Dalrymple lands in England

Disembarking after the Channel crossing, Dalrymple notices that large numbers of young Englishwomen

have facial expressions simultaneously ovine and lupine, and bare their pudgy midriffs, with a tattooed lizard or butterfly for individuality.

They are, he says,

fried food and alcoholic Friday nights made flesh.

British vulgarity, he observes,

enters the fabric of life and seems to omit no detail.

Dalrymple walks into a small supermarket, where a spotty youth addresses him as ‘mate’. Dalrymple demands that the youth not address him thus. The cur returns

a look of sullen malevolence.

On the train, an 11-year-old girl, in tight pink leggings, keeps her feet and shoes securely on the seat next to her, under the gaze of her mother, who is tattooed, pierced in the nose and lower lip, and eating crisps. The girl’s six-year-old brother has already had his ear pierced, and wears a diamante stud in it. Dalrymple comments:

It is never too early for the English to teach their offspring vulgarity.

Vulgarity, says Dalrymple,

has its place as a counterweight to pretension, of course.

But

as a ruling national characteristic it is charmless, stupid and without virtue.

He suspects that it is connected with

the equality that we feel it necessary to pretend is our ruling political passion. Since economic equality is no longer deemed desirable, the only other equality possible is that of cultural mores; and since it is much easier to level down than up (which, after all, was once the Labour party’s aim), the middle classes can best express their political virtue by embracing and promoting the vulgarity that they assume — wrongly — was the only cultural characteristic of the proletariat.

The problem with adopting such a pose

is that if you keep it up long enough it ceases to be merely a pose. It is what you are: in the case of the English, vulgar.

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The erotic adventures of Wayne Rooney

Dalrymple has observed that very few Britishers under the age of 40 read newspapers any more. But those who do, he points out sadly, appear to be

pea-brained prurient vulgarians.

English newspapers, he notes, are chiefly concerned with

developments in Wayne Rooney’s sex life,

about which they run headlines

the size of a proclamation of a state of emergency.

The English: ugliest people in the world

Something that strikes Dalrymple every time he returns from France, where he lives much of the time, to the country of his birth is

the extreme vulgarity of the English by comparison with the French.

It is as if the English had

adopted vulgarity as a totalitarian ideology, a communism of culture rather than of the economy.

The vulgarity is

insolent, militant and triumphant. It will brook no competition and tolerate no dissent. It exercises a subliminal terror to discourage any protest. It is the ruling characteristic of England, of the prosperous as of the poor.

At the airport,

you can always tell a flight bound for England by the number of grossly fat and hideously apparelled passengers waiting to board. No man can be blamed for being ill-favoured by nature; but every man can be blamed for making the worst of himself, as the English do as a matter of principle.

Britishers are

the ugliest people in the world — but this has nothing to do with biology. Their facial expressions, their gait, their speech, their laughter, their gestures are crude. The mothers of no other nation known to me address their children in tones so lacking in tenderness and so expressive of shrewish irritability and exasperation, with voices shrill, penetrating and impossible to ignore (except, of course, for their children, who will very soon sound like them).

When Dalrymple first put pen to paper

Dalrymple recalls his boyhood in the 1890s, when he learnt to write

using a pen with a refractory nib that I dipped in a china inkwell full of watery but nevertheless deeply staining ink, filled regularly by the teacher from a metal jug that contained gallons of the stuff. How proud I was when I finished a page without making a blot! (Can you, I wonder, still buy blotting paper?) The smell of the ink is with me still; somehow it lingered long after school and got even into my clothes and hair, like cigarette smoke. The ink got into my skin as well, and would not come out even by rubbing with pumice stone. I also remember the callus on my middle finger caused by pressure from the wooden handle of the pen. I wanted mine to be the largest in the class to prove that I had written more than anyone else.

This worthless book

‘The only explanation of the enduring popularity of this worthless book is that it appeals to the mass self-absorption that seems to have overtaken the Western world, for Kerouac was capable of traveling thousands of miles without taking the slightest interest in anything around him.’

Centripetal and centrifugal forces in doomed Europe

CONTINENTAL PARADOX

The centripetal forces, writes Dalrymple,

are those that would lead to the ever closer union proclaimed to be the purpose of the EU (eventual total union),

while the centrifugal forces are such as the following.

  • Flanders nationalists want independence from Belgium. The status and prestige of the French and Flemish languages created resentment: the Flanders aristocracy or haute bourgeoisie spoke French not Flemish; the educated Flemish speakers learnt French but the French-speakers did not learn Flemish. Many Flemings have neither forgotten nor forgiven that while Belgian army officers in the Great War were French-speaking, the Belgian infantrymen, the cannon-fodder, spoke Flemish and could neither understand the officers nor be understood by them. (Today the Flemings subsidise the Walloons.)
  • Scottish nationalists want independence from Britain. (Scotland receives subsidies from London.) Unlike the Irish, the Scots have little to complain of at the hands of the English, at least in the past two centuries. The Scots were among the greatest advocates and beneficiaries of the British Empire; and far from being an anti-imperialist movement, Scots nationalism is a consequence of the decline and fall of empire rather than a rejection of British imperialism.
  • Catalan nationalists want independence from Madrid. Catalonia is more prosperous than the rest of Spain, and its taxes subsidise other parts of the country. Catalans felt oppressed by the Franco regime.
  • Basque nationalists want independence from Spain.
  • In Wales within living memory, children could be punished for speaking Welsh on the playground. There were Welsh-speaking parents who did not want their children to grow up speaking Welsh (those of Dylan Thomas, for example) — they felt that speaking Welsh was not merely useless but harmful to the prospects of young Welshmen. The experience of being punished for speaking one’s native tongue in one’s native land is bound to create resentment. (Cardiff is a recipient of subsidies from London.)
  • Corsican nationalists recently won local elections. (Corsica receives subsidies from Paris.)
  • A northern Italian movement wants to disembarrass that prosperous part of the country of its perpetually impoverished south, which it must subsidise.
  • Many Bavarians want independence from Germany.

