Category Archives: intellectuals

The only good anti-communist is a mute anti-communist

There has never a good time to be anti-communist

Dalrymple writes that those who early warned of the dangers of bolshevism

were regarded as lacking in compassion for the suffering of the masses under tsarism, as well as lacking the necessary imagination to build a better world.

Then came the phase of

denial of the crimes of communism, when to base one’s anti-communism on such phenomena as organised famine and the murder of millions was regarded as the malicious acceptance of ideologically-inspired lies and calumnies.

Unforgivable bad taste

When finally the catastrophic failure of communism could no longer be disguised, and all the supposed lies were acknowledged to have been true, to be anti-communist

became tasteless in a different way: it was harping on pointlessly about what everyone had always known to be the case.

Dalrymple points out that to be right at the wrong time

is far worse than having been wrong for decades on end. In the estimation of many intellectuals, to be right at the wrong time is the worst possible faux pas.

X-ray minds of the people who know best

Some things, writes Dalrymple, are too obvious for our superiors to notice. They have, he says,

a special kind of spectacles that screen out what everyone else can plainly see.

After all, he asks,

what is the point of being an intellectual if your perceptions are the same as everyone else’s?

 

A blueprint for all that was most harmful to development

The currency was called ‘pictures of Nyerere’

Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania, writes Dalrymple,

illustrated best and most clearly the politicisation of life that foreign aid promoted.

It was regarded by silly Western intellectuals as

a beacon to Africa, if not to the world. Mwalimu, or Teacher, was admired because of his apparently modest manner and lifestyle. Because of the uncritical high regard in which he was held, the economist Peter Bauer called him ‘St Julius’.

What had Teacher taught, and what were the miracles that St Julius had wrought? The country

was impoverished, with young men walking around in Western women’s coats, sent out in bundles by charities from Europe. There was nothing to buy. The currency was called ‘pictures of Nyerere’. Everyone was thin except for members of the Party of the Revolution, who were inclined to be portly. You could tell a party member in the countryside by his girth.

Party of the Revolution

Dalrymple explains that every 10th household had a 10-cell leader,

a man whose certificate of political reliability it was necessary to secure even for a child to continue beyond a certain age at school. This became a system of bribery that reached into the tiny interstices of life. It created, in conditions of penury, a cadre who were not only the eyes and ears of the régime, but loyal to it for the small advantages it gave them. (One thinks here of Freud’s phrase, the narcissism of small differences.)

Nyerere

was adept at talking the language of left-wing European intellectuals, while blinding them—in all conscience, not a very difficult thing to do—to the natural consequences of the forcible collectivisation of peasant agriculture and the removal of millions of people from where they were living, on the supposition that it was only thus that equal and equitable development could take place while the government provided the population with its inestimable services.

The maintenance of this system required tyranny and corruption even on a micro-level. Dalrymple had a patient, an Indian trader,

who had contracted tuberculosis in a Tanzanian prison, to which he had been sent for six months during one of Nyerere’s so-called economic crackdowns, conducted by the army to search out people who had supposedly dealt on the so-called black market (which Bauer would have preferred to call the open market). My patient—one of a class of admirable people, small merchants who had begun their careers by bringing a few simple consumer goods to remote rural areas where it was still possible to be attacked by a lion, and who had gradually reached a modest prosperity—had been found to be in possession of six cups and saucers for which he did not have a receipt.

Foreign aid paid for this iniquity. (Dalrymple also was a small beneficiary of the aid, buying his first house from the proceeds.) The collectivisation

was predictably such a disaster, economically, that there was only one solution: more foreign aid. 90% of the people lived on the land, but still the population could not feed itself, and produced practically no cash crops, they being subjected, if grown, to forced requisition by state marketing boards.

Nyerere recognised the nature of his system when he explained why he refused to devalue the currency.

Such a devaluation would have destroyed his powers of political patronage, for access to foreign currency to favoured persons was a way of ensuring their loyalty. ‘And I would lose everything I have,’ were Nyerere’s precise words.

 

On the myopia of the learned

Intellectuals, writes Dalrymple, often

fail to see what is before their noses.

Their object

is to obscure the obvious and to make complex the simple, so that they are then needed to lead humanity away from its ignorance and stupidity.

With the inexorable rise of tertiary education, we have more intellectuals than ever before,

yet final enlightenment seems as elusive as ever. Man remains a problem-creating animal.

Noble savagery

The late Henry Vincent: protest against injustice

Moral grandiosity and exhibitionism are the occupational hazards of intellectuals

The attitude of many intellectuals towards crime (which almost never affects them personally) is distinguished, writes Dalrymple, by

a mixture of sentimentality and intellectual pride.

On the one hand, there is

reluctance to believe that ordinary people can behave very badly.

On the other, there is the belief that

it is the function of the intellectual to uncover the underlying ‘reality’ of phenomena. (If he is not for that, what is he for?) It represents a loss of caste to express the man-in-the-street’s horror at, or revulsion against, crime.

Crime

has to become not really crime, but something altogether more noble, which it takes nobility and intelligence or acuity on the part of the intellectual to recognise. People don’t steal or rob because they want something and think it is the easiest way to get it; they are uttering a protest against injustice.

