Author Archives: DalrympleFans

Books v. gumshoes

Dalrymple explains that if there is one thing he has learnt in life, it is never to go anywhere without a book to read.

But one time, when he found himself stuck at an hotel in Los Angeles, he discovered that for some reason he had brought no book with him. So he started reading the telephone directory, the yellow pages. First he looked up bookshops, and there were just a very few entries, taking up less than a quarter of a page; then he looked up private detectives, and there were at least 50 pages of them.

Dalrymple interviewed by Peter Whittle

Dalrymple schools a brute and a barbarian

Debate on the propaganda campaign to persuade people that the brutalist strain was a glorious episode in architectural history

Detail of Balfron Tower (Ernő Goldfinger, 1965-67)

DALRYMPLE: It has the ring of guilty people who protest their innocence too much, who know that they have been complicit in many crimes but hope that by noisy protestation they can drown out their conscience and befuddle the judgment of others. The architects who practised brutalism were brutes. No invading barbarians could have done more damage to towns and cities. Of course, there is no accounting for taste. As James Curl pointed out in debate with an apologist for brutalism, if you do not apprehend the horrors of brutalism at once, there is little that anyone can say. It is like trying to persuade someone that genocide is wrong who does not apprehend it at once. The great mass of the population rightly detests brutalism.

BRUTE: The newly-gained attractivity is growing by the day. In troubled times where societal divides are stronger than ever around the globe and in a world where instantaneous rhymes with tenuous, brutalism offers a grounded style. It’s a simple, massive and timeless base upon which one can feel safe, it’s reassuring.

DALRYMPLE: The idea that brute concrete could create any kind of security other than unease or fear is laughable. When defenders of brutalism illustrate their articles with supposed masterpieces, it is hardly a coincidence that they do so with pictures of buildings devoid of human beings. A human being would be as out of place in such a picture, and a fortiori in such a building, as he would be in a textbook of Euclidean geometry, and would be as welcome as a termite in a wooden floor. For such apologists for brutalism, architecture is a matter of the application of an abstract principle alone, and they see the results through the lenses of their abstraction, which they cherish as others cherish their pet.

BARBARIAN: Unrefined concrete was an honest expression of intentions, while plain forms and exposed structures were similarly sincere.

Le Corbusier: evil

DALRYMPLE: This is like saying that the Gulag was an honest expression of Stalin’s intentions. Sincerity of intentions is not a virtue irrespective of what those intentions are, and those of the inspirer and founder of brutalism were evil, as the slightest acquaintance with his writings will convince anyone of minimal decency.

BARBARIAN: Beyond their architectural function, brutalist buildings serve other uses. Skateboarders, graffiti artists and parkour practitioners have all used Brutalism’s concrete surfaces in innovative ways.

DALRYMPLE: To regard the urban fabric as properly an extended playground is to infantilise the population. Extension of graffiti artists’ canvas to large public buildings is a surrender to vandalism. No one would say of a wall, ‘And in addition it would make an excellent place for a firing squad.’

BARBARIAN: Brutalism evokes an era of optimism and belief in the permanence of public institutions—government as well as public housing, educational and health facilities. While demolishing Brutalist buildings often proves politically popular, they are typically replaced by private development.

DALRYMPLE: Many brutalist buildings, especially those devoted to public housing, have been demolished within a few decades at most because they have been so hated, not to mention dysfunctional and impossible to maintain. They evoke not permanence but the wish that they be pulled down as soon as they are erected. If many survive, it is because they are too expensive to pull down and reconstruct. Private development as architecture can be good or bad, but whether it is one or the other does not depend upon its being private. Much private development is as hideous as anything the government has managed, but that is because architects are terrible and patrons have no taste.

One law for the bien pensant, another for the rest of us

Shire Hall, Cambridge

Dalrymple writes:

One of the perpetual criticisms of Western legal systems is that they apply one law to the rich and another to the poor. Magistrates in Cambridgeshire recently did their best to substantiate this criticism.

A parliamentary candidate for the Green Party

was arrested for having defaced the offices of the county council by spraypainting them with Extinction Rebellion symbols. She was charged with criminal damage. Her defence was that she had been defending her property from imminent damage caused by climate change. The magistrates accepted this and acquitted her because of her ‘very strong and honestly held belief that we are facing a climate emergency‘.

