Some of us around here encountered Theodore Dalrymple a decade ago and, in consequence, became aware of conditions at the bottom of British society. The occasion was his book, Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass (2001). Next we discovered that Dalrymple was the pseudonym of a British prison doctor, psychiatrist, and writer—a man of unusual background and history: His mother was a Germany Jewess who had escaped Nazi Germany, his father a businessman with communist leanings; Dalrymple became a doctor and spent years working in Africa before becoming a prison doctor in London and Birmingham and emerged as a harsh and caustic writer and critic of modern culture. Also widely read was his Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses (2005). His most recent book, which I haven’t read, is Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality (2010). Dalrymple’s writings are based on direct experience—hence are most persuasive. And he writes very well.
The doctor came back into my consciousness as London’s Tottenham area exploded in riots on Monday. Two books and scores of his shorter articles, usually appearing in City Journal (link), had taught me a great deal—but the experience isn’t pleasant, hence Dalrymple had faded into the background. Now he was back. When riots take place in our own culture, we don’t speak of “British Spring,” but I noted this morning that the Media reflex to celebrate popular uprisings could not be entirely repressed. The New York Times notes this morning the sophisticated skills of the rioters in running rings around the British Police using Blackberrys for communication and Facebook, Twitter to organize the mobs. They say. Or echo the Guardian as saying.
I’ll have to keep checking City Journal to read Dalrymple’s take on all of this. It will be interesting reading—not pleasant, but interesting.