We do not live in a golden age of the four cardinal virtues; perhaps there never was such an age, which is why life has always been such a mess. But we have gone further than our predecessors. I suspect that most of us would now be unable to name the virtues, let alone exercise them. Just to remind you, they are prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice.
In the December edition of New English Review we find the good doctor recounting his visit to the southern English port town of Portsmouth. While there, Theodore Dalrymple ruminates on modern architecture, the regrettable spread of tattooing, culinary multiculturalism, and bibliophilia.
A stroll in Southsea tells you quite a lot about modern society, or at least a part of modern society. The fact is that for a considerable distance down its main street, it is easier to get yourself mutilated, either by tattoo or by piercing, than to buy a tomato. Fresh food, it seems, is scarcely ever bought by the people of Southsea, probably students living in shared rented houses.
The latest murderous Islamist attack in London is the focus of Theodore Dalrymple’s City Journal article. The good doctor discusses the ridiculously lenient British justice system, the pathetic public response to the terror attack, the typical false beliefs about ciminal justice of our so-called intellectuals, and ends with a telling passage from the great G.K. Chesterton.
The first superstition is that terrorists are ill and are both in need of and susceptible to “rehabilitation,” as if there existed some kind of moral physiotherapy that would strengthen their moral fiber, or a psychological vaccine that would immunize them against terrorist inclinations. The second is that, once terrorists have undergone these technical processes or treatments, it can be known for certain that the treatments have worked, and that some means exist to assess whether the terrorists still harbor violent desires and intentions. The third is that there exists a way of monitoring terrorists after their release that will prevent them from carrying out attacks, should they somehow slip through the net.
The tort law often has the effect of infantilizing people by encouraging them to deny their own responsibility, trading their status as adults for the hope, in most cases forlorn or delusory, of a large payout. This is not to deny that our tort law does sometimes result in justice for the maltreated, but at tremendous cost both financial and civilizational. The tort law encourages deception (including self-deception), fraud, exaggeration, false witness, and infantilization. It legalizes corruption, insofar as cases of no merit nevertheless often result in payouts for the plaintiffs because it is more expensive for defendants with right on their side to contest the case to the bitter end. It is often responsible for more injury to the plaintiff than the original injury that caused the plaintiff to resort to it in the first place.
The October stabbing spree at the Paris police headquarters by a recent Islamic convert employee is analyzed by Theodore Dalrymple at Quadrant.
In like fashion, we can see that Harpon’s supposed personal resentment at work is not at all incompatible with his conversion to Islam as a partial explanation of his conduct, quite the reverse. Deep resentment can easily bubble under a calm exterior such as Harpon showed to the world for a long time. The deaf, moreover, are (for easily understandable reasons, as anyone will attest who has been to a social gathering conducted in a language that he does not understand) more inclined to paranoia than others. And an ideology such as Islamism is highly suited to those of paranoid disposition.
With the British elections looming, the good doctor summarizes the proposed loony leftist policies of the Labour Party and its unrepentant Marxist leader, Jeremy Corbyn. After this sad debacle, we can finally retire the first part of the country’s current official name, Great Britain.
Reading the manifesto of the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, I realize how close Britain might be to catastrophe—a catastrophe that would make the whole Brexit episode seem of minor importance. Barring accidents, it is unlikely, but by no means impossible, that Labour will win the election on December 12. If so, it will inaugurate a quasi-totalitarian government—not surprisingly, considering that Corbyn’s deputy, John McDonnell, is an admirer of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Leon Trotsky, whom he has described as the greatest influence on his worldview. Corbyn himself is an admirer of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
Theodore Dalrymple reflects on the increasing popularity of keeping snakes as pets after reading about a woman in Indiana who was asphyxiated to death by her python.
We seek to avoid emotional commitment because it impinges on our freedom—freedom being an infinitely large buffet or smorgasbord of choices, in which one choice does not preclude another later on. This attitude is perfectly appropriate to youth, which naturally enough wants to try many things before it settles on something that limits choice and creates obligation.
Another book review by Theodore Dalrymple (writing under his real name, Anthony Daniels) is available over at The New Criterion. This time, the good doctor dissects the latest published gem of inconsequential mediocrity from the fulcrum of all that is glorious in Western higher education: Harvard University.
According to the author’s acknowledgments, however, she is indebted to approximately one “scholar, activist or other book lover” for every two pages of her 170-page text, so perhaps I am unduly harsh: there are more of such scholars than I think. (Surely it is time for someone to undertake Acknowledgment Studies? It would teach us a great deal about the psychosocial history of academe and the development of the concept of a research community in the humanities. It takes a village to write a book.)
The good doctor returns to City Journal with a withering review of David Cameron’s memoir as well as the man himself. Another classic Theodore Dalrymple essay.
For a man to have been at the peak of political power for six years and to have written a 700-page memoir without a single arresting thought or amusing anecdote, without giving any insight into the important people he has met, and without displaying any interest in, let alone knowledge of, history, philosophy or higher culture, is an achievement of a kind. If banality can startle, Mr. Cameron’s banality startles — because of the position he once occupied. The average barroom bore is Doctor Johnson by comparison. It is only in its vacuity that David Cameron’s memoir achieves significance. It thereby tells us something about both modern politics and the state of education in Britain: for in the latter respect, Mr. Cameron is the product of the elite of the elite. This in itself is reason for the profoundest pessimism.
Needless to say, too acute an awareness of rights has a harmful effect on the human character. Everyone is on the qui vive for a denial of his rights, perhaps even hoping for one so that he can become righteously indignant at the injustice done him. What is granted as a right is rarely received with gratitude, nor does what is granted as a right have to be earned by effort; for I have a right to x, why should I work to obtain it?