Eviscerator of the idiocy of the age

If fame were the reward of merit alone, writes Dalrymple, Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans)

would have been one of the most famous men. Not that he would have greatly enjoyed such fame: his probity and attachment to higher values was too great for that. He combined in his person qualities that are rarely so closely associated: erudition and scholarship, taste, intellectual honesty, wit, literary gifts. I admired Leys more than any other contemporary writer.

Leys was a connoisseur of Chinese culture

and viewed its barbarous destruction with horror; he abominated Maoism at least two decades before it became obligatory for right-thinking persons to do so.

The Cultural Revolution, Dalrymple notes,

was not a very funny subject, since it was one of the greatest episodes of vandalism in history and caused the death of a million people; but Leys wrote so as to make you laugh. He was contemptuous of Western Mao-fanciers.

Dalrymple explains that

Leys’ guiding star was cultivation (in a broad sense) and his bête noires barbarism, stupidity and humbug. There was no better sniffer-out of humbug, the besetting sin of intellectuals.

Leys, Dalrymple points out,

could eviscerate the idiocy of an age in a few lines.

For example:

If one thinks of the great teachers of humanity — the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus — one is struck by a curious paradox: today, not a single one of them would be able to obtain even the most modest teaching post in one of our universities.

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