Category Archives: Theodore Dalrymple

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.

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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:

A pair of unwashed murderers

Pierre Conty and the malodorous Che Guevara killed, and killed brutally. Excuses were made for their acts, and they received support throughout. The group loyalty of extreme egotists often means more to them than civilised behaviour.

The perpetual temptation not to see

Dalrymple writes that in Max Frisch’s 1953 play Biedermann und die Brandstifter (The Firebugs or The Fire Raisers), a town is subject to a rash of arson attacks. Everyone is terrified by the prospect of more. The action takes place in the home of Herr Biedermann,

a rich bourgeois who makes his money from the manufacture and sale of fake hair restorative. Two dubious characters, Schmitz and Eisenring, take up residence in Herr Biedermann’s attic. He does not want them there, but is too cowardly and pusillanimous to evict them.

Gradually,

they make it clear to Herr Biedermann that they are the arsonists of whom the town is afraid. They move drums of petrol into the attic; they ask Herr Biedermann for help with the fuse with which they are going to light the fire; they even ask him, successfully, for the matches with which to start it. Throughout the preparation of the fire, Herr Biedermann—though he hates, fears and despises Schmitz and Eisenring, and again through cowardice and pusillanimity—refuses to accept the evidence before his eyes.

Eisenring explains Schmitz’s uncouth behaviour

by his unhappy childhood, and Herr Biedermann, through sentimentality rather than from real sympathy, feels unable to answer.

The compromise with evil

He invites the two interlopers to

a dinner of goose stuffed with chestnuts (before accepting the invitation, Eisenring makes sure there is to be red cabbage also), and though the two are complete ruffians, they insist that the best silver, including finger-bowls, be laid on a damask tablecloth.

After dinner,

they burn the house down, and the final scene takes place in Hell, where Herr Biedermann and his wife protest their innocence.

Frisch

lived through the Nazi takeover of Germany, but saw it from the German-speaking fringe. He is writing not just about the Nazi era: his play is about the perpetual temptation not to see, and then to compromise with evil.

Eisenring tells Herr Biedermann the secret of his success (but still Herr Biedermann disguises the truth from himself):

  • Joking is the third best method of hoodwinking people.
  • The second best is sentimentality. The kind of stuff [Schmitz] goes in for—an orphanage, and so on.
  • But the best and safest method—in my opinion—is to tell the plain unvarnished truth. Oddly enough. No one believes it.

The man who said he thought Trump’s policies were rational

In an H.M. Bateman moment, Dalrymple says he thinks Trump’s policies are rational:

  • It is rational for a country to seek control of who comes into it.
  • It is rational for a country to impose an economically advantageous tax régime.
  • It is rational for a country to abandon administrative obstacles to progress.

Macron’s display of vulgarity

Dalrymple writes:

Emmanuel Macron’s vulgar and undignified conduct in the stadium in which the World Cup victory took place was no doubt intended to demonstrate that, contrary to the impression that he has so far given his countrymen (our builder in France calls him Napoléon IV), he is a human being, possessed of the same emotions and tastes as M. Dupont as he drinks his pression on the café terrace and as les jeunes on their outings to Les Halles. It won’t work for long.

Les Halles

The only British politician of any substance, vision, or character

Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset and chairman of the European Research Group

A crashing bore actuated by burning hatred

Dalrymple writes that on the whole, the commentary evoked by the bicentenary of Karl Marx’s birth

obeyed the injunction not to speak ill of the dead, as if the passage of time and the deaths of millions in the name of the birthday boy did not somewhat attenuate the social imperative to mute one’s words.

Marx

believed that crises were inevitable until the advent of his utopia, in which such phenomena as private property, banks, and the bourgeoisie would cease to exist. In Marx’s vision, the ant would lie down with the anteater.

The combination, says Dalrymple,

of scathing criticism of the present and adolescent daydreaming is irresistible to quite a lot of people.

Dalrymple notes that Marx

was one of those people who love humanity and hate men. He was in most respects an unattractive figure, cocksure, domineering, intolerant, and hypocritical—though he had an undoubted charm in the domestic circle and was both very clever and intensely cultivated.

In his writing he was

a crashing bore with a brilliant turn of phrase. Burning hatred is never far from his prose, and gives it its spice. Nowhere is it clearer that hatred is by far the strongest of political emotions.

The anteater shall lie down with the ant

Looming economic collapse

There is the sense, writes Dalrymple, of

the approach of yet another economic crisis, as my late dog sensed the approach of a thunderstorm.

Perhaps, he says, the crisis to come

will be even greater and more devastating than the last, being the consequence of our almost universal imprudence and improvidence, and our determination to learn nothing from experience.