Another book review by Theodore Dalrymple (writing under his real name, Anthony Daniels) is available over at The New Criterion. This time, the good doctor dissects the latest published gem of inconsequential mediocrity from the fulcrum of all that is glorious in Western higher education: Harvard University.
According to the author’s acknowledgments, however, she is indebted to approximately one “scholar, activist or other book lover” for every two pages of her 170-page text, so perhaps I am unduly harsh: there are more of such scholars than I think. (Surely it is time for someone to undertake Acknowledgment Studies? It would teach us a great deal about the psychosocial history of academe and the development of the concept of a research community in the humanities. It takes a village to write a book.)
The good doctor returns to City Journal with a withering review of David Cameron’s memoir as well as the man himself. Another classic Theodore Dalrymple essay.
For a man to have been at the peak of political power for six years and to have written a 700-page memoir without a single arresting thought or amusing anecdote, without giving any insight into the important people he has met, and without displaying any interest in, let alone knowledge of, history, philosophy or higher culture, is an achievement of a kind. If banality can startle, Mr. Cameron’s banality startles — because of the position he once occupied. The average barroom bore is Doctor Johnson by comparison. It is only in its vacuity that David Cameron’s memoir achieves significance. It thereby tells us something about both modern politics and the state of education in Britain: for in the latter respect, Mr. Cameron is the product of the elite of the elite. This in itself is reason for the profoundest pessimism.
In his latest Takimag column, Theodore Dalrymple starts with an interesting discussion on the concept of rights before transitioning into the topic of doctors being allowed to have visible tattoos.
Needless to say, too acute an awareness of rights has a harmful effect on the human character. Everyone is on the qui vive for a denial of his rights, perhaps even hoping for one so that he can become righteously indignant at the injustice done him. What is granted as a right is rarely received with gratitude, nor does what is granted as a right have to be earned by effort; for I have a right to x, why should I work to obtain it?
The radical green fanatics of the latest chapter of the climate change alarmism movement (the dubiously named Extinction Rebellion) are the starting point of Theodore Dalrymple’s weekly Takimag column. The incident described in the article of angry commuters in England attacking the green zealots who were preventing a train departure can be viewed here.
Man is the only creature, as far as we know, that enjoys the contemplation of its own disappearance from the face of the earth. We find the prospect of our annihilation by disease, famine, war, asteroid, or climate change deeply satisfying. We feel, somehow, that we deserve it and that the world would be a better planet without us.
The absurd and ludicrous Cambridgeshire, England court decision acquitting a Green Party parliamentary candidate of obvious vandalism is assailed by Theodore Dalrymple in a City Journal article.
The socially destructive effect of this judgment, if it were to be generalized, hardly needs emphasis. The judgment made honestly held belief, however absurd, a defense against what would otherwise be a criminal act, and it therefore made everyone a law unto himself. It is difficult to see how daubing council offices with paint could have any practical effect, other than an additional cleaning bill for the council.
After reading two books on the Death Row in Texas, the death penalty is the interesting topic of Theodore Dalrymple’s November New English Review essay.
The quasi-medical way in which executions were carried out—the anaesthetic from whose bourn no traveller returns—appals me (they disinfect the condemned man’s skin before inserting the cannula though which the fatal chemicals are to flow, another instance of the operation of the bureaucratic mind). I am far from sure also about the presence of witnesses from what I suppose I must call both sides, as at a wedding—although it is not clear at an execution who is the bride and who is the groom.
The insincere propagandists for the talentless school of modernist brutalist architecture are on the receiving end of a scathing Takimag column by the good doctor. Theodore Dalrymple unleashes a withering attack on the progressive purveyors of architectural ugliness and brutalism.
Recently, it seems to me, there has been a concerted effort, amounting almost to a propaganda campaign, to persuade people that the brutalist strain in architecture was and is a glorious episode in architectural history. This campaign has the ring of guilty people who protest their innocence too much, who know that they have been complicit in many crimes but hope that by noisy protestation they can drown out their own conscience and befuddle the judgment of others.
Theodore Dalrymple comments on the recent Oklahoma court-imposed fine of over $500 million on Johnson and Johnson for the company’s involvement in the American opioid epidemic over at Law and Liberty.
I do not, as I said, hold a brief for any drug company. But the action against such a company, and it alone (apart from against a grossly corrupt doctor or two), suggests scapegoating more than it suggests justice. It does not seem like scapegoating only because the company is an impersonal entity, and no individual suffers by it, at least for the moment, except infinitesimally. But the contributory negligence of many different parties—including, dare I say it, patients—was, in aggregate, very considerable.
In October’s last Takimag column, Theodore Dalrymple showcases yet again the excessive leniency of the farcical British criminal justice system after the horrific stabbing of Peter Duncan at the hands of a 17-year-old criminal with seventeen previous convictions.
The question not unnaturally arises as to why British society should have become so enfeebled, so lacking in moral confidence. In this, it is probably only the worst case of a general malaise in the Western world. My provisional answer would be the expansion of tertiary education, especially in nontechnical subjects. Huge numbers of people have now been educated in injustice and grievance studies of one kind or another, which have had for their effect the dissolution of a sense of human beings as agents rather than mere victimized vectors of forces.
The autumn edition of City Journal features a thought-provoking Theodore Dalrymple essay reviewing three novels published in the year of his birth, 1949. These novels illustrate how far the decline of English society and culture has progressed since then. Incidentally, happy birthday to the good doctor and best wishes on celebrating 70 years. Cheers.
In an effort to assess what has changed, for better or worse, and what, if anything, has remained unchanged, I thought it would be interesting to consider three English novels published in the year of my birth. I am aware that this is not a scientific procedure: I chose the novels simply because they had long rested unread on my shelves and were the first ones published in 1949 that I came across.