Between Experience and Reflection

Writing in the City Journal, Dalrymple reviews Paul Hollander’s book, The Only Superpower: Reflections on Strength, Weakness, and Anti-Americanism and in the process makes many observations about Hollander that one could easily make about Dalrymple himself. If we consider him a sociologist and ignore the bit about his mother tongue, there is no praise in the following passages that does not apply equally to Dalrymple:

Paul Hollander is not one of those sociologists who disdains to make his meaning clear to the average man, or at least to the average educated man. Though English was not his mother tongue, he writes with force, clarity, and even elegance. More important still, he does not treat human beings as if they were iron filings in a magnetic field. He knows that the search for meaning is one of man’s most salient characteristics, and he is capable of taking a comparatively small phenomenon and extracting the deeper significance from it.

Hollander is preeminently what one might call a sociologist of ideology, or perhaps a psychosociologist of ideology, because the history of individual intellectuals, of which he has accumulated an encyclopedic knowledge, interests him as much as that of groups.


It is a pleasure to read a sociologist who can distinguish so clearly and with wit the less than perfect from the evil; who understands the benefits of environmental conservation without turning such conservation into a quasi-totalitarian ideology; who can see the frivolity, vulgarity, and worthlessness of industrially produced popular culture while appreciating just how quickly dislike of such culture can mutate into contempt for the people who consume it; who, in short, keeps the limits of human possibilities constantly before him. Paul Hollander’s work is an example of the dialectic between lived experience and abstract reflection, of which all work in the humanities should—but alas, seldom does—partake.

Perhaps Dalrymple feels the same way reading Hollander’s work that many feel reading his.

One thought on “Between Experience and Reflection

  1. Tayles

    Interesting comments from Dalrymple on the contradictions of liberal beliefs. It’s a wonder that this isn’t picked up on more.

    For instance, liberals tend to believe that a vast, benign state (administered by people like them, of course) is required to iron out life’s inequalities and dissatisfactions. And yet, every piece of government meddling diminishes the total personal freedom they crave for themselves – a contradiction, surely.

    Equally, liberals are always pro-underdog and yet support economic theories that are proven to impoverish and immobilise those they profess to care about.

    And what about the relativism so popular among liberals? How can anyone simultaneously have sympathy for Islam but be pro-feminist? How can they express horror at the way China treats Tibet but be pro-Chinese whenever they come into conflict with the USA?

    The answer is, I suspect, that liberals are concerned less with consistent values and their real-world effects than they are with opposing the dominant force in any given scenario, regardless of any mitigating circumstances.

    Somewhere down the line they accepted the idea that to support the underdog in the most crude and obvious way is the very apotheosis of virtue. That’s not compassion, it’s self-indulgence.


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