Born Abroad: A Patriot’s Tale of Choice & Chance
Arktos Media, 2023.
Reviewed by Nelson Rosit.
The first thing a reader will notice about Virginia Abernathy’s latest book is the cover photo of a spunky eight-year-old with a bit of a Mona Lisa smile looking over to her right. That countenance gives some indication of the broad she was to become.
At age eighty-nine Abernethy writes, “I still want to enter the fray.” And in fact she has been in the fray for decades. The author describes herself as “cantankerous,” “ornery,” and a bit of a loner and outsider due in part to growing up abroad and in part to genetic influences.
The book is described as both an autobiography and a memoir. Not being an English major, I was not entirely sure of the distinction between the two. I learned that while both are nonfictional first-person accounts, memoirs are thematic, selective, subjective, and limited in scope. Autobiographies are said to be chronological, including the person’s entire life to that point, and strictly factual. Born Abroad does include themes, but according to author “writing a memoir is presumptuous,” so we’ll go with an autobiography.
Ms. Abernethy was named Virginia because her father was born in that state and identified with the Confederacy. She was born in Cuba, and her parents later moved to Argentina. They returned to the US when she was ten. The Riverdale School in New York and Wellesley College in Massachusetts followed. The day she graduated in 1955 she married a Harvard man and left for ranch life outside Sheridan, Wyoming.
Some of the old west still survived in Wyoming of the 1950s. Abernethy describes society of Sheridan as “the mink and manure set.” Ten years of western living produced four children, but “a life of small-town interlocking relationships” proved too constraining for the author. With her marriage unraveling she returned back east.
A rigorous graduate program at Harvard began in the fall of ’66, including reading assignments of a thousand pages a week plus courses in statistics. “Correlation at statistically significant level should not be taken to prove causality.”
After receiving her PhD Abernethy took a position at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Harvard’s research-oriented psychiatric teaching hospital. Among her projects was research into unwanted pregnancies. Heavily interwoven into her autobiography are the author’s views on political and social issues especially those dealing with human fertility and ecology. Regarding abortions, Abernethy believes in “a woman’s right to choose,” but as a practical political matter the issue should be left up to the states to decide, which appears to be the case at this writing. I have to agree with her that the Roe v. Wade ruling “caused conservatives to invest inordinate time, money, and energy into overturning the decision. The true cost, arguably, has been neglect of other issues that are of great moment to the future of the Republic.”
In 1975, with an eye for new horizons, Abernethy accepted a post as assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. One issue of interest for the author has been medical ethics. There was a time when a “medical culture of secrecy” prevailed in the profession. It was common to withhold a patient’s diagnosis and prognosis. Speaking of diagnoses: during this time husband number two, still living up in Massachusetts, unfortunately developed terminal lung cancer.
Policies toward mental health were changing during the 1970s and 80s. Due in part to new pharmaceutical treatments, and in part a desire to provide care in a less restrictive environment, state mental hospitals began to close. Deinstitutionalization was supported by the Right as a cost-cutting measure, and by the Left as a civil rights issue. An unintended consequence has been a large number of mentally ill persons living on the streets, negatively impacting urban life. Abernethy concludes that “freedom sometimes appears to collide with good sense and kindness.”
Abernethy offers an interesting insight into the peer-review process. Research that receives positive peer reviews in academic journals has the cachet of scientific objectivity. But the process can be manipulated by the editors of such publications by selecting reviewers who are either favorable or hostile to the researcher’s findings. This raises the larger issue, the legitimacy of vested authorities. Presently many of our established institutions — government, media, and academe — have become discredited. As a result, “scientific findings” are often suspect. “Too often politics rules science.” In fact, “so-called science can be a political construct.”
As mentioned, the author has long been interested in the relationships between human fertility, immigration, and the environment. Probably her first major challenge to intellectual orthodoxy was to dispute the widely accepted Demographic Transition Model (DTM). The DTM states that modernization — urbanization, reduced infant mortality, increased female education — will result in smaller family size. Abernethy countered with her Fertility Opportunity Hypotheses (FOH) which states that women have more children when they perceive that their economic prospects are improving, and have fewer children if they believe the economic future is bleak. The globalists view such a theory as detrimental to their agenda. The FOH suggests that “well-intended humanitarian actions are often counter-productive.”
