Chances are, any admirer of Theodore Dalrymple is also an admirer of Mark Steyn. They are both pre-eminent conservative intellectuals known for having rather dire outlooks on the modern Western world. Steyn has more of an outgoing persona than Dalrymple (more outgoing than almost anyone’s, in fact), and with his appearances on television and his guest-hosting duties for Rush Limbaugh (just yesterday, for example), he appeals a little more to the common man. Both are notable for the use of wit and humor to make serious points, and they each have a gift for illustrating their arguments with telling anecdotes.
Although their views are very similar, Steyn is more pessimistic than Dalrymple. Writing in The New Vichy Syndrome, Dalrymple disagreed with many of the main contentions of Steyn’s America Alone, that Muslim emigrants to the West retain their fundamentalism over time and that demographic trends point to a coming takeover of Europe by Islam. Now, writing in the November 14 edition of National Review, Dalrymple reviews Steyn’s new book After America: Get Ready for Armageddon and says it clearly establishes Steyn as the ultimate pessimist:
In his last book, America Alone, Mr. Steyn certified the death of Europe, with America as the last bastion of Western civilization; in his latest book, he certifies the death of America, and hence of Western civilization altogether. The game is not so much afoot as already up and lost…
Dalrymple praises Steyn’s identification of the causes and results of the current malaise: “that the economic crisis faced by the whole of the Western world in general, and by the U.S. in particular, is not merely economic but, in a loose sense, spiritual, cultural, and philosophical” and that the loss of individual fortitude has encouraged the exponential growth of a government bureaucracy which has the ostensible purpose of helping people but which soon begins pursuing its own self-interests to the detriment of the populace.
But again Dalrymple’s view on Western decline is less pessimistic, disagreeing, for example, with Steyn’s contention “that the age of dramatic advances in medicine is over”:
Sometimes one senses that Steyn is a little too keen on the end of the world, for no Jeremiah wants to warn his fellows that the future will be so-so rather than absolutely appalling.
Dalrymple does not state categorically that the future will not be absolutely appalling. He just seems less confident in our ability to foresee future events. Someonce once said (I believe it was Milton Friedman) that we can not say what is happening, only what has happened. I believe that is the essence of Dalrymple’s argument.
You can read the review here (subscription required)
“Someonce once said (I believe it was Milton Friedman) that we can not say what is happening, only what has happened. I believe that is the essence of Dalrymple’s argument.”
Hmmm, probably very sound approach, at times I fear that my pessimism might perversely contribute to fatalism.
That’s a shame, obviously… but less obviously in so far as I’m actually not all doom and gloom I just too often succumb to the temptation to get it off my chest. It is an exceedingly complex area.
Steyn as ultimate pessimist? Really? Has he wrested that title from John Derbyshire?