Key players

Nothing is so foolish, writes Dalrymple,

that some philosopher has not said it, and no idea has been so discredited that it has not continued to be touted.

He points out that intellectuals are

particularly unsusceptible to refutation by experience, because they much prefer complex rationalisations to the patently obvious — which is a threat to their livelihood, for the patently obvious needs no priestly caste of interpreters. There is no experience that they cannot rationalise away.

Intellectuals who claim not only to be rationalists but rational are often drawn, Dalrymple notes

to gnostic doctrines that claim to reveal the hidden meaning not just of something, but of everything about human existence. Marxism, Freudianism, and, in its most recent form, Darwinism are examples of such doctrines. For many, they held, or hold, the key to reality as Mary Baker Eddy held the key to the Scriptures.

British culture: a form of ruminant grazing

The terrible deterioration in the character of the English

The decline of religious belief, writes Dalrymple,

which provided a basis for personal responsibility, occurred at the same time as a decline in Britain’s world power. Intellectuals, impotently enraged by this, mocked at every value and belief, without providing alternatives. Unlike France, which remained the standard-bearer of a language and a culture, Britain was turned into a province, a deep humiliation for a country which had been metropolitan for two centuries.

Young Britishers

have been deliberately deprived of any knowledge of British achievement: they know nothing of Shakespeare and Dickens, Newton and Darwin, Brunel and Lister. They know of nothing of which they can feel proud.

In the absence of a system of values, says Dalrymple, adolescent revolt

has become a permanent state of mind.

The lack of belief in anything

is compensated for by shrillness, as if noise could fill the void.

The trouble with Britain is not the government. It’s the people

The malaise, Dalrymple points out, is not confined to an underclass.

Every week I meet members of the middle classes who consider themselves victims of some injustice or other in order to lend significance to their lives. They are only victims in the sense that Marie Antoinette was a shepherdess.

The attempt to find transcendent meaning in social justice

destroys or perverts aesthetic appreciation: for how, it is asked, can beauty and injustice subsist in the same world? The aggressive ugliness (not mere lack of taste) of the mode of dress of many of my younger patients, especially those with intellectual pretensions, is intended to provoke the very rejection that will then be used to justify the resentment that gives meaning to otherwise meaningless life.

Essentially personal dissatisfactions (of the kind attendant upon life) are projected on to society as a whole. This

has its advantages: it absolves one of the often painful necessity of self-examination. But it breeds the angry passivity that is now almost a national characteristic.

The sullenness of many of Dalrymple’s young patients

is not mere adolescent rebellion, it is a permanent condition: they will not grow to courtesy. They do not have the dignity or self-respect of previous generations which have known suffering that is not self-inflicted.

Let the heavens fall, so long as my ideas remain pure

Knowing that Man remains Man, writes Dalrymple,

absolves me of the responsibility of trying to bring about a better species, which seems to be the favorite occupation and ambition of so many of our intellectuals. I am better advised to confine my efforts to behaving myself with tolerable decency, which in my case is a perpetual struggle.

He cites a passage in Johnson’s essay on charity (Idler, No. 4, May 6, 1758):

We must snatch the present moment, and employ it well, without too much solicitude for the future, and content ourselves with reflecting that our part is performed. He that waits for an opportunity to do much at once, may breathe out his life in idle wishes, and regret, in the last hour, his useless intentions, and barren zeal.

Dalrymple comments:

Is not barren zeal a description of the favourite state of mind of so many of us? Theoretical zealotry, which never has the opportunity to test its ideas against reality, and knows it never will, can keep a certain type of mind satisfied for years, decades, even a lifetime.

He points out that such zealotry is, of course, very far from harmless.

It finds some few who are willing to act upon it, with what results the history of the 20th century (as well as many other centuries) attests.

Some people

prefer the syllogisms of their ideas to the complexities of reality. They are to the world what obsessional housewives are to a house, and they turn a morbid psychological state into a historical catastrophe.

The ‘potential space’ of Islamism

With its ready-made diagnosis and prescriptions, writes Dalrymple, it

opens up and fills with the pus of implacable hatred for many in search of a reason for and a solution to their discontents.

According to Islamism, Dalrymple notes, the West can never meet the demands of justice, because it is

  • decadent
  • materialistic
  • individualistic
  • heathen
  • democratic rather than theocratic

Only

a return to the principles and practices of 7th-century Arabia will resolve all personal and political problems at the same time.

This notion, he points out, is

no more (and no less) bizarre or stupid than the Marxist notion that captivated so many Western intellectuals throughout the 20th century: that the abolition of private property would lead to final and lasting harmony among men.

Western intellectuals’ grisly infatuation with tyrants

Dalrymple explains that Paul Hollander has had

a long interest in political deception and self-deception — not surprising in someone with first-hand experience of both the Nazis and the Communists in his native Hungary.

In 1981 Hollander published

his classic study of Western intellectuals who travelled, mainly on severely guided tours, to communist countries, principally Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and Castro’s Cuba.

The intellectuals had returned

with glowing accounts of the new (and better) worlds under construction there. The contrast between their accounts and reality would have been funny had reality itself not been so terrible.