When human rights meet multiculturalism, difficulties are certain to arise, and conflicts ensue, that would not have surprised Michael Oakeshott. If all political questions are to be answered by means of mere syllogisms in which abstract principles are the major premise, absurdities and worse will result. Such, at any rate, was his belief. In Germany a controversy has arisen over the practice of circumcision. A Muslim doctor in Cologne was brought before a court because a child aged 4 whom he had circumcised in his office bled heavily and had to be taken to hospital by his mother. The doctors at…
Nothing infuriates like the truth, especially when it controverts a deeply-held prejudice such as that censorship is bad for great art and even incompatible with its production. Whenever, therefore, I adduce a certain truth that is obvious to the point of truism, namely that the majority of great art in human history has been produced in conditions of censorship, or at least of such severe self-inhibition because of social or political pressure that it amounts to censorship, I find that I am the object of fury, as if I were personally the Chief Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. Here is a truth that, even if it is true, ought never to be uttered: that ought, in fact, to be the object of self-censorship.
Banks are like governments, you can’t altogether do without them, however often you wish that you could. So when I read that one of the banks of which I am a small and unimportant customer had been engaged in the fraudulent manipulation of interest rates, fined accordingly, and denuded of its top management by involuntary resignation, I can’t say that I was altogether surprised.
Returning to my house in France after a prolonged stay in England, I was at once struck on reading the French press by how differently the current economic, and indeed existential, crisis in Europe is conceived on either side of the Channel, at least by the commentariat. For the British, the problem has been caused by an overweening but incompetent centralizing political class and bureaucracy that saw in the common currency a means to extend its own power, a currency union not being long viable without a political union: a union that in the circumstances would have to be mandated bureaucratically rather that democratically. And indeed, the European political class has long sought to escape from the tedium of democratic interference.
A feeling of moral superiority is often compensation for the lack of any other kind of superiority, and has the advantage that it can never be decisively disproved. With respect to capital punishment, Europeans feel morally superior to Americans because they have abolished it as a relic of judicial barbarism. So complete has been the revolution in moral sensibility that they speak as if the French foreswore the guillotine before the Roman invasion rather than in 1981, against the majority opinion of the public.
Editor’s note: Law and Liberty welcomes this first contribution from the acclaimed essayist Theodore Dalrymple and looks forward to many future posts.
The slightest and most seemingly insignificant utterance may in fact be a window on an entire world-view, and therefore worthy of reflection. For example, when leafing through a literary magazine recently that consisted entirely of book reviews, my eye alighted on a brief notice of a recently-discovered pre-World War II crime novel by C S Forester, best-known for his Hornblower stories.
The review was only 113 words long, and contained the following:
It is the story of a brutal husband who is murdered by his
wife and mother-in-law. It’s not really credible, but gripping
all the same – and a salutary portrait of marriage before
Note that the reviewer does not state that it is a portrait of a marriage, or even of some marriages, but of marriage, that is to say marriage in general, before women’s liberation. This is a pretty large claim, with important practical implications.