Category Archives: monomania

Triumph of the monomaniacs

Groupuscules of fanatic freaks wage asymmetric warfare against the rest of us

Dalrymple reports that a paid-for ‘I love J.K. Rowling’ advertisement appeared at a railway station, but the station authorities read into it

an endorsement of the author’s views about transsexualism that have led to unpleasant, intolerant and cowardly denunciations of her.

J.K. Rowling had gone in the minds of the station authorities from being

a world-famous author with a large œuvre

to

the mouthpiece of views that enrage certain monomaniacs and those who are terrified into endorsing them.

The result, Dalrymple writes, was that

in an act of anticipatory surrender, or what a clever Dutch friend of mine calls creative appeasement, the authorities decided to remove the advertisement before anyone could protest. In fact, no one had protested by the time they took it down.

The message ‘I love J.K. Rowling’

could be construed politically only by monomaniacs, even had the massage been intended to be construed in this manner.

We are, Dalrymple writes,

constantly treading on eggshells, thanks to the ideological monomaniacs in our midst. Our freedom of expression is not under threat from the government (as traditionally it was) but from groupuscules who are engaged in asymmetrical wars with the rest of society. They care deeply about a single thing — it is the meaning of their lives. The rest of us, among whom the matter is merely one thing among many others, do not care about it nearly so deeply, though our opinion about it may be, and usually is, diametrically the opposite of that of the monomaniacs.

The monomaniacs

win almost every time because their advocacy is passionate and continual, while everyone’s else’s opposition is lukewarm and intermittent because they have so much else to do and think about.

Moreover,

if you can make your opponents’ lives a misery, you are halfway to victory. This is how what was unthinkable or laughable only yesterday becomes an unassailable orthodoxy today. The speed with which this happens is accelerating.

And since, in the absence of religious belief, causes become the meaning of life for so many,

there is a permanent effervescence of outlandish demands, or rather of demands that would have been outlandish only a few years, months or weeks before.

The proliferation of perverted sub-ideologies

A picture of hate: anti-hate-speech protester, Lewes literary festival, November 2017, in Dr (Mme) Dalrymple’s classic photograph

A million monomanias now

The totalitarian impulse, writes Dalrymple,

did not die with the Soviet Union.

Rather, it

fractured into many different monomanias.

The desire for ideology, he points out,

did not die with the failure of Marxism.

On the contrary,

the desire found its fulfilment in a variety of strange sub-ideologies. Future historians will surely find one of the strangest of these to be that of strident transsexualism.

Perpetual US presidential race

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Insufferable

Dalrymple writes that the more firmly politicians believe in their heavenly mandate,

the more the political class is divided from the sacred people from whom that mandate allegedly derives. Increasingly many of the potential candidates in the perpetual American presidential race are close relatives of previous candidates or of high-flying politicians.

Many a monarch and even dictator

has been more physically accessible to the populace than modern democratic politicians, suggesting a deficiency of real rather than assumed or theoretical legitimacy. Democracy in the modern sense encourages monomania in the population, in which every citizen is viewed as, and many actually become, a potential assassin, from whom the democratic politician must be protected like gold in vaults.

Every ad agency’s dream

With Gerry Adams at the Bobby Sands and James Connolly commemorationSome observations on the next prime minister of Great Britain

Jeremy Corbyn, writes Dalrymple, has throughout his years in the House of Commons

voted for his beliefs, not for his career,

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 15.34.30refusing to join

the majority of the MPs at the trough of expenses.

While Tony Blair, for instance, is a public egalitarian in search of a private fortune, Corbyn is no hypocrite. He

lives his ideals. He is a man of grinding and unnerving integrity, a man of such probity that he would let the heavens fall so long as his version of social justice was done.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 15.40.08There is, says Dalrymple,

not a bien pensant cause in sight to which Corbyn does not wholeheartedly subscribe with the uncritical belief of an apostle, and for which he would be unprepared to go to the stake.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 15.28.50A point in his favour is that he does not appear to be

a man of erudition, culture or literary talent.

Another plus is

his evident authenticity by comparison with other politicians, most of whom are as synthetic as the toys that used to be put in cereal packets.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 15.39.09This dour monomaniac dresses

like a social worker from the 1970s, but at least it is from his own choice, not that of a public relations firm. He is genuine. He is not the product of an advertising agency, and by self-evidently not being such a product he is an advertising agency’s dream.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 15.49.21Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 15.47.52Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 15.46.24 Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 15.48.16

Zweig’s descent from bliss to torment

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.25.31The main themes of the writings of Stefan Zweig are, Dalrymple explains,

  • the part that passion plays in human life. The need for control and the need for expression are in constant tension; any attempt to resolve the contradictions of our existence by dogmatic reference to a simple doctrine (and, compared with life, all doctrines are simple) will end in monomania and barbarism.
  • the destruction of civilisation by political dogma, exemplified by the wars that destroyed Zweig’s world and led him to suicide.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.27.32Having grown up in a world

where it was possible to live happily as so free an agent, Zweig found himself plunged into a world where it became impossible, where men had to organize to resist evil so that any freedom at all might be enjoyed.

