Is there a better social commentator in the English-speaking world than Theodore Dalrymple?
The name is a pseudonym he’s now stuck with which he adopted of necessity back in the 1980s after he began writing for The Spectator about his experiences as a prison doctor.
He’s a brilliant, prolific and often amusing wordsmith who doesn’t pull his punches about the criminal and underclasses’ relentless stupidity and grossness and the nonsense of much prison reform efforts.
I’ve just read his 2012 volume of essays entitled Farewell Fear covering an extraordinary range of subjects. Every paragraph is a delight.
Politically one might describe him as an open-minded conservative though not a libertarian as he views much of today’s free expression as socially irresponsible mindlessness. So it sometimes is but that doesn’t negate the overwhelming virtues of individual liberty.
In some respects he reminds me of the post-war Evelyn Waugh in his cynicism about the contemporary world and the excesses of welfarism, which leads to so much slothful dependency.
But he lacks Evelyn’s gloom and humour which probably sounds contradictory, but Evelyn managed it, specially with his novella “Love Among the Ruins.” In fact in his wonderfully funny 1928 first major novel “Decline and Fall”, Evelyn poked fun at prison reformers. And that’s nearly a century ago.
But it was his futuristic 1953 “Love Among the Ruins” that he really piled into the proposition that the criminal classes are victims.
There are numerous very good commentators writing today, specially in Britain, but Dalrymple has a specially unique whimsical touch. Read him. You’ll thank me.
POSTSCRIPT: Come to think of it he was out here in the 1990s and addressed the Press Club. I had a chat with him and his wife afterwards. They were suitably gloomy.