Category Archives: demotic age

No wonder Dr Johnson is not in fashion

Engraving from James Barry’s portrait (1778-80)

An incomparably greater psychologist than Freud, having no axe to grind and no sect to found

Samuel Johnson, writes Dalrymple,

  • contrived to be a moralist without moralising
  • was humane and charitable without sentimentality

This is a contrast to today, Dalrymple points out, for

we prefer mental contortions, self-justifications, evasions, rationalisations, and all the other methods of avoiding the truth about ourselves, to Dr Johnson’s discomfiting clarity of mind.

Johnson had a gift, Dalrymple notes, for saying things that were

both startling and obvious. As he himself put it, we have more often to be reminded than informed.

Johnson’s prose style

would no doubt strike many people (if they read it) as formal—we prefer expletives and the demotic now.

A ferocious, inveterate enemy of freedom

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 04.16.50It might be argued, writes Dalrymple, that in a demotic age politicians must consent to indignities if they are to be elected.

If so, it is hardly surprising that we repeatedly elect nonentities distinguished only for their ambition and relentless pursuit of office. Unfortunately, mediocrity and ambition often combine with vast self-regard; and there is no better example of it than Tony Blair.