In such a world,

Zweig’s refusal to commit to any collective institution or endeavour appeared feeble and parasitic.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.28.44Early in life,

by cultivating the acquaintance of prostitutes, pimps, and others on the margins of society, he learned about the lower depths, from whose ugly reality his status as a child of the haute bourgeoisie had sheltered him.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.31.29War

smashed the old world that Zweig so esteemed.

He saw the storm clouds gathering over his native Austria earlier than many. But other German exiles criticized him for being insufficiently vociferous in denouncing the Nazis.

Hitler in Vienna

The messenger of misery comes to Vienna

It is true that he joined no anti-Nazi groups and hardly raised his voice against the Nazi horror. As a free man, he did not want the Nazis to be able to dictate his mode of expression—even if it were in opposition to them. The insufficiency of this fastidiousness at such a conjuncture needs little emphasis.

But Zweig felt

that strident denunciation would grant the Nazis a victory of sorts. And—like many intellectuals who overestimate the importance that the intellect plays in history and in life—Zweig viewed the Nazis as beneath contempt. Their doctrine and world outlook being so obviously ridiculous and morally odious, why waste time refuting them?

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.39.37The nearest he came to denouncing the Nazis

was in one of his brilliant historical studies, published in 1936: The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin.

Of course, it was not so easy to dismiss the Nazis.

The contempt of a fastidious aesthete would not defeat them: far sterner measures were necessary. But Zweig, born in the pre-ideological age, did not want to live in a world where the only alternative to one ideology was what he thought would be a counter-ideology.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 22.54.57Dalrymple doubts that the modern world would have pleased Zweig.

The shrillness of our ideological debates, the emotional shallowness, the vulgarity of our culture, would have appalled him.

To read Zweig

is to learn what, through stupidity and evil, we progressively lost in the twentieth century.

Conservator of civilisation

Zweig in 1900

Zweig in 1900

The secondhand book dealer’s vital contribution

Dalrymple writes that in Buchmendel (1929), Stefan Zweig

indicates symbolically, and with great force, the destruction of cosmopolitan tolerance by the nationalist madness of the First World War in the fate of a single person.

Buchmendel

is a Jewish peddler of antiquarian books in Vienna. For many years before the outbreak of the war, he carried out his business in a Viennese café. Buchmendel lives for books; he has no other life. He is astonishingly learned, in the offbeat way of secondhand book dealers; every scholar in Vienna (the Vienna, recall, of Brahms, Freud, and Breuer, of Mahler and Klimt, of Schnitzler, Rilke, and Hofmannsthal) consults him on bibliographical matters.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 22.13.23Buchmendel is otherworldly.

His wants are few, his interest in money minimal. The café owner is happy to have as a customer a man consulted by so many eminent men, even though he consumes little and occupies a table all day. The café owner understands, as does everyone else, that Buchmendel is a contributor to, because he is a conservator of, civilisation, and being a civilised man himself, he is honored to welcome him.

But the war supervenes.

Buchmendel is arrested, because he has written to both London and Paris, asking why he has not received copies of bibliographical reviews. The military censors assume that this correspondence is a code for espionage: they can’t conceive that a man could concern himself with bibliography at such a time. The  authorities discover that Buchmendel, born in Russian Galicia, is not even an Austrian citizen. Interned in a camp for enemy aliens, he waits two years before the authorities realise that he is only what he seems, a book peddler.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 22.13.04On his release, Vienna has changed.

No longer the centre of an empire, it has become the impoverished capital of a monoglot rump state. Buchmendel’s café has changed hands; the new owner does not understand or welcome Buchmendel and ejects him. Buchmendel’s life has fallen apart, as has the civilisation to which he was a valuable contributor; now homeless, he soon dies of pneumonia.

Zweig makes it clear

that though Buchmendel was eccentric and his life one-dimensional, even stunted, he could offer his unique contribution to Viennese civilisation because no one cared about his nationality. His work and knowledge were vastly more important to his cosmopolitan customers than his membership in a collectivity.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 22.13.54No man was more sensitive than Zweig

to the destructive effects upon individual liberty of the demands of large or strident collectivities. He would have viewed with horror the cacophony of monomanias — sexual, racial, social, egalitarian — that marks the intellectual life of our societies, each monomaniac demanding legislative restriction on the freedom of others in the name of a supposed greater, collective good. His work was a prolonged (though muted and polite) protest at the balkanisation of our minds and sympathies.

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The terrible damage Castro has done

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 01.54.59It will, writes Dalrymple, long outlive him and his regime. Havana

stands as a dreadful warning to the world—if one were any longer needed—against the dangers of monomaniacs who believe themselves to be in possession of a theory that explains everything, including the future.