Category Archives: Essays

Britain’s Big Dig

A costly and unnecessary high-speed rail project is emblematic of the country’s cultural decline according to the good doctor over at City Journal.

The HS2 project, first announced in 2009, has taken 11 years just to receive the final go-ahead. It will cost many times more to build than it would anywhere else in the world. The decision to proceed is probably the wrong one. The whole episode is emblematic of the sclerosis, corruption, and incompetence of successive British governments—all symptomatic of a steep cultural decline. Let us hope that Boris Johnson is not on track for more such decisions.

Britain’s Classicist-Politician

Theodore Dalrymple critiques an unambitious new book by Paul Corthorn on the controversial and complex Enoch Powell over at Law & Liberty.

This is all very well as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. Even in a mixed system, demand for places in universities is often determined in what Powell would have considered a philistine way, namely by the supposed economic advantages that the education provides. University degrees in western societies have largely become tickets of entry into the labour market at various levels rather than the reward of genuine learning or vocational competence, and are of no other intellectual, spiritual, or practical value. Whether anything can or ought to be done about this is a question too complex for Powell’s thought.

If you want to know Powell’s ideas on the subjects which concerned him, this is a very valuable book. But there is a sense of futility, almost of tragedy, that suffuses it: why did such a brilliantly gifted person waste his talents on politics?

Hiding Behind Psychobabble

The good doctor examines a modern architect’s defense of the brutalist school and the widespread use of trendy, meaningless psychobabble in today’s Takimag column.

I hesitate to coin a neologism, but it seems to me that architects, though not architects alone (they are but the canaries in the coal mine), suffer from pulchriphobia, that is to say a fear of beauty. To be more exact, it is not beauty that they fear so much as the revelation to others of what it is that they consider beautiful, or the revelation of their incapacity to produce anything of beauty. Taste is very revelatory of character, and though we live in an age in which we delight to talk of ourselves, in fact we do so while carefully protecting ourselves from true self-revelation or true self-examination.

Rare and Common Sense

In the November 2017 edition of First Things, Theodore Dalrymple skillfully reviews a biography of Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), the noted Belgian sinologist who was among the first to openly critique the monstrous brutality, vicious lies, and vile propaganda of Maoism that so entranced many willfully naive and intellectually dishonest Western leftist academics.

It is a curious fact that Communist dictatorships were at their most popular among Western intellectuals while they still had the courage of their brutality. Once they settled down to gray, everyday oppression and relatively minor acts of violent repression (judged, of course, by their own former high, or low, standards in this respect), they ceased to attract the extravagant praises of those intellectuals who, in their own countries, regarded as intolerable even the slightest derogation from their absolute freedom of expression. It is as if not dreams but totalitarian famines and massacres acted as the Freudian wish fulfillment of these Western intellectuals. They spoke of illimitable freedom, but desired unlimited power. 

The Death Penalty’s Demise and the Withering of Authority

The negative consequences of the abolition of the death penalty on the criminal justice system are thoughtfully illustrated by Theodore Dalrymple in his Law & Liberty essay.

It was not inevitable that the abolition of the death penalty should have had this effect, if conviction for murder had indeed carried a sentence of incarceration for life. But in order for this to have been the case, society as a whole, and the governing class in particular, including intellectuals, would have had to have sufficient faith in a moral authority to impose it. The abolition itself, in my view justified per se, was — in the manner in which it was carried out — a symptom in itself of the decline in that faith. The governing class and intellectuals believed only in their own moral authority only to defy the ‘primitive’ wishes and apprehensions of the unlettered majority. They replaced the moral view of human existence by the sociological and psychological one, with all its explaining and explaining away.

Britain’s Criminal-Justice Frivolity

Yet another stabbing by an Islamic fanatic released halfway before the end of his prison term rouses the ire of Theodore Dalrymple in his City Journal column.

The British criminal-justice system once again exposed its elaborate and ceremonious frivolity. This frivolity is serious in its effects, not only for its immediate consequences on Britain’s crime rate but also because it undermines the legitimacy of the state, whose first and inescapable duty is to maintain enough order to secure the safety of citizens as they go about their lawful business.


But good sense on criminal justice in Britain will be difficult to put into practice, for there a long march of sentimentality has occurred through the minds of the intelligentsia and elites in general. The father of the last man to be murdered by a terrorist recently released from prison—which took place only a few weeks ago—said that he hoped his son’s death would not be used as an argument for more drastic sentencing of terrorists. Does one laugh or cry?  

The Lessons of Richard II

A book about Richard II prompts Theodore Dalrymple to reflect on our own feeble, rotten democracies and self-serving, mediocre political class in this week’s Takimag column.

We complain of the mediocrity, or even sub-mediocrity, of our leaders and their bureaucratic hangers-on, but we do not see that our system does much, perhaps everything, to guarantee the rise of such people to the top. Power, or at least its simulacrum, is the consolation prize of those who want to be outstanding but lack the talent for anything except manipulation, plotting, dissimulation, and betrayal. Such types are encouraged in a polity that describes itself as both democratic and meritocratic.

Save Us From Secular Redeemers

In his latest Quadrant column, the good doctor skewers the weak-kneed, self-flagellating, virtue-signaling response of the father of the Englishman stabbed to death by a convicted Islamic terrorist, who was inexplicably released early from prison.

He would be greatly encouraged in his misapprehension by Mr Merritt’s words in response to the slaughter of his own son, not even having enough sap in him to reprehend or be angry with his killer. This our terrorist would regard as contemptible, as well as a symptom of new-born-kitten levels of helplessness. Mr Merritt is of a people who do not even wish, and therefore do not deserve, to survive. They are not even prepared to take the most obvious measures to prevent themselves from being killed by their enemies.

Psychiatry and the Presidency

The Trump Derangement Syndrome seems to have infected some of the leftist charlatans and liberal quacks of the psychiatry profession as Theodore Dalrymple aptly demonstrates in his Law & Liberty column.

It hardly needs pointing out (except to the likes of Dr. Lee and colleagues) that psychiatry is not an exact science, and much of it—psychoanalysis, for example—is not a science at all. To leave the state to the discretion of psychiatrists is like leaving industrial policy to alchemists or public health policy to astrologers. It presumably would come as a surprise to them that educated voters for, and supporters of, President Trump are well aware of his character defects, which after all require no very great psychological acuity to descry, but prefer him to the alternatives for political and economic reasons. They may be right or they may be wrong, but they are not ill, and at least they are not trying to invalidate the political opinions and choices of their opponents on spurious, potentially dictatorial, psychiatric grounds.

Free to Be Vulgar

The good doctor regales us with the latest bit of nonsense coming out of France in City Journal. The City Journal‘s concise summary of the article: A French free-speech controversy also illustrates the decline of civility in an educated society.

Adolescence is the age neither of good taste nor of wisdom, which no doubt is why some politicians want to lower the voting age even further. After all, what many politicians most value in voters is gullibility.


When I was Mila’s age, I was a kind of village atheist, but it would never have occurred to me to express myself as she did. Rather, I would have tried to refute the ontological argument to anyone who offered it. Curiously enough, the widening and lengthening of education in the population since my youth seems to have gone hand in hand with a decline in the civility of discourse.