Category Archives: Theodore Dalrymple

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.

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Why they can’t abide the Jewish state

Hell hath no fury like a universalist contradicted

The belief in a supranational order which is now very common among European élites accounts in part, writes Dalrymple, for the fury they direct against the Zionists.

A conceptual anti-EU

Israel, Dalrymple notes,

is a European state, but instead of subscribing to European supranational pieties, it pursues its national interest with determination and without apology. It is particularist rather than universalist.

Believers in universalism

brook no derogation from their principles.

The Western European superiority complex

Dalrymple points out that as a European state, Israel

is held up to a different standard from Arab states, Iran or Turkey, because European states have supposedly now reached a higher ethical stage, that of national altruism rather than national egotism, a stage which those of lesser breeds without the (moral) law, still mired in egotism, have not attained.

It turns out that

it is rather more difficult to disembarrass yourself of feelings of superiority than at first might have been supposed.

Eurocratic contempt for the great unwashed

The single-currency disaster

Dalrymple points out that whenever and wherever pooling of sovereignty has been put to nations’ electorates, it has been rejected. He writes:

There was probably no European nation that had been in favour of the establishment of the common currency. Nonetheless, the European leaders went ahead with it, as if public approval of what they were so momentously doing were unnecessary, indeed irrelevant.

Liberal supranationalism is dangerously dictatorial

Dalrymple notes that José Manuel Barroso, while head of the European Commission, on one occasion

let fall the true nature of the European Union. It was, he said, an empire, albeit an empire of an entirely new type. He said that for the first time in history nations had agreed to pool their sovereignty.

To what end, Barroso did not say.

Æsthetic barbarians

Cité radieuse de Rezé

Dalrymple writes that the modernists were adept at claiming that their architecture was both

  1. a logical development to and æsthetic successor of classical Greek architecture; and
  2. utterly new and unprecedented

The latter, he points out, was nearer the mark. They created buildings that,

not only in theory but in practice, were incompatible with all that had gone before, and intentionally so. Any one of their buildings could, and often did, lay waste a townscape, with devastating consequences. What had previously been a source of pride for inhabitants became a source of impotent despair.

Le Corbusier’s books

are littered with references to the Parthenon and other great monuments of architectural genius: but how anybody can see anything in common between the Parthenon and the Unité d’habitation (an appellation that surely by itself ought to tell us everything we need to know about Corbusier), other than that both are the product of human labour, defeats me.

Cité radieuse de Marseille

Parochialism in time

There is, writes Dalrymple,

no more evanescent quality than modernity, a banal observation whose import those who take pride in their modernity contrive to ignore. Having reached the pinnacle of human achievement by living in the present rather than in the past, they assume that nothing will change after them; and they assume that the latest is best.

He notes that in certain fields the latest is inclined to be best. For example,

no one would wish to be treated surgically using the methods of Sir Astley Cooper.

But

if we want modern treatment, it is not because it is modern but because it better as gauged by pretty obvious criteria. If it were worse (as very occasionally it is), we should not want it, however modern it were.

Alas, says Dalrymple,

the idea of progress has infected important spheres in which it has no proper application, particularly the arts.

Philistines v snobs

There naturally exist militant Philistines, writes Dalrymple,

the kind of people who think that any poem more complex or difficult to interpret than birthday card doggerel is too pretentious to be bothered with.

Of course, a tendency equal and opposite to such Philistinism is, he points out,

snobbery about the accessible, as if the accessible were necessarily trivial because it required no intermediary to explain it.

The roots of animal rights fanaticism

A factor in the rise of the animal rights movement, writes Dalrymple, is

the absence of any contact between the great majority of mankind and animals, except for those animals that are kept for pets and that are increasingly anthropomorphised by their owners.

He points out that the movement is

an urban phenomenon, of people who have no daily contact with or knowledge of cows or pigs or sheep, as those concerned with animal husbandry do, and who might not much care for them if they did.

The only model most people have of relations with animals

is that which they have with their cat or dog, and they use it as a model or template for what they think all relations with animals should be.

The fanatic beliefs of the animal rights advocates, which often result in aggressive — even murderous — behaviour

are symptomatic of the decline in religious belief, for which they are a substitute. Without strong convictions, there can be no sense of purpose. And since we all need a sense of purpose, at least once we are freed from any real precariousness as far as physical survival is concerned, we adopt strong convictions to fill the vacuum and give us that purpose that is larger than the flux of day-to-day existence can provide.

Naipaul: the cure for simple minds

Dalrymple points to V.S. Naipaul’s

utter probity as a writer, which he exhibited from the outset of his career when it might well have paid him, in his then-difficult circumstances, to lower his standards. He held it a duty, both to himself and the world, to produce only the best of which his prodigious gift as a writer, of which from the first he rightly had no doubt, was capable.

The shallowness of Naipaul’s roots to a particular place

helped him understand the sense of uprootedness that is so important a feature of life in the period in which he lived, and which is with us still.

He was

always intellectually his own man and never accepted the simple ideological nostrums that took over the minds of so many intellectuals as a virus takes over the working of a computer.

In his books,

he exposed the reality of the new world without fear or favour, without genuflection to any piety, without attachment to any ideology or the use of any Procrustean bed of theory to distort what he saw and wrote, his virtue lying in seeing and describing what was there to be seen, once all the distorting lenses of ideological wishful thinking had been removed. His bedrock was human nature, and he was often derided—or even hated—for his clear-sightedness and his courageous determination to describe what he saw, from which no force on earth could have diverted or deterred him.

The Dylan Thomas cover-up

Dalrymple writes in the British Medical Journal: