The Pain Principle

A bout with gout is a reminder of the usefulness of suffering:

I know that the gratitude will not last, because gratitude can never be a chronic emotion. I will forget the pain within the week and take my painless toe for granted again. But still the episode illustrates the point that suffering is necessary for the full appreciation of life. Without some experience of it, we could hardly be aware that we were enjoying anything; and it is why it is so difficult to imagine heaven, where suffering does not and could not exist. We can all imagine, vividly, a thousand hells, but a single heaven is quite beyond our imagination to conceive. That is why the iconography of hell is varied and fascinating, that of heaven dull and boring.

Dalrymple’s first published piece

For years the Spectator magazine’s pre-Internet content was not available electronically, but we recently noticed that it now is. And so we are able to provide this link to the very first published item of Dalrymple’s career, A Bit of a Myth. (Though we should really say it’s the first published item of Anthony Daniels’s career, as he had not yet begun using the Dalrymple pseudonym). It adheres to the primary theme of his early writing: opposition to colonialism.

Former Spectator editor Charles Moore once said that Daniels was the only author he has ever chosen to publish on the basis of unsolicited articles, and this piece would seem to have been the unsolicited one that launched his writing career.

Be advised that the piece is poorly formatted and punctuated, seemingly the result of an automated mass upload process.

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 absurd questionnaire Dalrymple was required to complete after his submission of a recent article to an American publication causes him, in the August edition of New English Review, to consider the motivations for and effects of such forms:

During my annual appraisal, itself a procedure of doubtful value, my appraiser asked me whether I had any concerns about my own probity. The appraiser was a colleague for whom I had some regard as a man, and he asked me this question only because it was prescribed for him to do so by the form about me that he had to fill.

‘I will answer the question if you answer two questions first,’ I said, and he asked me what they were.

‘The first is, “What kind of man would answer such a question?” and the second is, “What kind of man would ask it?”’

‘Oh, I know,’ he replied, ‘but just answer it to get it over with.’

Of course it was a formality; no dishonest person would reply, ‘Now that you come to ask, I am a little worried by my own dishonesty.’ But to comply with absurd formalities only because compliance is a condition of continued employment is to lose a little of one’s probity, as is to ask so absurd a question because it is required. Hume said that it is seldom that liberty is lost all at once, and the same might be said of probity. It is eroded rather than exploded: death by a thousand procedures.

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

The Odour of Sanctity

After arguing that both sides in the abortion debate offer overly simple arguments, and going through what he considers the proper ones, Dalrymple writes:

So how do you frame a law that avoids the indisputable cruelties and hardships occasioned by total prohibition, while not acceding to the uncouth and ill-founded demands of the other side, and avoiding the bogus jurisprudence of Roe v. Wade? Arguments that rely solely on competing rights can result only in shouting matches; they have the psychological effect of limiting the moral imagination. On the other hand, the law must lay down with reasonable predictability and consistency what is permissible and what is not.

There is a limit to what the law can achieve if it is not to become, in effect, the absolute arbiter or dictator of our lives. Therefore, it is up to the population to exercise virtue…

Everyday Snowflakes

We sometimes write that if you only read one Dalrymple piece this week, let it be this one. That is true of this piece in Taki’s Magazine on social media over-sharing and the related ideas it illuminates: The desire to publicize the details of one’s life (only the positive ones, of course). The “thirst for significance in a mass society”. The wish for the fulfillment of contradictory and mutually-exclusive desires, such as the wish to be judged and not judged, noticed and not noticed, simultaneously. A good read.

The demand for recognition and nonrecognition at the same time is surely one of the reasons for the outbreak of mass self-mutilation in the Western world in an age of celebrity. A person who treats his face and body like an ironmongery store can hardly desire or expect that you fail to notice it, but at the same time demands that you make no comment about it, draw no conclusions from it, express no aversion toward it, and treat him no differently because of it. You must accept him as he is, however he is, because he has an inalienable right to such acceptance. As a professional burglar once asked me, how could I expect him to give up burgling when he was a burglar and burglary was what he did?