In the Winter 2020 edition of City Journal, our favorite doctor takes a trip to Wales, buys the inevitable book, and recounts for us a brutal murder that took place over two decades ago.
Welsh Christianity was often narrow-minded, bigoted, censorious, and hypocritical. There is an extensive and extremely interesting literature on this subject, which obsessed Welsh writers for much of the twentieth century. But for all its unattractive qualities—I would have chafed under its domination—it provided a moral framework (or perhaps straitjacket would be a better way to put it) in which life was to be lived, and that gave a distinctive—and, in some ways, charming—character to Welsh life. It was also extremely earnest about educational effort. When it collapsed, the coarsest hedonism replaced it, which the Clydach murder case illustrates graphically.
The repressive reign of the rainbow is on full display in Britain’s National Health Service and Theodore Dalrymple excoriates the politically-correct, bureaucratic, leftist thought police’s latest obnoxious ukase at Law & Liberty.
But should doctors think that a person’s sexual orientation is relevant to their health care? What is being demanded seems self-contradictory: namely that there should simultaneously be both discrimination and non-discrimination. This impossible demand arises from intellectual carelessness as to when and what categorisation is necessarily relevant. A patient’s occupation, for instance, may be relevant to my diagnosis, but not to my determination of whether or not I should treat him as best I can. The deliberate confusion of these two senses by political entrepreneurs leads to endless conflict and the destruction of trust, to the advantage of the entrepreneurs.
A paranoid, mistrustful, resentful, and indignant population is the delight of political entrepreneurs, their bureaucratic dependants, and those who would be dictators of virtue.
Fires, arson, and the wickedness—and shallowness—of man are covered by the good doctor in his recent Quadrant piece.
Why is no mention made of it? I think it is for two related reasons. The first is that arson in such circumstances confronts us with the wickedness of man, the frivolous wickedness if I may so put it. The second is that, if arson played a part, ordinary people—ordinary in the sense of not being powerful or in authority—have contributed to the situation, thus complicating the Manichean account in which the forces of good are set against the forces of evil.
The reasons for the phenomenon of the multitude of sloppy, poorly-dressed, yet prosperous peons in the West are discussed in this week’s Takimag article from Theodore Dalrymple.
I have moved far from my former belief that it does not matter how one dresses. Of course, an overemphasis on one’s appearance is no doubt vanity, and in some men leads to dandyism (but, as the writer Arnold Bennett pointed out in a charming essay, a leaven of dandyism in a society does no harm, and is in its way an admirable effort after perfection). But I have come to the rather obvious conclusion that our mode of dress is a message to others, and taking some care over it to appear with reasonable smartness is an act of social responsibility and respect for others rather than egotism. Not to take such care is egotism, insofar as the message conveyed by the lack of care is “I am not going to make an effort just for you, mate. You have to accept me as I am.”
The first article from the good doctor addressing the Chinese influenza epidemic, better known as the coronavirus, is available at Law & Liberty.
But the epidemic might well have effects far beyond any that its death rate could account for. The world has suddenly woken up to the dangers of allowing China to be the workshop of the world and of relying on it as the ultimate source for supply chains for almost everything, from cars to medicines, from computers to telephones. No doubt normal service will soon resume once the epidemic is over, even if at a lower level, but at the very least supply chains should be diversified politically and perhaps geographically; dependence on a single country is to industry what dependence on monoculture is to agriculture. And just as the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of, so countries may have strategic reasons that economic reasons know not of.
In his weekly Takimag column, Theodore Dalrymple examines another egregious British court decision that once again illustrates the excessive leniency of most Western criminal law courts and the role of parole in undermining the rule of law.
The court’s ruling seems to me both arrogant and decadent: arrogant because it assumes its own moral superiority and presumes to teach others a lesson, and decadent because the lesson it seeks to teach is both morally wrong and redolent of feebleness masquerading as generosity.
The good doctor castigates a modernist architect’s unconvincing and self-serving response to an executive order from President Trump that makes mandatory the classical style of architecture for all new federal buildings.
What the building projects is not enlightenment, but total inhumanity, a tendency to dictatorship, a deeply skewed scale of values, a total lack of aesthetic discrimination, and a surrender to a self-generating and perpetuating clique. As Thom Mayne, one of the leaders of that clique, put it, he would like to build only for other architects, the only persons qualified to judge and to admire what he does. Yet surely even he has an inkling, at some level in his mind, that he has made the world a little worse than he found it.
The March Theodore Dalrymple essay in New English Review starts off with the good doctor finally admitting that he is a reactionary as he assesses the contemporary obsession with making journeys—whether for work or leisure.
I think I may be a reactionary (I write this as someone who says ‘I think I might have cancer’). At any rate, I now understand the Duke of Wellington’s objection to railways, that they would encourage the lower orders to travel round the country unnecessarily. I go even further than the Iron Duke, at least in my privacy of my own thoughts. The fact is that most journeys are like most work, which is to say unnecessary. But huge areas of countryside have to be ruined aesthetically in order to make such unnecessary journeys feasible, though not easy. Therefore, travel should be discouraged as far as possible, for example by bad roads or heavy tolls, trains that are unreliable, airports that are even more hellish than they already are, and so forth.
This 2010 essay reviewing the autobiographies of the Hitchens brothers is the last one from the First Things vault of Theodore Dalrymple’s essays.
Perhaps the division between the two brothers is essentially this: One believes that man can live by his own individual reason alone; the other believes that something else is necessary and inevitable. Without being religious myself, I side with the latter. Christopher’s faith in Trotsky was and is all the worse for not being recognized as such—for being dressed up in the language of reason. For example, Christopher speaks with absurd reverence of Trotsky’s book Literature and Revolution, as if it were not stuffed full of exceptionally nasty sentiments and half-baked adolescent ideas, with violence seeping out of every figure of speech.
A weighty biography of Michel de Montaigne by Philippe Desan is meticulously reviewed by the good doctor for the October 2017 edition of First Things.
No doubt this is deeply disconcerting to some, who therefore wish to ignore or deny it, or to devise schemes for creating the New Man who will not suffer from these defects, but for others (among whom I am one) it is consoling. Thanks to this apprehension of an unchanging reality, I come no longer, in the words of Dr. Johnson, “to pursue the phantoms of hope” or “expect that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow.” I am content to be discontent, if by discontent we mean aware of the inescapable imperfections of our own condition.