict, they’d succeed in “de-normalizing” us – that’s to say, putting us beyond the pale of polite society and mainstream culture. “De-normalizing” is the business GLAAD and the other enforcers are in. You’ll recall Paula Deen’s accuser eventually lost in court – but the verdict came too late for Ms Deen’s book deal, and TV show, and endorsement contracts.
Up north, Ezra and I decided that, if they were going to “de-normalize” us, we’d “de-normalize” them. So we pushed back, and got the entire racket discredited and, eventually, the law repealed. It’s rough stuff, and exhausting, but the alternative is to let the control-freaks shrivel the bounds of public discourse remorselessly so that soon enough you lack even the words to mount an opposing argument. As this commenter to Mr Steorts noted, the point about unearthing two “derogatory” “puerile” yet weirdly prescient gags is that, pace Marx, these days comedy repeats as tragedy.
I am sorry my editor at NR does not grasp the stakes. Indeed, he seems inclined to “normalize” what GLAAD is doing. But, if he truly finds my “derogatory language” offensive, I’d rather he just indefinitely suspend me than twist himself into a soggy pretzel of ambivalent inertia trying to avoid the central point – that a society where lives are ruined over an aside because some identity-group don decides it must be so is ugly and profoundly illiberal. As to his kind but belated and conditional pledge to join me on the barricades, I had enough of that level of passionate support up in Canada to know that, when the call to arms comes, there will always be some “derogatory” or “puerile” expression that it will be more important to tut over. So thanks for the offer, but I don’t think you’d be much use, would you?
National Review doesn’t realize that its genteel world of polite dissent from left-liberal orthodoxy is over. It is no longer a significant voice on the Right; one could quite perhaps even argue that it is not even really conservative anymore. I can’t actually take a position on that, however, since I quit reading National Review after they fired John Derbyshire for failing to kowtow to liberal orthodoxy on race. National Review has long attempted to curry favor with the mainstream media by reading others out of the respectable Right. So it only seems just that increasingly people are not-reading National Review out of the relevant Right.
And it is more than a little ironic that Steorts is criticizing Steyn for his derogatory expressions when, after attacking Kathryn Lopez over gay marriage, he justified his attacks on her thusly:
So it is your view, Kathryn, that the action of democratically elected representatives, who are accountable to the citizens of the State of New York, is tyrannical in a way that justifies comparison to North Korea, a state in which an absolute ruler has burned people alive in a stadium. Okay. But now I want a new word for what “tyranny” used to mean.
I would like to see the reaction of a North Korean refugee to your claim.
It would also be nice if you troubled yourself to make an argument.
Update: I see that several commenters find my tone beyond the pale. With respect, I think y’all are way too sensitive. The harshest thing here is the sarcasm of “trouble yourself,” which strikes me as mild by the standards of polemical writing generally and writing at NRO (including posts by commenters) in particular.
Hmmm, I’m noticing a hypocritical inconsistency as well as the fact that the conservative position on a certain subject tends to upset the manage editor… I know absolutely nothing about Steorts, but on the basis of these two pieces, it would not surprise me in the slightest to learn that Steorts is one of those putative “gay media conservatives” in the mold of Andrew Sullivan. Which, as we have come to learn, reliably indicate that he’s not conservative at all.