Theodore Dalrymple is a pseudonym used by British psychiatric doctor-cum-commentator, Anthony Daniels. A man with a tangibly Burkean Conservative mind, he wades hip-deep through the detritus of inner-city Britain, surveying a wasteland that stretches as far as his eyes can see.
Not surprisingly he has a rather jaundiced view of this country. Indeed, so relentlessly pessimistic are his columns and books that one wonders whether a majority of readers end up by being his patients.
However, being gloomy does not necessarily mean the same as being wrong. While other talking heads, both of the left and of the right, mount their various hobbyhorses and gallop off furiously to nowhere in particular, Dalrymple has hit the big nail resolutely on the head with a dire warning about the Nazification of Britain:
“I grew up believing that it couldn’t happen here; that the intrinsic decency, good sense and ironical detachment of the British would have precluded Nazism or anything like it from taking root in our sceptred isle. Now I am not so sure. Utter vileness does not need a numerical majority to become predominant in a society. The Nazis never had an electoral majority in Germany, yet Germany offered very little resistance to their barbarism. Of course, it is highly unlikely that history would repeat itself in anything approximating the same form; but evil, unlike good, is infinitely multiform. We can invent our own totalitarian evil. There is little doubt that we have prepared the ground very well for evil’s triumph.”
Just as the Germans had prepared the ground by the construction of the top-down Bismarckian state. Both citizens and civil servants obeyed the orders of their political masters without question because that is what they had become used to doing. The nature of the orders, or the consequences of their execution, were not subject to any meaningful moral analysis or challenge.
“Whenever I have dealings with British bureaucrats, an insistent question is at the back of my mind: is there any order you would refuse to obey? From my observations of their conduct, my guess is that, in general, there isn’t; that they would prefer mass slaughter to the loss of their jobs and that, in the event of a post facto trial, all of them would fall back on the old excuse, I was only obeying orders.”
From my own career as a practising lawyer, I can only concur. No regulation is too ridiculous or damaging not to be zealously enforced or robotically obeyed. In this. much of Britain’s professional class collaborate. It is simply too dangerous and career-damaging not too. The consequences of dissent are financial ruin, so there is no dissent.
“Recently, I received a circular headed New Ethnic Categories that began with the words, ‘As you may know, we are required to monitor the ethnic origins of our staff.’ Who was this ‘we’ of whom the circular spoke: no names, only ‘The Human Resources Unit’ (Orwell could have done no better). And no decent reason for this fascistic practice was given; the ‘we are required’ being the final and irrefutable argument in its favour. Again it is a fair bet that not a single peep of protest was uttered in the office of the ‘Human Resources Unit’ when this circular was sent round.”
Who issues these orders? Where are they formulated? What is their purpose? Who benefits from their execution? These are the real questions.
“The organised lying that results from centralised information-gathering not only blunts critical faculties and makes it impossible to distinguish true information from false, but also morally compromises those who participate in the process: everyone is made an accomplice of the central power, and so less and less does anyone feel able to make a stand. The more state employees conform to the rules laid down, the more helpless and degraded they become, which is the ultimate purpose of these rules. When you go to the doctor nowadays, you are not seeking his advice; you are finding out what the government has told him to do. Only appearances remain the same; the reality is changed utterly.”
The same applies for the private sector which has succumbed to such vast swathes of top-down state code that much of it is, in effect, nationalised. The more our behaviour, choices and dealings are prescribed for us, the less we rely on our own faculties in the pursuit of good judgement. Thus does civil society itself begin to dissolve.
“We, too, are now creating a cultural context in which great state crimes are possible, though perhaps not yet inevitable. When I see the routine inhumanity with which my patients are treated by the state and its various bureaucracies, often in the name of obedience to rules, I think that anything is possible in this country. Yes, when I see the baying mobs of drunken young people who pullulate in our city centres every weekend, awaiting their evil genius to organise them into some kind of pseudo-community, and think of our offices full of potential Eichmanns, I shudder.”
Britain has, in the past, so successfully resisted the pull of tyrrany because of the Anglo-Saxon heritage which has set the face of the individual in opposition to the state. Contrary the continental countries where the guiding ethos was governed by a vision of the state as the tree and the citizen as a branch of the tree. Since WWII in particular it is the latter view which has trumped the former in this country to the extent that it can no longer be assumed that Britain has some sort of magic amulet against the establishment of outright tyrrany in the future.
It is for this reason that traditional arguments between Left and Right seem so circular and impotent. All ideologies have been left bleeding on the battlefield while the Regulatory State has ridden to triumph. We are ruled by an essentially apolitical elite who exercise power for the sake of power and without any real guiding principles except the maintaining of that power.
This leaves us with an ideological vacuum; a wide-open playing field for someone or something that has the verve and gumption necessary to capture the popular imagination. I like to think that this could be libertarianism as part of a wider yearning to throw off the yoke of the interventionist state. But, sadly, history does not corroborate that hope.