Sympathy Deformed

Dalrymple has lived all around the world, in places of vastly different cultures and ethnicities, and has come to one universal conclusion: that redistribution in the name of equality is everywhere a disaster. His new essay in City Journal is a nice summary of his experiences in three countries — one African, one Pacific and one Western — where redistribution has “reduced the capacity and inclination of people to pay for their own choices—and eventually the habit of making such choices”.

Anti-Semitism, it has often been said, is the socialism of fools. I would put things another way: socialism is the anti-Semitism of intellectuals.

Read the essay here.

4 thoughts on “Sympathy Deformed

  1. Rachel

    This is probably one of his best.
    Thanks for that.
    I wish ordinary newspapers could carry articles like this – even just once a week.

  2. mpr

    A few criticisms, told me to over the phone, for the consideration of readers of Dalrymple’s writing.

    *The article is a “classic straw-man argument”, where the bumbling use of socialist policies in an African backwater is used to discredit such policies as they may apply in other contexts (paraphrasing);

    *The last few paragraphs about education were not directly substantiated by anything in the article previously, and seem to come out of nowhere;

    *The person I spoke to related a number of personal anecdotes on the relevance and importance of basic educational standards being set by the state. In the cases related, if the individual (not fit to give their offspring much of an education) was solely responsible, the children would have been at a serious disadvantage. State education in those cases levelled the playing field and allowed the children to lead more stable and fulfilling lives than that of the mother, thus ending the poverty trap.

  3. Steve

    Thanks for the comments. I thought Dalrymple was pretty clear that the problem with socialism is not in its implementation but in its very nature:

    More important, however, is that the redistributionist way of thinking denies agency to the poor. By destroying people’s self-reliance, it encourages dependency and corruption—not only in Britain, but everywhere in the world where it is held.

    The paragraphs on education reinforce that same point:

    As in Tanzania, the state-dominated system became self-reinforcing. Because of the high taxation necessary to run it, it reduced the capacity and inclination of people to pay for their own choices—and eventually the habit of making such choices. The British state now decides the important things for British citizens when it comes to education and much else.

    He was not decrying “basic educational standards” but the fact that the British state is essentially “a monopoly provider of education” devoted to egalitarianism.

  4. mpr

    Yep, I know that the argument is not against socialism specifically as it was implemented in Tanzania, but as a concept. The complaint by this other reader was that the ground covered in the article only showed how it didn’t work in that particular case, and didn’t prove that socialism, or government intervention in aspects of life, is not workable, or a bad idea altogether. The example he brought up in support of this idea is when there are people who are not quite capable of carrying out their duties as a citizen to a high degree (such as providing a solid education for children). In such cases, this person argued, the state should maintain some bottom line to stop the children of such parents from being at too great a disadvantage. Though as you say, the article was not explicitly against this idea, either.


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