How to make a man go berserk

It is, writes Dalrymple,

the small acts of personal disdain rather than the large but abstract and distant injustices that infuriate people and drive them to violence.

No better way exists

of enraging someone than to express obvious contempt for him, especially for something over which he has little control.

This is one of the reasons manners are so important:

the mannerly may disdain, but not show it.

Snobbery

breeds a resentment that causes people to seek revenge even at great personal cost to themselves. It renders men insensate.

A good tool but a bad master

Dalrymple notes that information (whether true or false) without perspective may be a higher form of ignorance — and a more dangerous form, insofar as it disguises itself as knowledge.

Ik wil alleen duidelijk maken dat informatie (of die nu juist of onjuist is) op zichzelf, als perspectief ontbreekt, een hogere vorm van onwetendheid kan zijn, en een gevaarlijker vorm in zoverre ze zich vermomt als kennis; en dat daarom een enorm magazijn van kennis op zichzelf niemand daadwerkelijk iets zal bijbrengen, hoe toegankelijk dat magazijn ook is voor mensen.

However long you browse the internet, it is no substitute for slow cultivation of judgment and a critical spirit, or for the development of a mature perspective.

Hoe lang je ook surft op internet, het kan geen vervanging zijn voor het langzame aankweken van beoordelingsvermogen en een kritische geest, of voor het ontwikkelen van een volwassen perspectief. Overmatig vertrouwen op gemakkelijk toegankelijke bronnen zou kunnen leiden tot een permanent oppervlakkige kijk op de dingen.

How we are complicit in our enslavement

In the literal sense, Dalrymple notes,

the West triumphed in the Cold War. Nevertheless, a kind of creeping sovietisation has overtaken it as if in revenge.

The process, he writes, is subtle and insidious.

I came to the conclusion when I travelled in what was then the Eastern Bloc that the ubiquitous propaganda was not intended to persuade, much less to inform, but to humiliate; for citizens (if that is the proper word for them under that system) had not merely to avoid contradicting it in public, but to agree with it in public.

From the point of view of the ruling power,

the more outrageously false the propaganda, the better. For to force people to assent to propositions that are outrageously false, on pain of losing their livelihoods or worse, was to crush them morally and psychologically, and thus make them docile and easily manipulated.

Soviet rule is within us

Dalrymple comes across a sentence by Sergei Dovlatov:

There is no greater tragedy for a man than totally to lack character.

This, says Dalrymple,

is what I encountered every day, when the bureaucrats with whom I had to deal could not look me in the eye. Theirs was a kind of suffering, endured for the sake of a pension.

Western intellectuals’ grisly infatuation with tyrants

Dalrymple explains that Paul Hollander has had

a long interest in political deception and self-deception — not surprising in someone with first-hand experience of both the Nazis and the Communists in his native Hungary.

In 1981 Hollander published

his classic study of Western intellectuals who travelled, mainly on severely guided tours, to communist countries, principally Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and Castro’s Cuba.

The intellectuals had returned

with glowing accounts of the new (and better) worlds under construction there. The contrast between their accounts and reality would have been funny had reality itself not been so terrible.

Tyrants are their heroes

The list, writes Dalrymple,

of influential intellectuals who have given their blessing to the most obviously terrible régimes is impressive.

How the German intellectuals adored Hitler!

Carl Schmitt (right)

Dalrymple writes:

The penetrating clear-sightedness and benevolence towards humanity that intellectuals often claim for themselves by comparison with the benightedness of the rest of the population is at least sometimes—and maybe often or always—self-serving and mythical. The fact that the most educated part of a modern society supports such-and-such a policy is no evidence that it is right.

It was harder, he points out,

for non-German intellectuals to admire Hitler than Stalin because of the nature of Hitler’s ideas: claiming the inherent and ineradicable superiority of one’s own race and nation in everything from time immemorial is not the best way to attract foreign adherents.

Martin Heidegger

Nevertheless,

many German intellectuals, notoriously Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, rallied to Hitler, and few actively opposed him.

How far their support was motivated by fear or opportunism is impossible to say, but

years of study and intellection did not protect them from gross misjudgment.

Even before Hitler attained power,

support for him was greater among university students and the professoriat than in the nation as a whole.

 

Sartre’s serial dictator-worship

Its religious nature is evidenced, writes Dalrymple,

in the title he gave the newspaper he relaunched in the 1970s and which still publishes today: Libération. Liberation from what? France is hardly a tyranny.

The sense conveyed is of

a mystical or other-worldly liberation from the existential conditions under which mankind is constrained to labour forever.

What we are dealing with is the

religion that dare not speak its name.

Foucault and his idol

Dalrymple explains why intellectuals are so often attracted to the oppressors of foreign multitudes

The fanatically puritanical WikiLeaks Weltanschauung

It is scarcely worth arguing against such a childish view of life

We hardly needed WikiLeaks to tell us, writes Dalrymple,

that Nicolas Sarkozy is a vulgar man with authoritarian inclinations, or that Silvio Berlusconi is interested in sex. It isn’t even particularly reassuring to have our judgments confirmed for us by US diplomatic messages, for if they had said anything different we shouldn’t have believed them.

At first there is a

slight frisson of pleasure at the discomfiture of powerful people and those in authority , a pleasure akin to that of seeing a pompously dignified man slip on a banana skin.

Censor to the world

But when this wears off,

the significance of the greatest disclosure of official documents in history—without, that is, the military downfall of a great city—becomes apparent. It is not that revelations of secrets are always unwelcome or ethically unjustified. It is not a new insight that power is likely to be abused and can only be held in check by a countervailing power, often that of public exposure.

Totalitarianism

WikiLeaks, says Dalrymple,

goes far beyond the need to expose wrongdoing, or supposed wrongdoing: it is unwittingly doing the work of totalitarianism.

The idea behind WikiLeaks

is that life should be an open book, that everything that is said and done should be immediately revealed to everybody, that there should be no secret agreements, deeds, or conversations. In the view of WikiLeaks, no one and no organisation should have anything to hide.

The effect of WikiLeaks

is likely to be profound and the opposite of what it sets out to achieve. Far from making for a more open world, it could make for a much more closed one.

The possibility of secrecy is not the enemy but the precondition of frankness

WikiLeaks

will sow distrust and fear, indeed paranoia; people will be unwilling to express themselves openly in case what they say is taken down by their interlocutor and used in evidence against them, not necessarily by the interlocutor himself. This could happen not in the official sphere alone, but in the private sphere, which it works to destroy. An Iron Curtain could descend. A reign of assumed virtue would be imposed, in which people say only what they do not think and think only what they do not say.

The dissolution of the distinction between the private and public spheres, Dalrymple points out, is

one of the aims of totalitarianism. Opening and reading other people’s e-mails is no different from opening and reading other people’s letters.

WikiLeaks plays a role

that requires an astonishing moral grandiosity and arrogance to have assumed. Even if some evils are exposed, or some necessary truths aired, the end does not justify the means.