Not With A Bang But A Whimper (UK)

(Note: Monday Books has just released the new book, which you can buy here.)

Theodore Dalrymple has tried for years to get his City Journal essays published in book form in his native Britain. While City Journal is an American publication, the essays, published under a column entitled “Oh, to be in England!”, deal almost exclusively with the parlous state of British society. Three separate collections have been released to wide acclaim in the US, but no publisher in the subject country has been interested until Monday Books came along. Given the undeniable quality of the material and the quantity of his other published work in Britain, it is difficult not to credit his claim to have been stymied by an intellectual climate opposed to his views. Perhaps it is not surprising that the intellectual leaders that Dalrymple claims have driven the nation into an economic, social and cultural ditch deeper than any in the Western world should be so hostile to criticism.

Although it shares a title with the most recent American collection, this is a new book, with three original essays not available elsewhere and a selection of City Journal pieces tailored to address a list of problems that has gotten longer and more obvious over the last year. The essays “Delusions of Honesty” and “What Goes On In Mr. Brown’s Mind?” consider the policies and philosophies of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, whose economic mismanagement has recently become visible to all, with an enormous expansion of public debt and a devalued currency. According to Dalrymple, the economic growth under their leadership “was more apparent than real”, and their actions and rhetoric have exhibited the kind of intellectual and moral corruption seen in the recent Parliamentary expenses scandal. Under their watch, the public sector has grown while the private sector has shrunk, and as a consequence about forty percent of the British citizenry are now “direct dependents of the state”, either through government employment or welfare.

“The Roads to Serfdom” and “How Not To Do It” outline the causes and effects of such a growth in state power, showing how the embrace of collectivism promotes policies that over time erode the national character: “large numbers of people corrupted to the very fiber of their being by having been deprived of responsibility, purpose, and self-respect, void of hope and fear alike, living in as near to purgatory as anywhere in modern society can come.” The collapse of religion has left some segments of British society with few sources of meaning or morality. No wonder they end up celebrating and rewarding the debased and profane, which Dalrymple illustrates in the opening essay by recounting the on-air conduct of the BBC’s Jonathan Ross.

Dalrymple exposes the worst of this mentality by emphasizing its affect on rates of crime. In spite of the official statistics, which purport to show little increase in criminal activity, the public experience of crime in Britain continues to grow, and the statistics are less believable daily. Concerned more with proving their liberal credentials, the police are fearful of even recording crime. The cases they do record seldom result in conviction, and conviction rarely results in adequate punishment. The police are now “like a nearly defeated occupying colonial force that, while mayhem reigns everywhere else, has retreated to safe enclaves, there to shuffle paper and produce bogus information to propitiate its political masters.” The few criminals that are incarcerated are treated as if they are mentally ill, while the mentally ill are treated as if they are criminals — or else not treated at all. Of course, the citizens made most vulnerable by such policies are those few who are truly disadvantaged, who are least able to defend themselves and whose interests are supposedly served by the state.

“Opiate Lies” summarizes Dalrymple’s 2007 book Romancing Opiates (published in the UK as Junk Medicine) and demonstrates how crime has driven drug use, rather than the reverse. “Don’t Legalize Drugs”, which also appeared in the earlier compilation Our Culture, What’s Left of It, is surely one of the best and wisest short works on the subject of legalization. As with much of these essays, it is all the more powerful for its acknowledgment of opposing views. Time after time in the book, Dalrymple makes concessions that demonstrate reasonableness and intellectual honesty. Even if much of Britain’s material progress is illusory, British citizens are today undoubtedly wealthier. Many past policies were undeniably harsh, so that merely returning to the past, were it even possible, can not be a solution.

Dalrymple places most of the blame for the nation’s decline on intellectuals who advocated the sweeping away of traditional British standards and values to be replaced by a devotion to equality of outcome, moral relativism and multiculturalism. “Ibsen and His Discontents” argues that the brilliantly talented Norwegian playwright almost single-handedly invented modern theater, even while his works displayed an enthusiasm for jettisoning moral precepts necessary to any civilized society in the utopian belief that human life could be made free of dissatisfaction. With the acceptance in Britain of this kind of disdain for one’s cultural inheritance, newer generations of Britons lack even the most basic appreciation for or even knowledge of their country’s history and culture. And freed of the responsibility for teaching that history faithfully, academics can pursue their own self-interest by claiming that modern problems are so complex that only they can see their true nature. This is “How Criminologists Foster Crime”. But in this collection, Dalrymple also praises writers like Anthony Burgess, J.G. Ballard and Arthur Koestler, whose work rejects many aspects of the new consensus.

Much of Dalrymple’s evidence about the decline of British culture comes from outside the liberal intellectual establishment, from his extensive experience working with underclass patients but also from a new class of similar writers who, like Dalrymple, work inside various aspects of the British bureaucracy: David Fraser, a probation officer whose book A Land Fit for Criminals exposes the fraudulent scheme of the entire modern, British criminal justice system; Police Constable David Copperfield, writer of an increasingly popular blog and a book, Wasting Police Time, both of which explain how devotion to furthering the cause of political correctness now trumps the most basic police work; and Frank Chalk, a teacher whose book It’s Your Time You’re Wasting “tells essentially the same story, this time with regard to education”. The work of these latter two have also been published by Monday Books, which describes itself as “an independent publisher specialising in strongly-written non fiction”, suggesting that perhaps an alternative view is gaining ground.

The establishment will no doubt reject Dalrymple’s views. The Guardian has already reviewed the book, and not surprisingly they are dismissive, with the reviewer not even feeling obligated to back up his raw assertions (probably because he can’t). But it increasingly seems as though the man in the stre
et knows, contrary to what he is being told, that something is terribly wrong.

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