The most recent New Criterion essay of the good doctor skewers yet another one of Britain’s mediocre, vulgar, liberal public intellectuals in his review of Tiffany Watt Smith’s 2018 book.
Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune is interesting, but not because it is good. It is interesting because it is symptomatic of the increasing vulgarity and crudity of intellectual life in the modern English-speaking world, particularly in Britain, where it goes almost unopposed.
The book has at least the virtue of being short, but also the vice of being too long. Without intending to, it displays in concentrated form the prevailing characteristic of modern British culture, namely a vulgarity in conception, thought, feeling, and expression which has been raised almost to the level of an ideology.
In his July essay in the New English Review, Theodore Dalrymple muses on the lack of gratitude in the modern world, including occasionally his own, as he observes the Paris neighborhood where he is staying.
Gratitude is not the first characteristic of the modern age, however much we may have to be grateful for. Indeed, I have myself made something of a literary career, such as it is, by grumbling. My carping criticisms have covered a wide range of deficiencies and faults, or perceived deficiencies and faults, of both the world and its inhabitants. The fact is that I enjoy complaining.
Dalrymple laments on the decline in Christian belief in the Western world in his June essay in the New English Review, while highlighting the misapplication of traditional Christian virtues by the secular, anti-Christian, liberal intelligentsia.
While our societies might be post-Christian in the sense that the majority of the educated population would disavow any Christian belief, yet many of them try to be Christ-like in their thoughts and actions. ‘Judge not that ye be not judged’ said Christ; and they pride themselves on not being judgmental. ‘Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you’ said St Paul; and they forgive those who commit the worst of crimes against third parties. ‘He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none,’ said Christ; and they advocate increased taxation and foreign aid as the acme of charity. ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,’ said Christ; and they love, bless and do good to Islamists.
An open letter in the Guardian from “30 top intellectuals” hyperventilating over the growing anti-EU sentiment in Europe draws pointed critique from Theodore Dalrymple.
The letter began with a ringing suggestio falsi: “The idea of Europe is in peril.” What the authors meant was that the idea of the European Union is in danger. They implied, in effect, that Europe and the European Union were synonyms, which is clearly false. If a country ceases to be a member of the European Union, or has never been a part of it, it does not cease to be European, neither geographically nor culturally.
Dalrymple ends his Law & Liberty article with the following shot across the bow:
However, having read the open letter in the Guardian, with all its resort to suppressio veri and suggestio falsi, my main thought was that if these were top intellectuals, what must the rest be like?
Theodore Dalrymple reviews a recent book by the Guardian‘s Washington correspondent on the devastating American opioid crisis that has resulted in the deaths of 49,000 Americans in 2018 alone, and 350,000 deaths since 1999. Dalrymple agrees with the journalist that there is much blame to go around, but points out that the book absolves the drug addicts from any responsibility, pretending that these people completely lacked moral agency.
It seems very difficult for people to hold in their minds simultaneously that corporations, public authorities, and individuals can behave badly. The desire to absolve individuals of their responsibility stems from a reluctance to admit that victims play any part in their own downfall: Victims are either immaculate or they are not victims at all. To recognize this as a false dichotomy is to lack compassion, and we all want to be seen to be compassionate.
Theodore Dalrymple reflects on the Shining Path after reading a book about the Peruvian Maoist guerrilla movement that terrorized Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.
The good doctor makes some incisive observations as he recalls his visit to Peru during the height of the Shining Path’s bloody insurrection. On politics:
It was a perfect lesson in politics: that the choice is not usually between the good and the bad, but the bad and the worse, in this case the far, far worse.
On the spread of tertiary education:
Until I went to Ayacucho, I had naively supposed that the spread of tertiary education was always and everywhere a sign of social progress: the more, the better. For the first time, I began to see that this was not necessarily the case. There is no class more dangerous than the tertiary-educated with no prospects that they consider worthy of themselves.