Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, contributing editor of the City Journal and Dietrich Weissman Fellow of the Manhattan Institute.

Guilty Because Charged

Even the most thoroughgoing of penological liberals, I have noticed, has a category of crime – a favourite of sorts, I suppose – that he thinks ought to be severely punished. However much he may deny that punishment is justified, morally or practically, for other crimes, the crime he has selected as being of special heinousness deserves only the most condign punishment. All other crimes may in his opinion merit, and be susceptible only to, explanation and understanding, but this crime must, for moral reasons, be treated with exemplary harshness. At present in Britain the crime selected by penological liberals for…

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Somewhere between Silence and Crudity

Metallic robot androids one with human eyes

Political correctness is an informal system of partial censorship but it is not nearly as recent as we are inclined to imagine. It has always existed. If birds of a feather flock together, so do intellectuals of like opinion; and while intellectuals think of themselves as fearless seekers after truth, in practice they are often more afraid of giving offence to their circle of ideological friends and associates than interested in the harsh realities of the world outside their magic circle.

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Banished from the City

Hands of the prisoner

The relation between morality and law is (or ought to be) complex and subtle: the two are neither identical nor entirely separate. Once upon a time everyone seemed to understand this, as if by instinct; but the instinct, if it ever existed, has been lost. When someone says, by way of excuse for his bad behavior, that “There’s no law against it,” he implies that what is not legally forbidden is permissible in every other sense.

No one, incidentally, ever explained his good behavior by reference to this legal/illegal boundary. The misunderstanding is a motivated one.

A misunderstanding of the morality of punishment and its justification in law will not always be grounded in self-interest, however. We can see this from a brief column recently published in the Guardian by the philosopher Nigel Warburton. Warburton considered the case of a man called John Paul Burrows, a multimillionaire who worked in the City of London as the director of a very large investment company.

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British National Health Service Offers Dementia Bounties

Medical concept

My favorite title of all the books that I possess is A Brief Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity. It’s by Walter B. Pitkin, and was published in 1932 in nearly 600 closely printed pages. The author promised a 40-volume encyclopedia of the subject. While he never got around to starting, let alone completing, that project, the title of the book he did finish is sufficient in my opinion to confer immortality upon Walter B. Pitkin.

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Myths, Lies, and the National Health Service

nhs-bevan_1405968iThe philosopher Mary Midgley tells us that myth is not just an obstacle to thought, or even merely an adjunct to thought, but an essential part of human ratiocination itself. Whether this is actually so or not in the philosophical sense, namely that human thought is completely impossible without the making and use of myth, I do not know; but what is certainly the case is that mythology is a powerful force in human affairs, not least in politics. And myth can do harm as well as good.

In Britain, the most powerful political mythology (perhaps for lack of any other) attaches to the National Health Service (NHS). This way of organising our health care was born with original virtue in 1948, since its conception, in more senses than one, it has become more and more immaculate. If the service had a slogan, it would be Noli me tangere. No British politician would dare admit that its institution was anything other than an unmixed blessing; no British politician, at any rate none who aspired to office, would dare do anything other than tinker with it at most. Against the mythology, Mrs Thatcher herself was as helpless as a day-old kitten.

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Rationalizing Discrimination

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When I was young, discrimination had a good name. It was the ability to distinguish between the good from the bad and to prefer the former to the latter. My teachers tried to form my taste so that I could discriminate, and I am grateful to them – more grateful than I seemed at the time – for that.

Since then, of course, the emotional charge of the word discrimination has changed. It is now entirely negative. It means to treat people not according to their individual merits, but badly because of the supposed characteristics of their group as assumed by brute prejudice. To discriminate is to be unfair, unjust and cold-hearted. Discrimination is at the root of many ills, not least of them poverty and inequality.

But is it ever rational to discriminate on the basis of group characteristics?

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Bolivar with a Burr

The words that Lord Falkland is supposed to have said—that when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change—are a lesson that humanity and above all politicians are reluctant to learn.

There’s no profit in it for “projectors,” Edmund Burke’s term for those who place at the center of their own sense of importance change brought about by them.

And there’s no greater projector than the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond. Mr. Salmond does not so much promise to solve specific problems as arouse hope, a hope that is vague, general, and unfocused. He has been very successful at this, assisted as he is by the fact that there is good cause for discontent in Scotland. Deindustrialization has not been kind to the country, and there are parts of Glasgow, its largest city, where living standards and life expectancy are at levels found in the old Soviet Union.

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