Category Archives: authoritarianism

Silence is violence

Dalrymple notes that the slogan reflects the demand that

everyone join in a chorus, failure to do so being a crime.

This, he points out,

goes further than authoritarianism, under which dissent is a crime. As under the totalitarians, positive and public assent to and enthusiasm for certain propositions are required.

Failure in this regard

is a symptom or sign of being an enemy of the people. If you do not join in the chorus, but are silent, you are a racist, complicit in the killing of George Floyd and other crimes.

Wuhan flu and the public health Moloch

Cult of the (failing) state health service

Dalrymple writes that the Chinese virus crisis has in the West reinforced a tendency to authoritarianism and emboldened bureaucrats with totalitarian leanings. He has been surprised by

how meekly the population has accepted, on the say-so of technocrats, regulations so drastic that they might have made Stalin envious. There has been no demand for the evidence that supposedly justifies severe limitations on freedom.

One view is that the authorities

are trusted by the population to do the right thing. Much as we lament the intellectual and moral level of our political class, there are limits to how much we despise it. We believe that our institutions still work, even when guided or controlled by nullities.

A less optimistic interpretation, says Dalrymple, is that the population

is so used to being administered, supposedly for its good, under a régime of bread and circuses that it is no longer capable of independent thought or action. We have become what Tocqueville thought the Americans would become under their democratic régime, a herd of docile animals. Only at the margins — for example, the drug-dealers of the banlieues — do the refractory rebel against the regulations.

Creepy weekly state-sponsored ceremony of compulsory applause

The Wuhan flu has revealed that,

whatever our traditions, we are less proof against authoritarianism than we like to suppose.

Authority, says Dalrymple,

is rarely content to stay within the limits set down for it, but is like an imperial power always seeking the means of its expansion.

He warns:

There is no human activity that has no consequences for health, either individually or in the aggregate; and what is the public but an aggregate? Public health, we have learnt, is the highest good, the precondition of all other goods. A solicitous government has the right — no, the duty — to interfere in our lives to make sure that we stay healthy. And authority once taken rarely retreats of its own accord.

An advanced East and a backward West

China flu and the ignominy of Europe

Anyone who has been to church in France, writes Dalrymple,

will have noticed that the direction of the tide of evangelism has reversed. It used to be from France to Africa; now it is from Africa to France. Many of the priests are African: they come to serve or convert the heathen who once colonised them.

It points, he notes,

to a loss, not only of faith but of cultural confidence. The idea of Europe preaching to the world now seems ridiculous. Europe has lost the mandate of heaven.

Who would have thought, Dalrymple asks,

even 30 years ago, that China would be sending humanitarian assistance to Italy, both in the form of medical material and technicians?

There has been a reversal

of what people in the West, for so long, took as the natural order of things.

The Wuhan virus

has revealed what Westerners would have preferred not to know: they are no longer in the forefront.

Dalrymple points out that Europe cannot even console itself that, if it has not responded with the efficiency of Korea, Taiwan, or Singapore, it is at least not authoritarian. Near where Dalrymple lives, people are required to show a laissez-passer. Taking a short walk in the district, Dalrymple says he half-expects someone to jump out of a doorway and shout

Halt! Ihre Papiere, bitte.

A Chinese aid worker loads humanitarian relief supplies bound for Italy at Hangzhou airport

Authoritarianism of so-called liberals

Screenshot 2020-01-25 at 15.59.09Why beholdest thou the authoritarianism that is in thy brother’s polity, but considerest not the authoritarianism that is in thine own polity?

Dalrymple writes that those who accuse Hungary and Poland of authoritarianism are not necessarily friends of freedom of choice themselves, except in respect of which restaurant to go to tonight.

I’m bored with Mexican, why not Moroccan? This is not necessarily a perfect model for society, or at least for all societies, as a whole.

He notes that

it is a common human trait to accuse others of the faults that one has oneself. In the case of authoritarianism, the accusation is easy, because there can be no complex modern society without the exercise of authority by someone. The question is whether that authority is exercised with both moderation and some kind of check or balance. For the former, an inner sense of limitation is necessary, and many so-called liberals do not have it.

Puritanical vigilance of the politically correct


Николай I

Dalrymple notes that in La Russie en 1839, the Marquis de Custine wrote that Nicholas I

was both eagle and insect: eagle because he soared over society, surveying it with a sharp raptor’s eye from above, and insect because he bored himself into every crack and crevice of society from below. Nothing was too large or too small for his attention.

Political correctness is rather like that, says Dalrymple.

For the politically correct, nothing is too large or too small to escape their puritanical attention. As a consequence, we suspect that we are living an authoritarian prelude to a totalitarian future.

Lee was not universally loved

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 21.56.04The most intelligent and capable world leader of the past half-century

He was not, writes Dalrymple with gentle understatement,

universally loved.


universal approbation is not an appropriate goal for a politician.

His authoritarianism

fell far short of despotism.

Lee brought order

Lee brought order

Like many politicians brought up

in the twilight of empire, he both admired and disliked the colonial power.

Lee recalled admiringly

the way evening newspapers were piled in the street in London and people paid for them by leaving their money without any compulsion to do so and without ever stealing what others had left. This, he thought, was a well-ordered and disciplined society.

The achievements of Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew are incontestable

He had the pleasure

of being able to reverse the flow of moral example, and of seeing the former colonial power, which had always prided itself on its moral, intellectual and political superiority, sunk in terminal decline and decadence.

Unlike the good order and discipline that he thought he saw in England,Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 21.49.39

which had grown more or less organically from the country’s history, Singapore’s had to be brought about by stern and some would say oppressive legislation.

The efficiency with which the city-state is now administered

is one of the reproaches against Lee; it now seems almost intimidatingly tidy and well-organised, with little scope for the free expression or the crookedness of the timber from which Kant thought that mankind is made, and in which he delighted.

'Jeder derselben will immer seine Freiheit mißbrauchen, wenn er Keinen über sich hat, der nach den Gesetzen über ihn Gewalt ausübt. Das höchste Oberhaupt soll aber gerecht für sich selbst, und doch ein Mensch sein. Diese Aufgabe ist daher die schwerste unter allen; ja ihre vollkommene Auflösung ist unmöglich; aus so krummen Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden'

‘Jeder derselben will immer seine Freiheit mißbrauchen, wenn er Keinen über sich hat, der nach den Gesetzen über ihn Gewalt ausübt. Das höchste Oberhaupt soll aber gerecht für sich selbst, und doch ein Mensch sein. Diese Aufgabe ist daher die schwerste unter allen; ja ihre vollkommene Auflösung ist unmöglich; aus so krummen Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden.’

Singapore velly, velly law

Collyer Quay

Collyer Quay

That is what a Singapore taxi driver said when Dalrymple asked why no taxi had stopped for him on a particular stretch of road. (Dalrymple had been standing a yard from the legally constituted designated spot at which taxis could pick up passengers). Thus, writes Dalrymple,

an imperfect command of the English language sometimes confers an expressive eloquence and succinctness.

An accurate summation of the situation in the city-state. Dalrymple admits to a certain ambivalence about the place.

I admire rather than like its discipline, even if I think on balance that its effects have been good.