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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Surrendering to Barbarism



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Readers of National Review need no introduction to Theodore Dalrymple. Under that byline, or his real name of Anthony Daniels, he is a frequent contributor. There’s no one quite like him. He’s been a doctor and worked in prisons, really coming to grips with the lower depths. Although he reports terrible things, and sometimes has a little gleam of I-told-you-so when reporting something even more terrible than what’s gone before, he refuses to abandon his humane instincts and a belief that it’s worth fighting for civilization even if the cause looks lost.

His very latest book, just published by Encounter Books, has the title The New Vichy Syndrome, and the even more challenging subtitle, Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism. In the wartime years of Vichy, intellectuals simply surrendered because that was the comfortable thing to do. Now they’re at it again. Europe is in a bad way, with falling birth rates everywhere, and native populations being replaced by immigrants who are mainly Muslim and often unable or unwilling to integrate. Nobody has the courage to take a position about this, or indeed anything else. Morality is thought to be relative, so people must do as they like and feel free in this respect. In the absence of any such things as right and wrong, of course barbarism must gain the upper hand. Wonderful lengthy footnotes are evidence of Dalrymple’s intellectual energy. Here’s one: The present Archbishop of Canterbury recommends sharia law for Britain, and by so doing he “mistakes cowardice for bravery, surrender for victory, and platitudes for insight . . . far more of a danger to British society than Islamic fundamentalism on its own could ever be.”

By coincidence, a fine example of intellectual nonsense comes right now from Paris. Bernard-Henry Lévy is perhaps the foremost public intellectual in that city, with an opinion about everything and eager to sound off all day long. He’s not really a bad fellow the way Sartre or other French intellectuals were, just totally and unforgettably pleased with himself. In a recent television show with discussion of the Enlightenment philosopher Kant, he thought to win the argument by quoting one Botul, who had a theory known as Botulism — you’d have thought that word might have given pause for thought, since botulism is a specially nasty form of food poisoning. Anyhow it turned out that some clever journalist had written articles inventing Botul simply as a spoof, and Lévy had fallen for it. Aren’t the fatuous credulity and the bogus authority bang up to date? It’s not a surrender to barbarism, of course, but it does tend to prove Dalrymple’s point that European intellectuals are worse than useless.



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