Category Archives: power

Life is far too short

Dalrymple writes:

The life of Man being but three score years and ten, nothing on earth would induce me to read Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her electoral defeat.

If he had two millennia rather than only two years to go, he would not read it. In fact, he says,

no memoir by any modern politician would tempt me to read it, since the main characteristic of such politicians is mediocrity tempered by unbridled ambition and lust for power. Better to reread Macbeth. Hillary Clinton, after all, is Lady Macbeth to Bill Clinton’s Felix Krull, the confidence trickster.

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A Procrustean political bed

The purpose of the European Union, writes Dalrymple,

is to fuse very different countries in the hope that something powerful will emerge, so that European politicians may play a role on a larger stage than their own. Who would have heard of Mr Juncker had he remained a former prime minister of Luxembourg, Mr Barroso had he remained a former prime minister of Portugal (and Maoist student agitator), or Mr Kinnock had he remained but a failed leader of the British Labour party?

The object of political correctness

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-22-33-24It is not, of course, to spread truth, Dalrymple points out. It is

to exercise power.

The more political correctness

violates common feeling or opinion while at the same time exercising a moral terror against dissenters, the more effective it is.

It is hardly surprising that political correctness should

grow ever more extreme, and attach itself to ever more arcane subject matter.

From Germany, hope for insomniacs

The federal foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Zzz zzz zzz… Verbal anæsthesia: the federal foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, delivers an address that is well-timed (coming shortly after the British voted to leave the European Union), and in duration no longer than about an hour-and-a-half, concerning the glories of the European Union. Zzz zzz zzz…

Zzz zzz zzz zzz…

Picking up a copy of the Paris daily the Monde, which he describes as the French equivalent of the Times of New York, though

still rather more interesting,

Dalrymple comes across an article by the Bundesminister des Auswärtigen, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. To read it, Dalrymple says,

is to enter a world of grey thought, evasive cliché, Soviet-style slogans, verbal anæsthesia. I think you could put almost anyone to sleep by reading it aloud to him.

Steinmeier’s remarks are intended to be

a stirring call to readers, like de Gaulle’s radio broadcast from London.

There are passages such as this:

We are committed to making Europe better. This is the direction taken by the proposals put forward by Jean-Marc Ayrault [the Ministre des Affaires étrangères et du Développement international] and myself. We have ideas on improved internal and external security, an active migration policy and a policy for growth and employment. We look forward to receiving lots of constructive ideas. A better, more flexible EU will respect differing views on the further progress of Europe and will allow for different speeds, without excluding anyone or leaving anyone behind. Instead of arguing about what the ultimate goal of European integration should be, we should work towards tangible results. It is only by working together that we will make progress. That is why it is so important for us to consult each other in the group of 27, to listen carefully to each other, and then take joint action.

Hergestellt in Detmold, Deutschland

Hergestellt in Detmold, Deutschland

Zzzz zzz zzz zzz… Dalrymple comments:

I do not know Mr Steinmeier and have no animus against him. He is probably a perfectly decent man, as politicians go. What intrigues me is whether his article corresponds to any thoughts that actually ran through his head. If they did, one can only pity him: how boring it must be to be Mr Steinmeier.

But Dalrymple does not want to be accused of selective quotation, so he closes his eyes and lets his finger alight at random on part of the article. Here is the passage:

We are looking back on an unprecedented 70 years of peace and stability. More than 25 years have passed since we brought an end to the division of our continent. The process of European unification is an unparalleled success story. At its core is an agreed political framework under which the member states come to Brussels to manage their relations and settle their conflicts — and do not head off to the battlefield. This agreement has lost none of its utility or significance. The European peace project must be passed on intact to the generations who will follow us.

Zzz zzz zzz zzz… Dalrymple says that to combine, in such a way,

soporific banality with cunning evasiveness takes, I suppose, talent of a kind, the kind of talent required to rule without appearing to want to do so. It is a dull talent, and one that I cannot much admire.

Blair: dishonesty and dishonour

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 09.52.04

Lack of character plus moral grandiosity, a lethal combination

The grandiose are found out by reality, and left squirming

Tony Blair, writes Dalrymple, exhibits

the most frivolous earnestness. He is given to gushes of cheap moral enthusiasm — cheap, that is, for him, not for others who have to pay for it.

Blair has been

exposed as the frog in Æsop’s fable that puffs and puffs himself up in an attempt to prove himself as big as the cow, until he explodes. But we cannot blame him entirely. He is one of us, the new Britons. The least we can do is to put some teddy-bears by the railings outside his home to help him come to terms with his humiliation.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 09.50.34Britain, Dalrymple reminds us, is

of very slight account, with a population increasingly unable to distinguish the trivial from the important and the virtual from the real. It has over several decades undergone profound social and psychological changes, of which Blair is both a symptom and an accelerating cause.