Abernethy’s research finds evidence that mass immigration increases population growth in both the sending and receiving countries. So while birthrates globally are generally falling, except in sub-Saharan Africa, a falling birthrate does not necessarily mean a falling population because lower fertility rates “do not shrink a population as rapidly as high fertility rates fuel growth.” For the United States, massive legal and illegal immigration pushes population growth, and this has meant lower wages, higher cost of living, and a strain on the natural and social environment. Abernethy’s concerns center on the quality of life and sustainability of resources.
The author appears to be a race realist, but the issue of race is soft-pedaled in Born Abroad. The harsh reality is that population issues cannot be constructively dealt with unless racial differences are taken into account. Belgium and Haiti have approximately the same population and land area. The former is relatively prosperous and orderly with provisions to protect the natural environment. The latter is mired in poverty and chaos with extreme environmental degradation.
Abernethy retired from Vanderbilt in 1998, but has remained quite active, earning the ire of the scandal-ridden, self-appointed “watchdog” group the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). She was one of the principals involved in the organization PAN, Protect Arizona Now that led the fight for Arizona Proposition 200. The proposition was designed to prevent illegal aliens from accessing welfare benefits and the voting booth. The measure passed in November 2004 with 56% of the vote. Part of the act was later invalidated by a federal court.
The author again came to the attention of the SPLC in 2012 when she ran as the vice-presidential candidate for the A3P, American Third Position party (now called the American Freedom Party). She introduced Merlin Miller, the A3P’s presidential candidate, to the American Renaissance conference that year. Due to her activism, she made the honor roll, the SPLC’s list of: “One of the 30 most dangerous people in the United States.”
A student of political ideology would find Abernethy’s world view an eclectic mix of beliefs and values. She identifies as a conservative. Some might call her a classical liberal or a liberal conservative considering her lifestyle, her stand on abortion, and her involvement in feminist causes such as the WEAV group — Women’s Equity at Vanderbilt. She has been critical of Christianity for promoting unhealthy feelings of guilt, believing that reciprocity works better than altruism. There is a dash of libertarianism in the mix. “I merely claim my right to voluntary association.”
On the conventional conservative side, Abernethy supports the theory that mass immigration is a Democratic Party strategy to create a dependent class of Democratic voters. This is a safe partisan political argument that avoids ethnic issues. The Left’s main motivation for supporting massive immigration is to implement the Great Replacement. The Right sees the benefits in low-cost labor and increasing consumer bases. Another conservative bromide is assimilation. “So powerful is the United States’ ideal of liberty, freedom and opportunity that even our salad bowl of ethnicities and race was on its way to assimilation before the stagflation and divisiveness engendered by the Biden Administration.” What? Africans have been in America for four hundred years and remain a distinctly unassimilated group.
Though not a perfect description, Abernathy reminds me of what Wilmot Robertson, even back in the 1970s, called the “Old Believers” — Americans who hang on to revered but outdated beliefs. The author still has “faith that a path back to our Republic, an environmentally sustainable and constitutional path, can be discovered.”
A few less sanguine thoughts do pop up in Born Abroad as well. While Abernethy wants “[a] restoration of responsible individualism, law, order, the Republic, and the Constitution, ” such a “restoration may require a resort to authoritarianism.” In addition, the future political/social stability of the US hangs on the thread of continued prosperity. “Freedom is unlikely to thrive where diversity meets scarcity.”
Abernethy writes tha,t while her “years wind down” and she spends more time on leisure pursuits, including travel with husband number three, “one does not lay down the baton, or the pen too easily.” Judging from a couple of recent interviews she is still sharp as a tack, so we probably have not heard the last from her.
 Prof. Abernethy is the author of three previous books and numerous articles. Virginia Abernethy, The Vanishing American Dream: Immigration, Population, Debt Scarcity (2016) was reviewed in The Occidental Quarterly 17, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 109–119.
 Wilmot Robertson, The Dispossessed Majority, Cape Canaveral, Howard Allen Inc. 1976, 106-108.