Category Archives: fatuity

Trump’s finest hour

Donald Trump: patriotism, generosity and good sense

Reading in his morning newspaper that the General Assembly of the United Nations had greeted a short section of Donald Trump’s speech with laughter, Dalrymple’s esteem for the US president grows. The laughter, Dalrymple writes,

gave rise to Mr Trump’s finest moment. He took it in good part, admitted that he had not expected it, and said it was perfectly all right.

The moment

revealed something about world opposition to Mr Trump: that it is bogus or not deeply felt, and is pro forma.

Dalrymple asks:

  • Would the General Assembly have laughed disrespectfully at Mr Putin or Mr Xi, and would either of them have reacted in the same good-natured way if it had?
  • Did anyone laugh at Mr Obama’s fatuously grandiose claim that his election marked the beginning of healthcare in the United States and the healing of the planet, at least the equal in absurdity of anything said by Mr Trump?
  • Is Mr Trump’s slogan Make America great again any shallower than Mr Obama’s Yes we can?

Barack Obama: absurdity, grandiosity and fatuity

Dalrymple points out that Trump is held to a different standard; and anyone really believing the president was an incipient totalitarian dictator wouldn’t have laughed.

Trump’s speech offered

a more generous view of the world than that of most of his opponents. He called on the people of all countries to be patriotic, acknowledging that people of all countries had something to be patriotic about.

Trump’s was a vision of the world that was

far more genuinely multicultural and multipolar than those who believe in, or call for, a kind of European Union on a global scale, in which all cultures are ground into a food mixer from which a health-giving culture juice of universal rights (to healthcare, social security, etc.) will emerge.

The European Union monstrosity: an emergent bureaucratic tyranny

Trump’s view of patriotism certainly did not entail

the hatred of or disdain for, let alone enmity towards, other countries. What he said in essence was that he wanted a world of live and let live. He appeared to understand that a world government without borders would necessarily be a monstrous bureaucratic tyranny with no possible legitimacy.

To be sure, he simplified problems, but

to look to political speeches for subtle elucidation of knotty problems is like looking to tabloid newspapers for metaphysical insight.

The fatuity and nastiness of Leon Trotsky

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-11-47-13Dalrymple examines Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution (1924), and finds it

stuffed full of exceptionally nasty sentiments and half-baked adolescent ideas, with violence seeping out of every figure of speech.

He cites its peroration:

It is difficult to predict the extent of self-government which the man of the future may reach or the heights to which he may carry his technique. Social construction and psycho-physical self-education will become two aspects of one and the same process. All the arts — literature, drama, painting, music and architecture — will lend this process beautiful form. More correctly, the shell in which the cultural construction and self-education of Communist man will be enclosed, will develop all the vital elements of contemporary art to the highest point. Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonised, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-11-51-49This sort of thing, Dalrymple notes, is

deeply fatuous.

Compared with such tosh, he says,

Ella Wheeler Wilcox is Plato.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-11-55-27

Olympic vice

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 17.06.35If, writes Dalrymple, the games

were amateur, if the competitors were schoolteachers or dustmen who, after work, went down to some dingy sports field to practise their putting-the-shot or other fatuous activity, I would be in favour of rather than against them. The standard of performance would be incomparably lower, but the level of humanity would be correspondingly higher.

But this, Dalrymple points out, is a silly utopian dream.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 17.11.29Even before the Berlin Olympics, the games were a window on political pathology. Dalrymple’s mother

saw Hitler at the Olympic stadium,

and Dalrymple remembers

seeing the Olympic flame borne aloft past me in Amalfi in 1960, by which time the games had long been a deeply vicious spectacle.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 17.09.36Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 17.10.29

Academic vacuity can go no further

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 07.54.50Even at his most opaque, writes Dalrymple, one sometimes glimpses in Jürgen Habermas

a meaning, or a connotation, as one might glimpse a giant panda in a bamboo forest. It is this dialectic between incomprehensibility and meaning that has given him a reputation for profundity. His thoughts lie too deep for words, and the fault lies with us, not with him.

Habermas

tries to squeeze significance out of truisms, as a constipated man tries to squeeze stools out of a reluctant colon.

Compared with reading a Habermas book, says Dalrymple,

going to the dentist is a pleasant experience.

Habermas is held in high esteem, which is itself

of sociological and psychological interest. Audiences have been known almost to swoon at his Teutonically polysyllabic vaticinations.

Habermas, Dalrymple points out, is

largely incomprehensible; where he is comprehensible, he is either banal or wrong, or both. He is often funny, but not intentionally.

Habermas has made a career

as a torturer of language,

yet underlying his platitudinous but mistaken verbiage

is something sinister: the communist, fascist and Nazi dream of the abolition of politics, in favour of mere administrative decision-making by a supposedly enlightened élite, armed with indubitable truth from which their decisions follow syllogistically.

Dalrymple adapts Burke slightly:

In the groves of Habermas’s academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.

