Category Archives: Essays

Pandemics Are the Health of the State

The lessons that will be drawn by our so-called policy experts and the self-serving commentariat after the passing of the Wuhan pandemic is examined by the good doctor in his latest Law & Liberty essay.

The predominant message is that state action is the only means by which this can be done; and I think few would dispute that, whatever the role of the state ought to have been, or ought to be in the future, the state, relative to the rest of society, has in fact been considerably strengthened by the epidemic. Furthermore, there are many who want it to be strengthened yet further, and who welcome the quasi-totalitarian control of people’s lives that the epidemic provoked.

Paper Chase

In his weekly Takimag column, Theodore Dalrymple ponders the importance of toilet paper, workers who provide us with our basic services, as well as the position of supermarket shelf-stacker during these dark days of the Chinese coronavirus. Classic Dalrymple.

For example, if there were no electricity, there could be no theater productions, at least in their modern form, and certainly no films, to say nothing of many other refined aspects of existence. While we could do without plays and films, we could not do without electricity; just think how upset we are when the lights go out even for a short time because a power cable is down. We feel a sense almost of moral outrage, as if our rights were somehow being infringed. Therefore the least worker on the electricity grid is more important to us, if we think honestly, than the greatest director in the history of stage or film; and yet we admire the director far more than the man whose work is a precondition of the director’s work.

On the Beach, On the Balcony

In the April edition of New English Review, the good doctor discourses on the Wuhan coronavirus and some of the virus-related social and cultural changes he has observed in France.

I dislike such gestures which seem to me empty and shallow. They are supposed to be gestures of gratitude and encouragement, but all that I have seen (which of course may not be representative of anything except of all that I have seen) suggests that doctors and nurses are more irritated than pleased by them. Often they have to work in poor conditions, with essential equipment lacking despite the vast expenditure on the health service in France. It costs nothing, financially or in any other way, to make this gesture. It is, as I have said, empty and shallow.

A Time for Gurus

Many in France look to a highly distinguished, if eccentric, microbiologist who touts a treatment for Covid-19, but the skeptical doctor has some justifiable doubts over at City Journal.

France has a new savior—neither its president nor the savior proclaimed as such by its former religion, but Professor Didier Raoult, an eminent microbiologist who works in Marseille. He strongly, indeed loudly, advocates the use of hydroxychloriquine and azithromycin in the treatment of patients with Covid-19.

Where Will the Coronavirus Lead Us?

Another thought-provoking article from Theodore Dalrymple addressing the economic consequences of the Wuhan coronavirus is available at Law & Liberty.

One should never underestimate the power of amnesia in human affairs. Even catastrophes on a vast scale are often soon forgotten, at least by those who were not directly affected by them. The young in Eastern Europe, it is said, know nothing of the ravages of communism, though they lasted decades and still exert an influence, and quite a lot think that socialism might be a good thing to try, as if it had never been tried before. Moreover, no memory exerts a salutary effect by itself unaided by thought and reflection: memory (even where accurate) has to be interpreted, and where there is interpretation there is the possibility of error and disagreement.

Off the Rails

A train ride from Nimes to Paris with an annoyingly garrulous passenger nearby has Theodore Dalrymple contemplating over at Takimag. Another day in the life of the skeptical doctor.

I have long thought that if it were not for complaint, we should have very little to talk about. Complaint is like crime in the theories of the first real sociologist, Émile Durkheim: It is the glue of society. Without opposition to crime, society would fall apart. Without complaint, most of us would remain silent and have no relations with others at all.

A Lost Mandate in Europe

The good doctor laments the response to the Wuhan coronavirus in the European Union over at City Journal.

It is surely of some interest that those Asian states that—for the moment, at any rate—are believed to have done well during this epidemic, while more authoritarian than we would like, also have relatively small public sectors as a proportion of their economies as a whole (a third or less that of France). The size of a bureaucracy is not necessarily a sign of its strength or efficiency, any more than the selling of an oedematous leg is a sign of its strength and efficiency; rather the reverse. A small bureaucracy concentrates intelligence, while a large one disperses it.

The Astonishing Pieter de Hooch

For the April 2020 New Criterion, our skeptical doctor—using his real name, Anthony Daniels—has penned an essay on one of his favorite painters, the 17th-century Dutch artist, Pieter de Hooch.

But there was also a more private reason for my deep attachment to the painting, namely the beautiful and straightforward emotional calm that reigned between the two figures, their uncomplicated and unconditional love of one another—something that I longed for as a child but never had, instead continually experiencing the petty Sturm und Drang of domestic conflict. To the inherent melancholy of any capture of a beautiful moment that is fleeting (the child, so fresh and tender, so full of trust, would grow old and die nearly three centuries before I first saw the picture), I added a personal sorrow over the fact that I would never experience anything like the little girl’s quiet, careless rapture.

Is Trump’s Classical-Architecture Policy Authoritarian?

Theodore Dalrymple returns to The American Conservative after an eight-year hiatus with another excellent essay on President Trump’s much-needed executive order to restore classical architecture to all new federal buildings, which will hopefully banish the modernist, brutalist style of unmitigated ugliness into the dustbin of history. There are another eight essays from the skeptical doctor from 2006-2012 that our readers can catch up on.

The order will also free architects and teachers of architecture from the groupthink which undoubtedly afflicts the profession, not only in America but in Europe and elsewhere. It will serve to increase, not reduce, choice, and with luck will restore public confidence in its own taste and right to pronounce on architectural matters, as well as its influence over what is built in its name. After all, it is the public that has to live with architecture. Architecture should not be a secret garden into the beauties of which only architects may enter.

Children of Richard III

In his weekly Takimag column, the good doctor tackles the thorny issue of race and identity after learning about another misguided, race-obsessed, progressive decision—this time from the Arts Council of England.

In an open society, identifiable groups that were once despised can quickly ascend the social and economic scale, though not all do so. No society is without prejudices both for and against various groups, but many societies, at least nowadays, are without laws that enforce those prejudices and make their expression obligatory. It is unpleasant to be the object of prejudice, but it is not fatal to social advance and, within limits, may even stimulate determination to succeed.