SEARCH FOR IDENTITY

Dalrymple points to factors in the rise of separatist movements.

  • People dislike their near-neighbours more than they dislike distant ones. Since hatred is by far the strongest political emotion, it is not surprising that people in search of an identity find it in distinguishing themselves, usually with dislike, from their nearest neighbours.
  • There is the search for identity in modern conditions, in which even in supposedly small countries, large cities make anonymity the normal daily experience of the majority. In such conditions nationalism, like tattooing and piercing, becomes a shortcut to personal identity.

MEGALOMANIA OF PETTY POTENTATES

Why are the separatist movements strongly pro-EU? (This appears strange in so far as the EU would destroy or replace national sovereignty.) Why are nationalist centrifugalists so eager to form an alliance with EU centripetalists, who wish to efface the very thing the nationalists claim to be seeking? Dalrymple examines three hypotheses.

  1. The nationalists might not be aware of the contradiction. Few of us are logical calculating machines who work out the full implications of our beliefs, let alone always act in our own best interests.
  2. Out of the frying-pan into the fire: nationalist dislike of immediate neighbours may loom so large that it overcomes thought.
  3. Leaders of the nationalist parties or separatist groups want there to be more places at the top table—vacancies that they would then fill. They might even rise to the dizzying heights of the former prime minister of Luxembourg, who has long bestridden the world, or Europe at any rate, like a colossus. This he could never have done without the existence of the EU. In other words, personal ambition and the megalomania of petty potentates.

EUROPE OF REGIONS

What should be the attitude of leaders of the EU towards the potential fracturing of the EU member states as they are at present constituted? Dalrymple explains.

In the short term, EU leaders have to pretend to support the current arrangements, because for the moment power is concentrated in the hands of the leaders of those member states. If the power in Madrid or London begins, however, to seep away, the path to a Europe not of the nations but of ‘the regions’ is cleared.

Britishers’ abysmal cultural and educational level

Dalrymple points in a speech (from 6:11) to Great Britain’s

obviously low general level of education, which you can see just by walking in the street.

It is very glaring from the moment he arrives in England (he lives much of the time in France). There is

a determined, ideological quality to the evident low cultural and educational level.

One finds in Britain

  • deliberate crudity, vulgarity and stupidity
  • lack of refinement of any kind
  • inability or unwillingness to learn even so simple a matter as how to address strangers with reasonable civility (all the more devastating in an economy that is highly dependent on the provision of services)

For this reason, Dalrymple explains, England will, whatever its level of unemployment,

continue to have to import labour if it wants to have simple services that work with tolerable efficiency. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you go to a large hotel with only a British staff. It’s amusing in a way.

England will continue to have to import labour if it wants to have simple services that work with tolerable efficiency

 

Imbecility of Isaac Deutscher

A learned, intelligent and gifted fool

Dalrymple writes that

it is curious, but significant, that a moral imbecile such as Isaac Deutscher should ever have commanded such respect and rapt attention (though not from George Orwell, who included him on his list of communist sympathisers, or from Isaiah Berlin, who did everything he could to stand in the way of any academic appointment for Deutscher).

Deutscher’s prose

is that of the romantic revolutionary bureaucratic mass-murderer,

and when one reads it,

one can only wonder whether the words correspond to any actual thoughts running through the head of the man who wrote them, and if so how terrible it must have been to be such a man.

Deutscher’s judgments

might have been laughable if they had not been so horribly detached from any vestige of human feeling.

He also

had the gift of unfailing negative foresight, possible only for someone as learned as he in the dialectic. To be always wrong implied knowledge of a kind.

Deutscher demonstrates, Dalrymple observes, that

it is possible to study something all one’s life and understand nothing whatever about it, despite an immense accumulation of learning.

It would have been difficult

not to convict Deutscher of outright lying had his mind not been so warped by the dialectic: the denial of the principle of non-contradiction rendering truth-telling impossible for him, and therefore also lying.

Dalrymple points out that it is easier to perceive moral imbecility in retrospect than contemporaneously, and asks:

Who is the Isaac Deutscher de nos jours? There must be one—or many.

Importance of failure

Dalrymple on education

Some heroes are best avoided

Leafing through Isaac Deutscher’s Ironies of History: Essays on Contemporary Communism (1966), Dalrymple lights on this passage:

A society which has gone through as much as Soviet society has gone through, which has achieved so much and suffered so much, which has seen, within the lifetime of one generation, its whole existence repeatedly shattered, and which has again and again ascended the highest peaks of hope and heroism and descended to the lowest depths of despair—such a society cannot fail to draw from its rich and uniquely great experience equally great generalising ideas and practical conclusions and to embody these in actions worthy of itself. Nor can it fail to produce sooner or later the men and women strong enough in mind and character—a new ‘phalanx of heroes reared on the milk of the wild beast‘—to transform ideas into deeds.

Dalrymple comments:

I am not sure I would care much to meet a phalanx of heroes raised on the milk of the wild beast—in fact, I think I would cross to the other side of the street if I did so. (The quote, incidentally, comes from Alexander Herzen.)