What British fascism looks like

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 07.55.55Timeservers led by scoundrels

Dalrymple grew up believing

that it couldn’t happen here; that the intrinsic decency, good sense and ironical detachment of the British would have precluded Nazism or anything like it from taking root. Now I am not so sure.

Utter vileness

does not need a numerical majority to become predominant in a society. The Nazis never had an electoral majority in Germany, yet Germany offered very little resistance to their barbarism. Evil, unlike good, is multiform. We can invent our own totalitarian evil. We have prepared the ground very well.

Hedonistic egotism, fear and resentment

form the character of a large proportion of our population, and it is a character that is ripe for exploitation. They have made themselves natural slaves.

Dalrymple recently received a circular headed New ethnic categories that began with the words,

As you may know, we are required to monitor the ethnic origins of our staff.

Who, he asks,

was this ‘we’ of whom the circular spoke: no names, only ‘the human resources unit’ (Orwell could have done no better). No decent reason for this fascistic practice was given; the ‘we are required’ being the final and irrefutable argument. It is a fair bet that not a peep of protest was uttered in the office of the ‘human resources unit’ when this circular was sent round. Would anyone have mentioned the fact that the Dutch bureaucracy’s refusal to destroy census data on the religious affiliations of the Dutch population on the eve of the German occupation greatly aided the subsequent elimination of Dutch Jewry?

Septic isle

Every public service

has been weakened by the ethos of obeying centralised orders. Doctors, teachers, the police, social workers, prison officers, crown prosecutors, university dons have all been emasculated by the ‘need’ to obey orders that they know are fatuous at best, and positively destructive or wicked at worst.

The organised lying

not only blunts critical faculties and makes it impossible to distinguish true information from false, but morally compromises those who participate in the process. The more state employees conform to the rules laid down, the more helpless and degraded they become, which is the ultimate purpose of these rules.

The public,

gorged with bread and benumbed by circuses, is indifferent. I can’t help thinking of the murder of psychiatric patients and the mentally disabled in Nazi Germany. Neither the public nor the medical profession protested to any great extent (though, instructively, those few doctors who did protest were not punished for it). This terrible crime was made possible, though not inevitable, by an entire cultural context. We, too, are creating a cultural context in which great state crimes are possible.

It could happen here

When Dalrymple sees

the routine inhumanity with which my patients are treated by the state and its various bureaucracies, often in the name of obedience to rules, I think that anything is possible in this country.

When he sees

the mobs of drunken young people who pullulate in our city centres every weekend, awaiting their evil genius to organise them into some kind of pseudo-community, and think of our offices full of potential Eichmanns, I shudder.

British fascism

will no doubt be touchy-feely rather than a boot in the face – more Kafka than Hitler – but it will be ruthless nonetheless.

Triumph of the antinomians

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.05.15Dalrymple writes in the preface to Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses that in much of the world, the miseries of poverty

are no longer those of raw physical deprivation but those induced by comparison with the vast numbers of prosperous people by whom the relatively poor are surrounded and whose comparative wealth the poor feel as a wound, a reproach, and an injustice.

Ronnie Kaufman's photo on a jacket by Jen Huppert Design

Photo by Ronnie Kaufman on a jacket by Jen Huppert Design for the Ivan R. Dee (Chicago) 2005 edition

In the 20th century,

the hope of progress has not proved altogether illusory,

but

neither has the fear of retrogression proved unjustified.

The First World War

destroyed facile optimism that progress towards heaven on earth was inevitable or even possible.

Then came communism and Nazism, which between them

destroyed scores of millions of lives in a fashion that only a few short decades before would have appeared inconceivable.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.47.50Many of the disasters of the 20th century

could be characterised as revolts against civilisation itself: the Cultural Revolution, or the Khmers Rouges.

Only recently, in Rwanda,

ordinary people were transformed into pitiless murderers by demagogic appeals over the radio. They achieved a rate of slaughter with their machetes never equalled even by the Nazis.

In the circumstances,

one might have supposed that a principal preoccupation of intellectuals would be the maintenance of the boundaries that separate civilisation from barbarism.

One would be wrong.

Some have embraced barbarism; others have remained unaware that boundaries do not maintain themselves and are in need of maintenance and sometimes vigorous defence.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.54.10The prestige intellectuals confer upon antinomianism

soon communicates itself to nonintellectuals. What is good for the bohemian sooner or later becomes good for the unskilled worker, the unemployed, the welfare recipient — the very people most in need of boundaries to make their lives tolerable or allow them hope of improvement. The result is moral, spiritual, and emotional squalor, engendering fleeting pleasures and prolonged suffering.

Civilisation

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.55.17needs conservation as much as it needs change, and immoderate criticism, or criticism from the standpoint of utopian first principles, is capable of doing much — indeed devastating — harm. No man is so brilliant that he can work everything out for himself, so that the wisdom of the ages has nothing useful to tell him. To imagine otherwise is to indulge in the most egotistical of hubris.

The disastrous notions of the underclass about how to live

derive from the unrealistic, self-indulgent, and often fatuous ideas of social critics.