A Cruel Nature

Our favorite doctor is back with his weekly Takimag column in which he describes some recent encounters with some uninvited guests in his French country house.

At the same time, I am aware that the emotions I have are not reasonable or a proper guide to action. It is a useful reminder that strong emotion is not, of itself, a reason for doing something, let alone a useful guide to policy. The heart has its reasons that the head knows not of, Pascal said; but it is just as true that the head has its reasons that the heart knows not of. Reason and feeling must be in some kind of balance. At the moment, feeling in the ascendant, at least in the West, with disastrous results.

Books About Things Never Read

The August edition of New English Review has Theodore Dalrymple worried about the current cultural level of France specifically and the Western world more generally.

What most depressed me about the report was the evidence it provided of the diminution of reading as an important part of the cultural, indeed mental, life of young people in France. It is all the more depressing because, according to my observations which admittedly are of a casual rather than of a scientific nature, I think France is less far down the road of cultural disintegration, not to say degradation, than Britain. If things are as bad as this in France, what must they be like in Britain, or for that matter in the United States?

The Weight of the World

The good doctor rightly calls out the pathetic and dangerous attempt at normalizing obesity in his weekly Takimag column.

Until today, I was not aware that there was an academic subject known as Fat Studies. You can take Fat Studies at several universities, and it will probably come as no surprise to readers to learn that they are fully compatible with the main aim of modern education, namely the promotion of a sense of grievance and resentment in the students.

A Tyranny of Health?

Our skeptical doctor reacts to another simplistic progressive article in the premier American medical journal over at Law & Liberty.

In this article, which has the merit of being clear and logical, no single instance of individual conduct is mentioned as being necessary for, or conducive, to health. In the healthy society envisaged by the author, who is a public health doctor in Massachusetts, no one will have to try to behave well—not drink or eat too much, refrain from smoking or taking drugs, not indulge in hazardous pastimes, take recommended but safe exercise and so forth—because everything will come as a matter of course to him. Living in a perfect society, he will behave perfectly.

The New Religion

Theodore Dalrymple stumbles upon a book of poetry from the mid-19th century in his library that causes him to reflect on our current Western political and cultural predicament over at Takimag.

Where ignorant armies clash by night: Is that not a summary of our present sociopolitical situation? America has ceased to be different from the rest of the Western world in remaining religious, with the result that politics is the new religion. It has removed transcendence and salvation from the private and personal sphere to the public realm, where it can lead only to conflict.

The Sincerity of a Single Fresh Flower

Over at Quadrant, the good doctor recounts his fondness for churchyards and cemeteries.

I have reached an age when many of the buried in almost any cemetery died at an age earlier than my present one, and this, albeit fleetingly and without much practical effect on my subsequent conduct, induces a sense of guilt in me, especially when the deceased was born a number of years after me. Why have I been granted a longer life than they, almost certainly through no merit of my own? But a question that should be salutary, like most salutary questions, never lingers long.

Beyond Reparations

In this week’s Takimag column, our skeptical doctor excoriates yet another ludicrous leftist notion appearing in the pages of The Guardian.

Open societies have this great disadvantage: that they force you to look at your own part in your situation. Unless you are a rip-roaring success, which very few of us are (and those few are often not very attractive as people), you are forced to confront your own ineptitude, lack of talent, bad choices from an early age, etc., etc. It is much easier to deny that your society is an open one, and then sink back into a mixture of apathy, politicking, and continuation of immediately gratifying but ultimately self-destructive bad habits.

Shakespeare’s Richards

In the spring edition of City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple analyzes William Shakespeare’s plays about the two King Richards.

The two plays offer a contrast between different political pathologies: that of ambitious malignity and that of arrogant entitlement, both with disastrous results, and neither completely unknown in our time. They share one rather surprising thing in common, however: before reaching the throne, both usurpers—Richard III, when still Duke of Gloucester; and Henry IV, when still Duke of Hereford—felt obliged to solicit the good opinion of the common people.

Hard Head, Soft Heart

On a walk through Paris this week, the good doctor comes upon yet another absurd leftist slogan about equality on a wall, which leads to this week’s Takimag column.

Moreover, it is perfectly obvious that justice and equality of outcome of material conditions are completely incompatible. If of two men of very similar backgrounds one works very hard and the other is a complete idler, it would be unjust if they were rewarded with the same standard of living—an equality brought about by transferring the fruits of the labor of the first of the two men to the second.

The Prophetic Pessimism of Michel Houellebecq

The writing and worldview of the famous French writer Michel Houellebecq is the topic of Theodore Dalrymple’s latest essay in Quadrant.

Houellebecq is a chronicler of the exacerbated individualism (without individuality) that technocratic materialism results in when untempered by belief in the transcendent. But one of the reasons that he is able to chronicle it so well, so incomparably better than anyone else known to me, is that he partakes of it himself. His mode of dress—carefully chosen to look grubby, despite what by now must be great wealth—is in itself a message of exacerbated individualism: “I am not going to make an effort to make myself look agreeable just for you.”