Angela Ditchfield

Such a socially destructive judgment, says Dalrymple,

made honestly held belief, however absurd, a defence against what would otherwise be a criminal act. It made everyone a law unto himself. The magistrates, as weak of mind as of character, were acting in a politically biased manner. If a person with a ‘very strong and honestly held belief’ that Britain was being Islamised had daubed the council offices with a slogan to that effect, he would (quite rightly) not have been acquitted. If the accused had been an unemployed young male lout dressed in international slum-ghetto costume, he would not have been acquitted, either.

Dalrymple points out that the police in London have spent more than twice as much on trying to contain the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations as they have on a special force to deal with the increasing number of violent crimes, but then,

violent crime affects mostly the poor and ethnic minorities, so it is not very important by comparison with, say, the distant and purely hypothetical damage caused by global warming to the property of parliamentary candidates for the Green Party.

Enfeebled England

Sinking further into moral squalor

Why is Britain so lacking in moral confidence? (In this, it is only the worst case of a malaise in the West.) Dalrymple points to the expansion of tertiary education, especially in non-technical subjects. He notes that large numbers of people

have been educated in injustice and grievance studies, which have had for their effect the dissolution of a sense of human beings as agents rather than victimised vectors of forces.

If murderers and other violent criminals behave in the way that they do,

it must be (sociology, psychology, and criminology teach) because of social forces beyond their control. Hence it is unjust to inflict punishment upon them. Punishment can only be justified where a man is a free agent and could have done otherwise; since he is never a free agent and could never have done otherwise, punishment is never justified. Millions now believe this.

Pusillanimity in the face of violent crime

WeWork’s guru-led business model

Dalrymple writes that Adam Neumann, with his long hair, T-shirt, and microphone, indulged, like any guru worthy of the name, in

malversation of funds, morally if not legally, on a large scale.

Neumann claimed — without being laughed down — that his business was worth $47bn, yet it was

nothing but renting out office space to people who could not afford permanent offices. This is a good idea, no doubt, though it was not his, but to have parlayed it into a business allegedly worth many billions while making heavy losses takes genius of a kind.

WeWork, Dalrymple notes,

had a private jet while losing more money than it turned over ($1.9bn against $1.8bn). I don’t know whether this is a first in history.

The company could survive

only by finding someone to throw good money after bad. As Macbeth might have said if he had lent money to it, ‘I am in loan stepp’d in so far that, should I lend no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er‘ — indeed more tedious, in so far as it would imply that the original loans were not performing and might give rise to awkward questions about the wisdom and competence of those who made them. Meanwhile, my bank tells me every month that it is prepared to lend my tiny company up to 4% of the amount of money I already have in the bank. Thanks very much. Such is the wisdom of bankers.

Dalrymple says he finds it difficult to think of the WeWork story without recourse to metaphors of parasitism. He notes that in the modern world, the path to fantastic personal success is not that of inventing something that people want and that can be developed and sold at a profit, but of persuading investors to part with their — or more often, other people’s — money to finance a bubble. For that you need the skills and confidence of gurus, who

fleece by promising new meaning to the gullible. Their eyes shine, they gesture, they are alternately passionate and calm. They don’t believe, they know. If you are lucky, you have never met such a person, for we are all, to varying degrees, susceptible to him. One might have thought, though, that bankers of all people would not fall easily for their wiles.

The most successful gurus, Dalrymple observes,

are not straightforward crooks, at least not to begin with. If they deceive, they are also to a large extent self-deceived. But with repetition and success comes more straightforward skulduggery, swindling, misappropriation of funds, sexual predation, and so forth, all because they believe themselves to have been granted impunity, as with a diplomatic passport.

Many gurus

mark themselves out by their dress — in this case, T-shirt — despite immense wealth. How can such a man not have seen through the triviality of mere appearance to a deeper reality?

Dalrymple asks how

companies that have never made a profit, however long they have been in existence, can be valued so much more highly than those that make profits almost without fail.

No doubt the companies in question

promise at some time in the future to make eye-watering profits once they have cornered the market and can charge monopoly prices, having driven everyone else from the field. But this glorious future (glorious for holders of the stock, not for the average or below-average customer) seems rarely to arrive. Meanwhile, financiers finance, at least until, like socialists, they run out of other people’s money. Then they can ask the government to create more money, so that they never run out of other people’s money.

