In erudite, crisp prose, Theodore Dalrymple illuminates concepts and realities that one, previously, may have only had inchoate inklings of.
His thought is an invaluable counter-balance to the Left-Liberal/Marxist narrative that pervades the Western media and education system.
Unlike much of the unpleasant snark which passes for criticism these days, Dr. Dalrymple possesses the physician’s cool analytical gaze: there is no resentment or bitterness in his writing, only a thoughtful critique of the ideological ills plaguing contemporary western culture.
Comprising a collection of essays, Our Culture: What’s Left of It (2005) covers a broad sweep of modern culture, from art and architecture to politics and society.
Dalrymple’s central argument is that our culture has become dehumanised. Adherence to political ideology in public affairs has triumphed over any attempt to genuinely understand human nature.
Instead of observing the world as it is, cultural elites, have, over the course of the last 50-60 years, embarked upon a utopian project of transforming it into an abstract notion of how they surmise it should be, with disastrous, often ugly consequences.
As a prison doctor, Dalrymple has observed the results of lax welfarist social policies on the British underclass, in whom every human vice is carelessly nurtured.
Many of his incarcerated patients have lived lives almost wholly dependent on the state, which does not discourage their bad behaviour, but constantly rewards it monetarily.
The traditional family structure, which, historically, demanded moral and social obligations from an individual has been replaced by a paternalistic, governmental system that permanently infantilises its wayward children, who struggle to live stable adult lives.
This misguided socialism, argues Dalrymple, stems from the refusal of modern leftist elites to “judge” the habits of the welfare-dependent, no matter how harmful they may be; rather, they choose to maintain a moral distance, refusing to acknowledge that not all lifestyles are equally worthy.
This lack of insight into human psychology and basic social incentives means that those most in need of moral guidance never receive it, to their detriment and to society, which pays literally and figuratively for such folly.
This unerring dogmatism is also evident in contemporary art and architecture. Dalrymple convincingly demonstrates that the pursuit of beauty and aesthetic wonder no longer seems a particular concern of the ideologues who now flourish in those fields. Something Robin Gilbert-Jones has also commented on.
Dalrymple astutely observes that the drab, box-like structures of Le Corbusier are exactly what you get when you combine ideological zeal with a wholesale rejection of history. The Swiss architect suffered from a chronic case of “presentism”, whereby he disdained the aesthetic traditions of the past in favour of the “progressive” trends of the present, no matter how sociologically infeasible.
A similar sentiment is echoed in director Terence Davies’ magnificent film Of Time And The City (2008) which shows through archival footage how the lives of working class English people were upended in the 1960s when they were moved by their local councils from terraced houses into modernist tower blocks.
Those hulking concrete masses, devoid of doorsteps, were hostile to the friendly neighbourliness of the classic working-class community where everyone congregated on the street.
Though it was published ten years ago, Dalrymple’s careful dissection of the ideologue’s wilful ignorance of the human heart is still highly relevant today. I cannot think of another writer who delivers a more accurate diagnosis.
Featured Image Credit: Lament for Icarus by Herbert Draper (1898). Source: Wikicommons