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Regular readers of Theodore Dalrymple will not have been surprised by the looting that spread through London and then to other English cities in early August. Indeed, one of the fascinating and appalling aspects of these disturbances, beyond the gleeful contempt for the law shown by the looters, and the complacency of the police who allowed them to rampage, were the familiar explanations offered by the offenders for their behaviour. 

In interviews with reporters they sounded exactly like the amoral underclass interlocutors who have peopled Dalrymple's writing for two decades. In the aftermath, the media was full of anguished discussion about what had brought Britain to this grim pass. Many of the talking-heads seemed shocked to discover that thousands of young people neither respect nor fear the authorities. It baffled them that, despite the material wealth of our society, a disturbing portion of "our" youth are vicious, selfish, greedy and callous to a degree that would shock the genuinely deprived inhabitants of South Asian slums or Mexican barrios. 

If this bafflement was evidence of a dismaying ignorance and capacity for self-deception on the part of the political and media class, it also revealed the degree to which one of Britain's most incisive, courageous, knowledgeable and clear-eyed public intellectuals has been ignored by or excluded from the dominant discourse. Theodore Dalrymple is that Cassandra, as well as, arguably, our greatest living essayist.

Dalrymple, whose real name is Anthony Daniels (a byline he has used more often in recent years), is a doctor and psychiatrist who practised for 20 years in a prison and an NHS hospital near Birmingham.  

His calm, sardonic voice became well-known thanks to his "If Symptoms Persist" column in the Spectator. He was discovered  in 1983 by the then editor Charles Moore, who says: "Daniels is the only lasting contributor I have ever found from unsolicited manuscripts. His wit and originality were immediately obvious." 

One of the things that make Dalrymple's dispatches and analyses so powerful is that he could not be further from the stereotype of the "little Englander" conservative. His father, a Communist, grew up in an East End slum; his mother was a German refugee. He brings to his observations a wisdom gained from extensive travel, wide and deep reading, and having worked for long periods in places that most middle-class readers and commentators know only at second-hand. 

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September 10th, 2011
9:09 PM
Arthur commented: louise's comment is complete nonsense. No one is claiming that all nurses are masochistic. Third paragraph, second page. Maybe you didn't get that far. "It is a world of self-pitying but otherwise pitiless prisoners, masochistic nurses defending the partners who beat them, children left adrift by parents and the state, and whole groups whose rights are trampled thanks to a cynical officialdom steeped in political correctness" I never suggested that the author of this article was asserting that 'all nurses are masochists'. My comment was based on the assumption that he was referring to the doctor's nursing colleagues

Andrew Hazlett
September 7th, 2011
5:09 PM
I've had some questions about "Theodore Dalrymple" for years: (1) Has anyone ever fact-checked Dalrymple's writings? So many of his details are so "convenient." Frankly, I've wondered how trustworthy he since I first read his pungent stuff in City Journal in the 90s. (2) I guess there's no such thing as patient-doctor confidentiality in England's prisons. Unless he's been manufacturing "composites" for years, he certainly shares plenty of information about identifiable individuals. Is that really ethical? (3) Finally, isn't there something pathological about Anthony Daniels' obsession with the real or perceived shortcomings of the people he's supposed to have been healing throughout his career?

Dalrymple Forum
September 6th, 2011
7:09 PM
Anyone who is interested in discussion about Theodore Dalrymple's ideas and writing can visit the Theodore Dalrymple Forum at

M.E. Taylor
September 6th, 2011
3:09 PM
I discovered Dalrymple a few years back when I picked up Our Culture: What's Left of It, based on a review I read. How can I describe the electrical epiphany I felt reading his work? After years of being fed nothing but liberal dogma as an undergraduate and in graduate school, reading Dalrymple was as if suddenly all the tumblers clicked into place and the door to understanding that had always been locked suddenly sprung open. Life on the Bottom is another masterpiece. But perhaps my favorite Dalrymple/Daniels piece of all time is his travelogue Utopias Elsewhere, where he travels to the last communist countries before they disappear in order to document the perversity that was institutional Marxism. It's nice to see the man getting his due.

September 5th, 2011
3:09 PM
Louise's comment is complete nonsense. No one is claiming that all nurses are masochistic. And even if some were in their private relationships, as implied, that would not necessarily affect their work. I could carry on. This is an excellent article. I too am a huge fan of Dalrymple and agree with almost everything he says. Very occasionally, however, I think he overstates how bad things are.

September 4th, 2011
10:09 PM
'masochistic nurses defending the partners who beat them' As an NHS consultant psychiatrist he would frequently have ordered these 'masochistic nurses' to control, restrain and medicate disturbed patients and then walked away and leaving them to it. Are you his latest hagiographers? Or should that be disciple?

September 3rd, 2011
4:09 PM
I have recently discovered TD/AD (via 'The New Criterion') and give many thanks. He has influenced my own essays on mostly USA matters on my site Chez Odysseus at He is raising the 'big questions' that have been sidelined in the rush to implement this or that 'reform'; a culture and societ unable to pose 'big questions' or even to face up to the 'big issues' they represent cannot long endure, certainly not as 'free' in the best and Largest sense of the word.

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