Madoff’s masterly $65bn sucker game

Web of exquisite lies

Bernie Madoff, writes Dalrymple, was the type of swindler

who is hyper-respectable and sober in appearance. How gladly I should have entrusted my savings to him if he had asked me! Such a calm, intelligent face, full of strong but discreet character!

His Ponzi scheme

was so brilliant that even now it excites my admiration, though I know that it was wicked.

Madoff offered

not huge and spectacular gains, but steady, invariant, yet more than adequate ones that could plausibly have been the fruit of unusually wise investment in turbulent times.

The gains were offered

only to the people whom Madoff accepted as clients, who then came to think of themselves as specially privileged to be taken into his embrace, which turned out be more spider’s web than sheltering fold.

A frivolous, hopeless wreck of a police force

Nero’s fiddling was effective firefighting by comparison

Britain has by far the highest rate of violent crime in Western Europe, about five or six times that of Spain, for example. What is the response of the British police? Dalrymple writes that it is a fact of modern British life that

as the police appear more and more to resemble the paramilitary force of an authoritarian régime or military dictatorship, they become less and less effectual, whom only the law-abiding fear.

They seem to concentrate ever less on real police work, and

engage in parallel pseudo-activities, such as commiserating with the victims of the crimes they have failed to prevent and in the vast majority of cases make no attempt to solve.

He notes that a break-in during which an elderly person is murdered, for example,

is increasingly apt to be described as ‘a burglary that went tragically wrong’.

The British police love to

waste their time on the pseudo-pastoral care of those whom I suppose we must now call their clients.

Their primary object appears to be

work avoidance through work creation, a seemingly frantic activity — while never having to do anything that actually conduces to any conceivable end other than early retirement on the grounds of ill-health through stress. This is a world that is forever developing training packages, building and delivering capacity, etc., while actually doing nothing. Nero’s fiddling, by comparison, was effective firefighting – evidence-based, of course. It is always time for thinking outside the box, ringfencing a safe space for blue-skies thinking.

Hoist with his own petard

Dalrymple rejoices in the abject spectacle of Justin Trudeau, who, he writes,

has a face as characterless as that of David Cameron. They are of the same ilk. You look at them and think, ‘What nullities!’

The main character discernible in their faces is

lack of character.

Trudeau’s apology for his blackface behaviour when he was a young man does nothing to increase Dalrymple’s liking for him. It is, Dalrymple says,

a difficult question of moral philosophy as to whether it would be worse if Mr Trudeau believed his political correctness or if he made use of it as a means to power. If the former, he is a fool; if the latter, a knave.

Political correctness, Dalrymple points out,

is dangerous because when fools or knaves get into power, they may try to implement its dictates. Since many people are much more concerned to appear good than to do good, and since they are unlikely to suffer the consequences of their actions, the implementation may continue for a long time after the negative effects of its dictates have become clear. When implemented, those dictates create a clientèle dependent upon their continuation, which turns any attempt to undo the harm into a nasty social conflict.

On strumpets

Strumpets, Dalrymple notes, are

immoral women of Shakespearean proportion.

A debauched or unchaste woman, a harlot, a prostitute. ‘A vile and abominable strumpet’; ‘A strumpet’s boldness’; ‘He regards nothing but to enjoy his little seraglio of six strumpets’; ‘The most degraded and dangerous strumpets are allowed to congregate round our barracks without hindrance’; ‘This is a disease of childhood, and the only exception to this I have seen was in a very young strumpet.’

‘They know the open whoredom of the Babylonical strumpet’; ‘Out, out, thou strumpet-fortune’; ‘The Kaiser and his parasites have gone a-whoring after Bellona, the deadliest strumpet that ever wrecked the souls and bodies of men’; ‘If thou do not altogether consider Christ’s mind, thou dealest strumpet-like with him.’

Strumpetocracy, jocular, government by harlots. Strumpetier, a whoremonger. ‘In the strumpetocracy of France, he had risen to this post by the most servile attention to Mme de Pompadour’; ‘Zola wants to show in action the morals and manners which developed in the aristocracy of the bourse and the strumpetocracy of Paris’; ‘O that our luxurious strumpetiers could read in their diseased bodies the estate of their leprous souls.’