Category Archives: ambition

Life is far too short

Dalrymple writes:

The life of Man being but three score years and ten, nothing on earth would induce me to read Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her electoral defeat.

If he had two millennia rather than only two years to go, he would not read it. In fact, he says,

no memoir by any modern politician would tempt me to read it, since the main characteristic of such politicians is mediocrity tempered by unbridled ambition and lust for power. Better to reread Macbeth. Hillary Clinton, after all, is Lady Macbeth to Bill Clinton’s Felix Krull, the confidence trickster.

The hour of defeat

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-13-37-13Not long after the US presidential election, Dalrymple picks up a newspaper. Leafing through it, he comes across, amid all the Trumpery, a picture of Hillary Clinton in the hour of her defeat.

The photograph did something that I previously should not have thought possible: it made me feel sorry for her, for it was the photograph of an old woman. The skin round her neck had become wrinkled as a turkey’s; her face was no longer as smooth as a plastic surgeon’s dream; she exuded no longer a false youth, as if the years had taken no toll of her; and defeat, sorrow, and grief, perhaps even a kind of senile incomprehension, were in her eyes.

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-13-41-46It is, says Dalrymple,

one thing to experience a hopeful ambition ignominiously shattered at a time in life when there is still time for another, but it is quite another thing when it is too late for any comparable ambition to be realised.

He is surprised by his feeling of sympathy,

I who had previously detested her for her ruthless self-righteousness and self-righteous ruthlessness, with one eye always fixed on high moral principle and the other on the main chance, the latter always seeming to triumph over the former.

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-21-36-05But Dalrymple’s sympathy does not go very deep or last very long. Those who live by ambition die by ambition.

If you make the achievement of power the meaning of your life and you are thwarted in it, some kind of collapse is only to be expected.

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So you want to be a consultant

Dalrymple is third from left

The young Dalrymple is third from left

Dalrymple remembers the advice proffered by a senior consultant to himself and other young people at the outset of their clinical studies. The consultant

was teaching us how to examine patients. He had just discovered that he had cancer of the bowel, which he took to be a sentence of death. His life was at an end, he said, and now he realised that he had devoted it to a worthless ambition, namely to become a consultant in a teaching hospital.

To achieve this he had led a deformed life for many years. He had

  • been endlessly on duty at night, ruining his family life
  • toadied for years to men whom he detested
  • failed to develop other interests
  • played silly academic games by doing research which he knew from its inception to be futile, since it was undertaken from a desire for promotion rather than from love of knowledge
  • lived his entire adult life in a single institution, knowing nothing of the world beyond

And now

it was too late, he was dying.

I know you don’t like me,’ he said, which was no more than the truth, for he had been an irascible and intimidating teacher.

But I want to give you a piece of advice. You won’t take it, I know, but I’ll give it you all the same. On no account pursue a career only for power or prestige. To live an interesting life, that is the main thing. You don’t appreciate it yet, but this is the only life you have, so make the most of it. Don’t do what I’ve done. The world is much bigger than any hospital.

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The English Perón

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Always on the lookout for new worlds to ruin

A merciless enemy of liberty

The British repeatedly elect, writes Dalrymple,

nonentities distinguished only for their ambition and relentless pursuit of office. Mediocrity and ambition often combine with vast self-regard.

An example is Tony Blair. In the US it is not appreciated

how ferocious and inveterate an enemy of freedom Mr Blair is. Perhaps the most dangerous thing about him is that he doesn’t know it: he thinks of himself as a guardian of freedom, perhaps the greatest such guardian.

It would be almost correct to call Blair

a fascist, were it not for the fact that he is unaware of it.

Blair’s emphasis on youth as the source of all wisdom and strength

is reminiscent of Mussolini.

His notion of the Third Way

has fascistic overtones, and reminds one of Juan Perón.

Blair is

always on the lookout, not for new worlds to conquer, but for new worlds to poke his nose into and to ruin, or ruin further.

In Britain once, most people

had an idea of virtue that was intensely focused on their individual conduct, irrespective of whether they were rich or poor. People did not believe that poverty excused very much. One of the destructive consequences of the spread of sociological modes of thought is that it has transferred the notion of virtue from individuals to social structures, and in so doing has made personal striving for virtue (as against happiness) not merely unnecessary but ridiculous and even bad, insofar as it diverted attention from the real task at hand, that of creating the perfect society: the society so perfect, as T.S. Eliot put it, that no one will have to be good. It is that kind of society in which Mr Blair believes.

Mass murderer in a mediocratic age

Anders Breivik, writes Dalrymple, was 'an ambitious mediocrity. In that regard, at least, he was representative of his age, which has passed from meritocracy, the social ascension of the able irrespective of social origin, to mediocracy, the social ascension of the ambitious irrespective of their ability'.

Anders Breivik, writes Dalrymple, was ‘an ambitious mediocrity. In that regard, at least, he was representative of his age, which has passed from meritocracy, the social ascension of the able irrespective of social origin, to mediocracy, the social ascension of the ambitious irrespective of their ability’.

Rise of the untalented ambitious

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 07.12.00The deadly combination, writes Dalrymple, is

lack of talent and ambition.

Just as talent has

little connection to character, it also has little connection to intelligence, beyond the basic cognitive abilities necessary for the talent to flourish.

The ability, willingness, and desire to hate

are keys to success for untalented persons because they lend to their conduct a ruthlessness that it might otherwise lack. In the minds of the untalented ambitious, their own ruthlessness becomes not a rather unpleasant human trait, occasionally but by no means often justified by the moral purpose that it serves, but rather a sign of their own purpose’s laudable seriousness.

The Western world

is filling up with the untalented ambitious.

Why do the mediocre triumph?

Because, having little or nothing else to do, they can devote themselves to intrigue, backstabbing, and jockeying for power. In my own little career, I have often seen the genuinely gifted and morally upright pushed aside or thwarted by schemers and apparatchiks who viewed their betters with a mixture of fear and hatred.

An apparatchik

may be defined as a person who doesn’t mind how long a meeting goes on unless he has another meeting to attend. He is interested in power for its own sake, divorced from purpose though he claims to want it for the good of humanity, but has very sensitive antennæ for the power of others. When that power is strong, he retreats; when it shows a weakness, he pounces.

There are Hillary Clintons now

in all organisations, each according to his or her level. Some dictate the fate of nations and others decide on the most trivial of local matters, but their manner of proceeding is identical.

Why the second-rate flourish

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 22.43.18The untalented ambitious triumph because

they can devote themselves to intrigue, backstabbing, and jockeying for power….I have often seen the gifted and morally upright pushed aside or thwarted by schemers and apparatchiks who viewed their betters with a mixture of fear and hatred.

An apparatchik is

a person who doesn’t mind how long a meeting goes on unless he has another meeting to attend. He is interested in power for its own sake, divorced from purpose.

This type of careerist mediocrity possesses

sensitive antennae for the power of others. When that power is strong, he retreats; when it shows a weakness, he pounces.