Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass

Life at the Bottom
By Theodore Dalrymple
Published November 2001
Ivan R. Dee
ISBN-10: 1566633826
ISBN-13: 978-1566633826
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Reviews:

Most Americans who know of Anthony Daniels don’t know of him by that name. Chances are, they’ve read Theodore Dalrymple’s graceful prose describing the lives and mindsets of England’s slum dwellers in “Life At The Bottom”. Ignorant of his years among the world’s poorest, and conscious as they sadly are of the cultural degradation paraded about on the Jerry Springer or Maury Povich shows, they must wonder what enables this Dalrymple to dissect the ghetto’s behavioral eccentricities so effortlessly and with such an outsider’s detachment.Published in 2001, this collection of essays for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal earned Daniels the unanimous praise of the American right and was the target of words like classic, genius and extraordinary. Thomas Sowell believed that it was “fundamental for understanding the world we live in.” Norman Podhoretz declared himself “a great admirer.” David Pryce-Jones said, “Like Orwell, Dalrymple is disclosing the reality we prefer not to inspect. Also like Orwell, Dalrymple happens to be a nom de plume, and I have no hesitation mentioning the two in the same breath.”Daniels shows readers a world where ambition and hard work are foreign concepts, dismissed out of hand. Conduct is “unrestrained either by law or convention.” Human relations are kaleidoscopic and serve only the passions of the moment. Violence reigns. These people, Daniels says, have simply forgotten how to live. Their lives represent, quite simply, the rejection of civilization.On sexual matters, to take merely one area, Daniels says, “If anyone wants to see what sexual relations are like, freed of contractual and social obligations, let him look at the chaos of the personal lives of members of the underclass. Here are abortions procured by abdominal kung fu; children who have children…; women abandoned by the father of their child a month before or a month after delivery; insensate jealousy, the reverse of the coin of general promiscuity, that results in the most hideous oppression and violence; serial stepfatherhood that leads to sexual and physical abuse of children on a mass scale; and every kind of loosening of the distinction between the sexually permissible and the impermissible.”

But these cultural absurdities, he argues, were first intellectual absurdities. The true villains are the intellectuals who proposed a loosening of social mores, launched a parade of excuses for a long list of destructive behaviors, denied agency (and therefore full humanity) to the West’s euphemistically-named “poor”, built bureaucracies that reward the most irresponsible citizens with the greatest largesse, and otherwise indicted faceless society for the failures of individuals. Daniels uncovers the foolishness with elegance and wit.

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