A review of Our Culture, What’s Left of It. By Theodore Dalrymple. Ivan R. Dee, 2005.
Theodore Dalrymple is a top-notch English commentator and a gifted essayist. The articles featured here represent some of his best and most recent writings. The volume is divided into two major sections: arts and letters, and society and politics.
He introduces this collection of essays with this line: “The fragility of civilization is one of the great lessons of the twentieth century.” The line between civilization and barbarism is very thin, and needs to be zealously protected. Yet many of our intellectuals, argues Dalrymple, are either ignorant of the dividing line, or are doing their best to abolish that line altogether.
Generally these intellectual and political elites are of the left. But the right is not immune from such characters: “There has been an unholy alliance between those on the left, who believe that man is endowed with rights but no duties, and libertarians on the right, who believe that consumer choice is the answer to all social questions.”
While civilisation must have its critics, it must also have its defenders and preservers as well. Dalrymple takes on the many critics of civilization, especially those of the utopian variety, who believe that an untried ideal is always better than a flawed but tried reality.
The cultural despisers and civilization corrupters are many within the field of literature and the arts. From Virginia Woolf to Versace, Dalrymple examines a number of leading figures who have left a legacy of destruction and despair. Much of what passes for art, fashion or literature today is simply an exercise in bashing the West and the championing of hedonism, nihilism and barbarism.
His chapters on society and politics are especially of interest. He covers topics as diverse as the problems of Islam, the sexualisation of society, the death of childhood and mass murderers. Most of these chapters are minor classics in their own right. His chapter on the folly of legalising drugs is a small masterpiece of social commentary, logical thought and fluid prose.
Part of the reason for Dalrymple’s accurate and acute observations of the decrepit condition of much of modern life is the fact that he also a doctor. He has worked for many years in hospitals, prisons, and other social hot spots. He has witnessed first hand the tragic results of our social engineers and their distorted vision of reality. Both in the UK and overseas, he has encountered first hand the bitter fruit of dying civilizations.
His incisive and clearly penned assessments of the decline of Western culture are a much-needed antidote to the utopianism and elitism of so many of our social spin doctors. His writings are as important and prophetic as they are skilfully crafted.