Slouching Towards Vichy: An Interview with Theodore Dalrymple
The good doctor explains why European intellectuals surrender to barbarism.
March 28, 2010 - 1:45 am
Dr. Theodore Dalrymple perfectly embodies the old advertising motto “when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Revered among non-conservatives and largely unknown by the general public, the retired psychiatrist’s oeuvre conveys timeless wisdom and amazing perception regarding the nature of man. Unlike the strange crew now leading our nation back into a seventies-esque malaise, Dr. Dalrymple is conscious of the past and elucidates its lessons for readers. The Oracle from Birmingham is the author of countless essays and several landmark books. He writes prolifically and authoritatively on all manner of topics. His latest release, The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism, is a continuation of his excellence as it is lively, erudite, and original.
BC: Sir, for those unfamiliar with the contents of your latest book, how would you define the “New Vichy Syndrome”?
Dr. Dalrymple: I would say it is a reflection on the existential state of Europe, if you like on the deeper currents underneath the surface of events.
BC: In terms of tone, your work is downright optimistic in regards to the effects of mass European Muslim migration. This makes it a contrarian view among conservatives. Mark Steyn’s best-seller, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, paints a far grimmer picture. Is it possible that all the concerns over a coming Islamic EU are overblown?
Dr. Dalrymple: I am not downright optimistic, but more nuanced. I think the problem lies at least as much with us as with them. By our cowardice, often inadvertently, we support and encourage Islamism. There are many stories of Christmas decorations being taken down, no reference to Christmas being made in case they should offend, etc., when no demand from the Muslim population that these things should be done has actually been made. It is, if you like, an anticipatory cringe that encourages the extremists to push a little harder at what they think is a half-open door. A fine American example of the genre is Yale University Press’s recent book on the cartoon affair.
BC: Along the lines of the last question, to recent immigrants, will the siren song of libertinism prove more powerful than the allure of jihad? I mention this in reference to some of the behaviors you observed in Birmingham and also by the way these individuals describe themselves.
Dr. Dalrymple: Again, the answer is not quite straightforward. What I observed was that many young Moslem men took “advantage” of the libertinism, but not the young women. The latter, incidentally, were often of high caliber, desperate to work and to learn. They saw education and work as liberating, unlike many of the male counterparts. A few of the more intelligent and reflective libertine men will believe themselves that libertinism is not the answer to life’s dissatisfactions and will then find a ready-made utopian ideology at hand, one which emerges from their own background and is therefore a source of pride to them. It is interesting that many terrorists have in fact gone through a libertine phase.
BC: Economics is not the focus of your book, but, in light of recent developments regarding Greece and the other troubled nations in the European Union, do you think the EU is economically sustainable over the long-term?
Dr. Dalrymple: I have never thought that the unified currency was a good idea. It would have to lead eventually to a super-state, with a single fiscal policy, which would bring its own problems and national and international tensions. There is the prospect now of the Germans having to bail out several nations and I suspect they may not wish to do so. If they are forced to do so, the population, which never wanted the Euro in the first place, will become resentful. One of the very dangerous things about the EU is the complete disconnection of its political class from the rest of the population. Explosions of rage are quite possible at some time in the future.
BC: You mention the impact inflation has had on your father’s life and retirement. Has the rise of neo-socialism in the West since the end of World War II proven true the maxim that if you choose security over freedom you eventually wind up with neither?
Dr. Dalrymple: Again, one must not exaggerate the effects in the short term. I have led, and still lead, a life of considerable freedom. But I think succeeding generations will pay the cost, both in freedom and security. They will be paying for us. So I think the answer is “Yes.”
BC: What is “historical miserabilism”? Did you coin this phrase?
Dr. Dalrymple: I don’t know whether it has been used before, so I think I coined it. It is the view that in the past there is no achievement, only crime, folly, genocide, famine, ignorance, etc.
BC: How unique is America in comparison to Europe? In your final chapter you suggest that the same factors which presently imperil Europe may debilitate the United States as well.
Dr. Dalrymple: I think they already are debilitating it. America has one advantage, in that it was founded on a set of principles which are attractive if not metaphysically provable. It can, for example, incorporate immigrants more easily, therefore. With the possible exception of France, which was re-founded with the revolution, one cannot easily say what European countries “stand for” or what makes one, say, Danish, without having been born there. This is not to say that the freedom enjoyed in Britain, which was not formalized in any written set of principles, was not real. American observers of the 19th century often thought that people in Britain were freer than in the United States.
The past reluctance in the United States to cut expenditure along with taxes in my view points to the same kind of malaise as we have in Europe, and has led to the undoubted mess the U.S. is now in. The difference is therefore one of degree, not of kind.
BC: It’s a cliché that the old always disparage the young, but how unique is the present situation in our societies? Youth is celebrated religiously, and, as you put it, “They accept on authority that there is no authority.” Is idiocracy the inevitable result from elevating the opinions of the uninformed over those of the experienced?
Dr. Dalrymple: Although I disparage — overall, not in every case of course — the young of my own country, I do not disparage the young as such. The young of other countries seem much more attractive, intelligent, better-behaved etc. than those of my own country, who are rightly despised and hated in other European countries.
I think the basic problem is that people in Britain at any rate want individual license to do as they please without taking the responsibility for the consequences of what they do. In other words, I get drunk and vomit in the street, but you have to come along and clear it up, not I.
BC: Good judgment used to be a virtue yet now political correctness has rendered “being judgmental” an indicator of intolerance. In this fashion are we mass producing an immoral and deviant citizenry?
Dr. Dalrymple: Certainly we are producing a different citizenry. This is not a spontaneous change, but one brought about by ideology. Of course, you can’t escape from judgment: the idea that you should is itself a judgment. And indeed you have to make judgments in order to be tolerant, otherwise there is nothing to be tolerant of. The problem is that there has been a mass bohemianisation of society, such that the traditional role of the bohemians — to transgress norms, break taboos etc. — has become the moral imperative of a large part of society, with — in my view — unattractive consequences.
BC: Thank you for your time, Dr. Dalrymple.