book review

Not With a Bang,
But a Whimper

The Politics and Culture of Decline
by Theodore Dalrymple
Ivan R. Dee Press, 2008, 252 pages
Reviewed By

Oct 11, 2008

T he contrast between a felt and lived reality is the theme of this outstanding collection of essays, which reveal Theodore Dalrymple's incisive mind and his superlative command of the English language. Just in the first eight pages, he manages to annihilate the life's work of Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, whose theories about language being preprogrammed into the brain, Dalrymple demonstrates, fail to hold up to practical real-world experience.

Dalrymple's core belief is that intellectuals have more power than most people realize, and their adoption of destructive ideological fads, such as the belief that poverty and racial discrimination are the causes of all ill, the belief that expression of incorrect opinions should be punished, and the belief that all crime is a natural and understandable result of social injustice, has had catastrophic effects on society and, especially in Britain, on crime rates. Thanks to these liberal intellectuals and their ideas, Britain now has the highest crime rate in the Western world.

Several essays discuss the quality of life, or rather the poverty of it, in Britain: a set of problems the cause of which is obvious to all but those who live there. Dalrymple, now retired, sometimes retreats into a discussion of literary works, some obscure and some modern. But later Dalrymple returns to his strength, which is his detailed understanding, gained from decades of personal experience, of the suffering of the unfortunates in society, and of the moral failings that put them there. It is this experience in the real world and his consciousness of what happens when the veneer of civilization is destroyed, as much as his appreciation for the complexity and magnificence of the real world, that has made Dalrymple a conservative.

In other essays, Dalrymple argues eloquently against the creeping collectivism that threatens to subvert the moral character of Britain. In a socialist system, says Dalrymple, money is replaced by political power. To obtain even ordinary necessities like toilet paper, people must first obtain personal influence and connections, as is done in those societies, such as modern-day Italy, where corruption is rampant; but socialism institutionalizes corruption and makes it far more impersonal and bureaucratic. Since the government does everything, no one is responsible for their own conduct. The result is a parasitic dependence on the state, a deterioration in the quality of human interactions, and a gray uniformity, as seen in East Germany under Communism. It is a nation of sheeple, deprived of (in the words of Dalrymple) "responsibility, purpose, and self-respect." It is a society where success is failure, and the people, stripped of ambition and individuality, not only willingly abandon their own children but also their freedom--acquiescing to, and finally believing, the malicious platitudes that have become mandatory Official Truths. It is a world, as the title of this book suggests, headed not for immolation but for deterioration into a whimpering incomprehension of endless problems, scandals, and disasters that arise seemingly from nowhere. Why, oh why, they will ask, do these things keep happening to us, when we've been so egalitarian and tolerant and compassionate?

Dr. Dalrymple knows the answer, but proposes no cures. He himself has moved out, and is living in France. But at least someone has made a diagnosis of the delusional, manic-depressive West.