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Farewell Fear Paperback – October 1, 2012
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Those of us who are dyed-in-the-wool Theodore Dalrymple fans will welcome his latest book, Farewell Fear - a collection of essays more contemplative than his eye-witness, slice-of-life essays on the British lower class in his Life at the Bottom and other books. But there are nuggets of wry insights in Farewell Fear as well, and on a wider range of subjects, often devastating the conventional wisdom of our times. For example, he does not buy the idea that violent ideological movements are a result of the desperation of the poor. He points out, for example, that Cuba’s revolutionary movement was led by Fidel Castro, who “was both highly privileged, with a sense of entitlement and deeply resentful, always a dreadful combination.” That same could be said of Karl Marx, among others. Farewell Fear is a somewhat different kind of book by Theodore Dalrymple, but with the same thought-provoking insights.
-- Thomas Sowell author of Intellectuals and Society and The Thomas Sowell Reader
Once encountered, Theodore Dalrymple has become for many of us a shared treasure—the cultured, often mordantly funny social commentator who was for many years a psychiatrist at a British prison. This collection of recent essays captures Dalrymple at his best, ruminating at one moment about why poisoners tend to be more interesting than other kinds of murderers and at another why Tony Blair’s mind reminds him of an Escher drawing. No one else writes so engagingly and so candidly about the world as it is, not as the politically correct would have it be.
-- Dr. Charles Murray author of Coming Apart and The Bell Curve
Dr. Dalrymple's eye alights on a topic--hedgehogs, insincerity, dictators; his mind dissects it; his imagination embroiders it; his judgment delivers an appropriate verdict, usually condemnation; and his sensibility ensures that all these activities are conceived, argued, and expressed wittily or sadly but always beautifully. This book is high intellectual meandering.
-- John O’Sullivan author of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister
About the Author
Theodore Dalrymple is a former prison doctor and psychiatrist. He has been arrested as a spy in Gabon, been sought by the South African police for violating apartheid, visited the site of a civilian massacre by the government of Liberia, concealed his status as a writer for fear of execution in Equatorial Guinea, infiltrated an English communist group in order to attend the World Youth Festival in North Korea, performed Shakespeare in Afghanistan, smuggled banned books to dissidents in Romania, been arrested and struck with truncheons for photographing an anti-government demonstration in Albania and crossed both Africa and South America using only public transportation. He is also the author of more than two dozen books and innumerable essays.
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In it you will find discussions of Brits who love hedgehogs, the Irish bubble, terrorism in Mumbai, an analysis of some intellectual fool who puts Margaret Thatcher in the same "class" as Napoleon and Hitler, an essay describing some of the genuinely good people he has known, and taking abundance for granted: "Without gratitude, there is no happiness."
More: the poisoner Graham Young, feminist editors who change his "mankind" to "humankind" (which he rightly calls barbarism), Fujimori and his destruction of the "Shining Path" in Peru, why we should put crooks in jail (despite a French intellectual calling for "the abolition of prisons"), and a fairly brutal send-up of leftists who want to raise the inheritance tax to 100%, all the while practicing deficit financing. As Dalrymple acidly points out, this means we can't leave our kids the house, but we can leave them our debts, which strikes him as a very strange moral system.
Other topics include: spending a week with a TV in his house (he hated it), Internet hate mail, the culture of dependency instituted among Kurds in Great Britain, his dislike of professional sport and its fans, the death of his dog, the death of art, men who throw acid in women's faces, personal ads, and Haydn string quartets.
I particularly liked his summary of the housing bubble in Britain: "Our banks were no good, our government was no good, and we were no good. Other than that, everything was fine." (!!)
These essays are, broadly, ‘cultural’ and they range from the behavior of birds to the personality of Haydn and Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets. They are all interesting, some particularly so, e.g. #12, on taxing inheritances, #14 on Tony Blair, #20 on ‘brutalist’ environmentalism, #23 on Roger Scruton and the ugliness of modern art, and #36 on the Meryl Streep film depicting Margaret Thatcher.
In some ways the essays are poetic, not in their language, which is precise but not purple or overwrought, but in their occasional nature: TD has a particular experience, goes to a particular place, reads a particular book, and then reflects on it in a brief and personal manner. The results are charming, but the book is much more of an exercise of sensibility than a tightly-argued thesis. We watch his mind at work and the result is rewarding but not truly life-changing. On the other hand, the collection is perfect for its purposes. The essays are all brief (6 pp. plus or minus) and they need not be read in order. They fill available blocks of time usefully and they can be accompanied by a cup of tea, a glass of scotch or the faint light from a bedside lamp. He is a dependable writer and one who is unfailingly interesting.
This book is another eclectic collection of essays reflecting the author's wide-ranging interests. He includes observations he made in the course of many trips taken to political hot-spots around the world. He gives informed opinions about the contesting factions found in places such as Peru (the Senderos), Dubai, and Brazil.
His more traditionally conservative views are almost always followed by thought-provoking twists. For example, he objects to the fashion for wind turbines. He believes the real purpose of their towering imposition on a landscape is not energy but an assertion of power, making certain cliches of environmentalism inescapable. But then he goes on to say that children should be taught to draw in school, in the same way that soldiers who will be assigned to reconnaissance duty are often taught to draw detailed features of their surroundings. By drawing, children might learn a sincere appreciation for wildlife, nature, and the whole world around them.
He similarly adds a twist to the issue of political correctness. He objects to making people who have uttered prejudiced, insensitive remarks apologize. He points out that these enforced public displays of contrition do nothing to change people's minds. They only make hypocrites of the speakers. Then he points out that we should be equal opportunity protesters. When a member of a hotel housekeeping staff charged a French political candidate with rape, this triggered protests against the presumed abusive propensities of ALL rich, powerful men. But when this housekeeper's charge was proven to be false, an attempt at blackmail – there were no countervailing protests against ALL chambermaids, as he suggests in all fairness there should have been.
He advances some views that are completely atypical of most conservatives. He advocates that we genuinely reduce the amount of sheer stuff we waste. He admits that this would cause our GDP to go way down – but that would only demonstrate how poor a measure of the good life the GDP really is. In addition, he says he is not specifically religious, and cares nothing for sports.
Not all these essays touch on political matters though. Included here is a defense of people who devote their lives to saving hedgehogs. There is another essay that argues it is NOT silly to consider “the starving children of China” when one sits down to feast in a wealthy country.
Don't be put off by the cover of this book. The reproduction of Goya's painting of “Saturn Devouring His Son,” and indeed the title of this book, might give the impression this is an outraged rant against modern trends. Actually it is a gentler, more measured perception of the fact that most of our opinions and most of our lives are a matter of “taking a leap in the dusk.”
His stance against welfare, soft prison sentencing and forgiveness of domestic violence gives hope that the battle for decency is not lost, and that the cycle of dreadful upbringing and crime can be broken.