When moral grandiosity meets lack of character,

no good can result. Grandiosity and lack of character are two sides of the same coin. When someone believes that he is born with Original Virtue, he comes to believe that all his opinions, all his ends and all his actions are pure, moral and right. He is able to change from moment to moment, and to act in a completely unscrupulous manner. He may act in contradictory ways and change his opinions to their very opposites, but the purity of motive remains when everything else has disappeared.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 09.19.39Such a person

can have no honour, for honour implies a loyalty to a fixed standard, even or especially when it is not in that person’s immediate or instrumental interest to uphold it.

The lack of character

derives also from the elevation of sensibility over sense and of personal opinion over personal probity. Purity of sentiment and opinion become the whole of virtue, and the louder one expresses it the better the person is; morality is not a discipline and an abjuration but an opportunity to shine in front of one’s peers.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.23.23Needless to say,

purity of sentiment and opinion are not incompatible with our old and trusted friend, the thirst for power, a combination which naturally enough results in a bullying sentimentality and a self-righteous lack of scruple.

The desire to be

both policeman and lady almoner, General Patton and Gandhi, Rambo and Elizabeth Fry, is not conducive to clear thinking or clear policy.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.28.26Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.20.38

Demise of the cultivated doctor

А. П. Чехов

А. П. Чехов

If no one, writes Dalrymple, is broadly educated or cultivated,

that is the end of broad education and cultivation itself. We will be reduced to a society of technocrats, each absorbed in his own narrow specialism.

It is not, he says, a society

to which I look forward. Apart from anything else, some among us will be specialists in the exercise of power, against whom the rest of us will be defenceless.

So you want to be a consultant

Dalrymple is third from left

The young Dalrymple is third from left

Dalrymple remembers the advice proffered by a senior consultant to himself and other young people at the outset of their clinical studies. The consultant

was teaching us how to examine patients. He had just discovered that he had cancer of the bowel, which he took to be a sentence of death. His life was at an end, he said, and now he realised that he had devoted it to a worthless ambition, namely to become a consultant in a teaching hospital.

To achieve this he had led a deformed life for many years. He had

  • been endlessly on duty at night, ruining his family life
  • toadied for years to men whom he detested
  • failed to develop other interests
  • played silly academic games by doing research which he knew from its inception to be futile, since it was undertaken from a desire for promotion rather than from love of knowledge
  • lived his entire adult life in a single institution, knowing nothing of the world beyond

And now

it was too late, he was dying.

I know you don’t like me,’ he said, which was no more than the truth, for he had been an irascible and intimidating teacher.

But I want to give you a piece of advice. You won’t take it, I know, but I’ll give it you all the same. On no account pursue a career only for power or prestige. To live an interesting life, that is the main thing. You don’t appreciate it yet, but this is the only life you have, so make the most of it. Don’t do what I’ve done. The world is much bigger than any hospital.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 10.07.53

The morally upright pushed aside

img_2973Dalrymple writes that in his career, he has

often seen the genuinely gifted and morally upright pushed aside or thwarted by schemers and apparatchiks who viewed their betters with a mixture of fear and hatred.

An apparatchik

is interested in power for its own sake, divorced from purpose though he claims to want it for the good of humanity, but has very sensitive antennae for the power of others. When that power is strong, he retreats; when it shows a weakness, he pounces.

Apparatchiks,

like the Clintons, never forget; their minds are like filing cabinets.

One of the greatest achievements of our civilisation

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 08.33.25The presumption of innocence, writes Dalrymple,

does not apply only to those about whose physical violation of the law there remains some doubt. It applies to every accused person without ­exception.

Without this noble lie, justice

becomes the mere exercise of power, arbitrary and likely to be cruel.

It does not come naturally,

as looking at the faces of most of the accused in any law court will quickly persuade you. It takes considerable self-control to entertain the possibility that a man who looks so malign may yet be innocent.

Malice and benevolence

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 05.02.39Joseph Butler, Dalrymple explains,

does not deny that motives are often mixed, but this does not mean that all motives are really one meta- or mega-motive.

In this connection, Butler coins his dictum:

Everything is what it is, and not another thing. (This can be found in Fifteen Sermons, Preface §39.)

In other words, says Dalrymple,

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 05.06.10benevolence is benevolence and malice is malice, even if they co-exist in one human heart.

Butler’s

argument against self-love, self-interest or power being the only human motive is simple but decisive.

Dalrymple draws attention to Butler’s 1727 sermon Upon Human Nature, citing this passage:

That what has [the appearance of goodwill] is often nothing but ambition; that delight in superiority often (suppose always) mixes itself with benevolence, only makes it more specious to call it ambition than hunger, of the two; but in reality that passion does not more to account for the whole appearance of good-will than this appetite does. Is there not often the appearance of one man’s wishing that good to another, which he knows himself unable to procure him; and rejoicing in it, though bestowed by a third person? And can love of power any way possibly come in to account for this desire or delight?