Author Archives: Steve

Love rats: Paris’s sentimental struggle with its rodents

We missed this piece from the Spectator in September in which Dalrymple reported on the growing population of rats in Paris. (That is not a metaphor.) An effort by the city to reduce their numbers is actually being met with opposition from some quarters — the usual ones.

Rat catchers have been accused of ‘genocide’ by Parisians: pity the poor rats! They too are sentient creatures, with as much a right to live as we, even if they sometimes give us rat-bite fever and leptospirosis (and pity the poor spirochaete, the causative organism of leptospirosis, which without the rat would be reduced to mice as a reservoir). At the last count, 25,000 people have signed a petition to halt the slaughter.

Fear of rats is socially constructed, don’t you know?

Read it here

What Happened to Memoirs?

Hillary Clinton has a new memoir called What Happened, in which she explains why she thinks she lost the election to Donald Trump. At City Journal, Dalrymple quotes from an acerbic review of the book by a French intellectual. He won’t review it himself, he says, because nothing could induce him to read it.

In fact, no memoir by any modern politician would tempt me to read it, since the main characteristic of such politicians is mediocrity tempered by unbridled ambition and lust for power. Better to reread Macbeth. Hillary Clinton, after all, is Lady Macbeth to Bill Clinton’s Felix Krull, the confidence trickster.

Wards of the Court

At the Library of Law and Liberty:

The rule of law is not at all the same thing as the rule of laws, or the preeminence of law in our lives; indeed, they are almost opposite, insofar as one of the objects of the rule of law is to make the legally permissible and impermissible knowable to the citizen in advance. Where there are so many laws that even highly specialized lawyers have difficulty in keeping up with the provisions in their own area of specialism, the rule of law declines, and litigators rush in where common sense fears to pronounce. This superabundance of laws exists in many places around the world today, and needless to say it flatters the self-esteem of legislators and judges. It makes them the arbiters of our existence. It also makes the rest of us wards of the court.

He goes on to discuss a recent American court ruling that, while ostensibly a defense of doctors’ right to question their patients, seems also to open the door to future litigation due to its bad logic.

The Appeal of Inherited Power

Reacting to Deputy Labor Leader John McDonnell’s recent criticisms of hereditary peerage in the House of Lords, Dalrymple says that, at least in the modern age, he would much rather be represented by an aristocrat than by someone like Mr. McDonnell. Yes, the aristocrat might have been arrogant and out of touch in the past, but compared to the typical modern politician, the aristocrat is a model of humility.

…[He] does not feel that he has to make the world anew, all within his lifetime—or rather within his political lifetime, a period that is even shorter. He knows that the world did not begin with him and will not end with him. As the latest scion of an ancient dynasty going back centuries, he is but the temporary guardian of what he has inherited, which he has a duty to pass on. Moreover, as someone whose privileges are inherited, he knows that his power (such as it is) is fragile in the modern world. He must exercise it with care, discretion, and consideration.

Contrast this with Mr. McDonnell, should he ever reach power. He will mistake the fact that he has come to power by legitimate means for sovereignty. For him, vox populi, vox dei. And since he, or his party, will be the recipient of the most votes, albeit far from those of a majority of the electorate, he will regard himself as entitled to do all that he promised and a great deal besides. The fact that he will be sovereign for only a few years at most will only increase the urgency, one might say the fury, with which he acts: For him, it will be now or never, and it is easy to wreck an economy in a few months.

Read it here

Charlie Gard, hope, hate and us

Dalrymple’s take on the Charlie Gard case differs from those of many of his contemporaries. In a piece for the New York Daily News, he makes several compelling arguments that I had not heard elsewhere: that Charlie’s parents may forever be embittered by their false hope, that those who donated to the family would’ve saved more human life by donating elsewhere and that the angry comments directed by the public toward the doctors who denied Charlie’s parents their attempt at experimental treatment are unique to the modern world of improved communication.

The question, then, is whether, 30 years ago, all the rage expressed by these insults, threats and menaces existed but simply went unexpressed, or whether the ability to express it actually called it into existence. Does our ability now to communicate the first thing that comes into our head alter the nature of the first thing that comes into our head? After all, anger is a habit like any other and, as everyone knows (if he is honest with himself), there is a certain pleasure in being angry.

The Good Doctor

At Taki’s Magazine, Dalrymple writes again about a man who is clearly one of his greatest influences, Dr. Johnson. If you know enough about both men, it is difficult to read this without having the same thoughts about Dalrymple:

He had a peculiar gift for saying things that were both startling and obvious. As he himself put it, we have more often to be reminded than informed. Although his prose style would no doubt strike many people (if they read it) as too formal—we prefer expletives and the demotic now—he says things that are strikingly apposite a quarter of a millennium after he wrote them. On practically every page of his essays, of which he wrote several hundred, scratched out with quill pen rather than merely tapped on keyboard onto a screen, you find things that are as true and pointed today as they were when he wrote them. I doubt that much of what we write will stand the same test in a further quarter millennium; but then it is the illusion of every age that it is having the last word.

Read the piece here

Pray for Rain

Should we be surprised that when the Glastonbury music festival recently ended, the attendees left behind a sea of trash and filth? Isn’t it overwhelmingly likely that these attendees are the same Western youth who loudly proclaim their concern for the environment and their outrage at its supposed despoilation?

Dalrymple notes their resemblance to the Dickens character Mrs. Jellyby, who expressed concern for people and events far away while ignoring the problems around her, and to Marie Antoinette, who played the part of shepherdess and proletarian:

Incidentally, in their imitation of the proles (which they think virtuous), they demonstrate how they really conceive of them: vulgar, dirty, coarse, and foulmouthed. Genuine proletarians are, or at least once were, not at all like this—not en masse, not as the lumpenintelligentsia now is.

The European Court of Justice’s Invitation to Fraud

An absurd ruling by the European Court of Justice: a pharmaceutical company’s vaccine against Hepatitis B was ruled to have caused a man’s multiple sclerosis, even though there is zero scientific evidence of a causal link between the two. The only evidence presented at the trial was that the man’s onset of MS occurred immediately after he took his third dose of the vaccine, a clear case of a “post hoc” fallacy, one of the most simple and obvious logical fallacies one can make. Dalrymple notes an additional problem:

Under European law, a manufacturer is liable for the harms that his product does to individuals, irrespective of any fault on his part (and assuming normal use of his product by the person harmed). It is not required that he could or should have known that his product might result in the harm. This means, of course, that he can never, quite literally, be careful enough: whatever care he takes, he may still be liable. And this fundamental injustice inherently favours large companies over small, for while the former can bear the costs of litigation, the latter cannot. Size is the only defence.

Read it here

Into the Abyss

Re-reading Simon Leys, Dalrymple encounters a passage about China that might as well have been written about modern Britain, with some qualifications:

In a period of social and economic disintegration, it suffices for a tiny handful of men – less than 0.1 per cent of the population – to launch eloquent appeals to arouse popular indignation against brutal and corrupt authorities, to mobilise the generosity and idealism of youth, to rally the support of thousands of students, and finally to present a miniscule communist movement as the incarnation of the will of the entire nation.

With what result is now only too well-known.