Category Archives: Essays

I’m optimistic about the vaccine – but let’s not get too exuberant

Today I stumbled upon a new publication that showcases Theodore Dalrymple’s writing. The Oldie has seven articles dating back to last summer, including the most recent one covering the November announcement of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

A vaccine that has to be stored at -70 degrees C and has to be given twice at an interval of two weeks poses the kind of logistical problems in the solution of which our government, determined to preserve its monopoly of incompetence, does not seem to excel.

The Age of Cant

In the Autumn issue of City Journal, the good doctor delivers a classic essay on the zeitgeist of our 21st-century Western world.

Cant is more destructive than hypocrisy because it is harder to expose and because a humbug deceives himself as well as others, while a mere hypocrite retains some awareness; he is a rogue rather than a villain. Cant is the vehement public expression of concern for others, or of anger at an opinion casting doubt on some moral orthodoxy that is not, and cannot be, genuinely felt, its vehemence being a shield for insincerity and lack of confidence in the orthodox opinion.

Leaders in cant are not inquirers after truth but seekers of power, if only the power to destroy, which is often a delight in itself. Cant is the weapon of the ambitious mediocrity, a class of person that has become much more numerous with the extension, but also dilution, of tertiary education. Such people believe that social prominence is their due.

Political Passions

The nature and lessons of politics drawn from stories by Guy de Maupassant and Marcel Prévost are the topic of the December New Criterion essay from our favorite doctor. Please note that a paid subscription to the New Criterion is required to view the article in its entirety.

Are politics important or trivial, profound or superficial? Do they determine the whole course of our lives, or are they a thin veneer over the underlying constancies of human nature and inevitable exigencies of existence? I swing wildly, sometimes in the course of a single day, hour, or even minute, between these two poles of thought. Politics are everything, politics are nothing.

The Decline of Cultural Understanding

Our skeptical doctor ponders the consequences of the decline in cultural understanding—so common among our so-called intellectuals—over at Takimag.

This cultural understanding is easily lost, and indeed seems to be in the process of decline in Western countries, most dangerously among the very class—the intelligentsia—in whom one might have expected or hoped it to be strongest. Our universities are becoming bastions of unfreedom, if my few young academic friends are to be believed, and we are raising up a generation of secular ayatollahs.

In the Euston Road

Theodore Dalrymple recounts his interesting recent trip from London to Paris in his weekly Takimag column.

I suspect that the homeless whom I saw in the Euston Road by contrast were, in the last analysis, the victims of the lumpen-hedonistic sex–drugs–and–rock ’n’ roll culture that, in Britain at least, devastated the white lower orders of society in the middle of the 20th century, and to whose baleful consequences those with few economic resources or educational attainments were most vulnerable, all the more so in times of economic dislocation, having been left with nothing to fall back on.

Public Spending and Public Health

A short article from the good doctor appears in the November edition of The Critic in which he questions the connection between higher health care spending and better outcomes.

The word austerity is already disingenuous, to put it no stronger. The word in this context means the attempt to align government expenditure a little more closely with government income. It certainly does not mean hair shirts and monastic silence in unheated stone-walled rooms.

Liars and Maligners

The skeptical doctor examines human nature, dishonesty, and “malign triviality” in this week’s Takimag column.

I have spent practically the whole of my professional life investigating the dark recesses of the human mind, but I did not imagine the existence of such malign triviality, or trivial malignity, as this. It is the very triviality of it that appalls.

How could anyone truly imagine that a workman relieving himself at a hedgerow in a deserted country lane was trying to expose himself? To whom? The mice, the weasels, and the magpies? This is surely a manifestation of what Coleridge, with mistaken reference to Iago in Othello, called “motiveless malignity,” that is to say malignity for the sheer pleasure of being malign.

European Empire, Fractured

Our favorite doctor reviews a new book about Britain’s historical relationship with the European Union over at Law & Liberty.

Those in Britain who supported Brexit are often accused of nostalgia for a past in which the country was powerful, but I do not think this nostalgia, if it ever existed at all, was very widespread. One might well say that nostalgia, on the part of France, was and is a driving force in the European Union, since it is only by union with Germany than France can aspire to a semi-Napoleonic role in Europe.

“Treating” Evil

Last week’s Islamist terror attack in Vienna has the doubtful doctor questioning the so-called experts of criminology and psychology who were yet again so easily duped.

But the early release of such as Kujtim Fejzulai has another deleterious effect, whose size or importance is impossible to estimate with certainty: namely, that it is yet further proof, at least to those already thinking along these lines, of decadence and weakness in the West, which is a rotten fruit whose tree only needs a bit of a shake for the fruit to fall. If a society is so sentimental about its enemies as it was in the case of Kujtim Fejzulai, what powers of resistance against determined attack could it have?

Odd Jobs

This week’s Takimag column has Theodore Dalrymple poking fun at the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance, whose minister faces accusations of sexual assault. Yes, dear reader, you read that right, and the United Arab Emirates does in fact have such a ministry. Either the UAE is developing by leaps and bounds in the satire department or its leaders are skillfully aping standard, 21st-century, Western progressive drivel.

We laugh (quite rightly) at the idea of a Ministry of Tolerance, as we would laugh at the idea of a Ministry of Politeness or of a Ministry of Kindness. But it is always as well when sneering at the absurdity of others to turn the searchlight inwards, and examine oneself, or in this case one’s own polity. No sensible person would look to the UAE for political guidance; but increasingly the same is true of many Western countries.