Saturday, July 19, 2008

Book Recommendation: In Praise of Prejudice

Today, the word prejudice has come to seem synonymous with bigotry; therefore the only way a person can establish freedom from bigotry is by claiming to have wiped his mind free from prejudice. English psychiatrist and writer Theodore Dalrymple shows that freeing the mind from prejudice is not only impossible, but entails intellectual, moral and emotional dishonesty. The attempt to eradicate prejudice has several dire consequences for the individual and society as a whole. (information blurb from Google Book Search)

From the Wikipedia entry on Anthony Daniels, a.k.a., "Theodore Dalrymple":

Anthony (A.M.) Daniels (born 1949) is a British writer and retired physician (prison doctor and psychiatrist), who generally uses the pen name Theodore Dalrymple. He has also used three other pen names. In writing under the pseudonym Theodore Dalrymple, Daniels says he "chose a name that sounded suitably dyspeptic, that of a gouty old man looking out of the window of his London club, port in hand, lamenting the degenerating state of the world."

Daniels has written extensively on culture, art, politics, education and medicine drawing upon his experience as a doctor and psychiatrist in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, and more recently at a prison and a public hospital in Birmingham, in central England. He has travelled in many countries in Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere.

Daniels has revealed in his writing that his father was a Communist businessman, while his Jewish mother was born in Germany and came to the United Kingdom as a refugee from the Nazi regime. In 2005 he retired from England to move (with his wife) to France, where he plans to continue writing. His columns frequently appear in The Spectator as well as in City Journal, a magazine published by the Manhattan Institute.

In his commentary, Daniels frequently argues that the so-called "progressive" views prevalent within Western intellectual circles minimize the responsibility of individuals for their own actions and undermine traditional mores, contributing to the formation within rich countries of an underclass afflicted by endemic violence, criminality, sexual promiscuity, welfare dependency, and drug abuse.

He contends that the middle class abandonment of traditional cultural and behavioural aspirations has, by example, fostered routine incivility and ignorance among members of the working class. Occasionally accused of being a pessimist and misanthrope, his defenders praise his persistently conservative philosophy, which they describe as being anti-ideological, sceptical, rational and empiricist.

Here's a choice quotation:

The combination of relativism and antipathy to traditional culture has played a large part in creating the underclass, thus turning Britain from a class into a caste society. The poorest people were deprived both of a sense of cultural hierarchy and of the moral imperative to conform their conduct to any standard whatever. Henceforth what they had and what they did was as good as anything, because all cultures and all cultural artifacts are equal. Aspiration was therefore pointless: and thus they have been as immobilized in their poverty - material, mental, and spiritual - as completely as the damned in Dante's Inferno.

(From the essay, "Uncouth Chic", in "Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes The Underclass", Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2001.)


This is the third book by Daniels I've read. One of the best cultural critics I know of, Daniels has produced a short book that argues for a kind of cultural conservativism I've been coming to for a while. There are certain pre-rational commitments, prejudices, if you will, which are absolutely necessary for a healthy society that should rarely, if ever, be questioned.

Daniels shows that prejudices are inescapable, that a prejudice against prejudice is socially harmful, and that some predjudices are necessary preconditions for virtuous living.

He closes his well-written essay with the following paragraph:

It takes judgment to know when prejudice should be maintained and when abandoned. Predjudices are like friendships: they should be kept in good repair, Friends sometimes grow apart, and so sometimes should men from their prejudices; but friendship often grows deeper with age and experience, and so should some prejudices. They are what give men character and hold them together. We cannot do without them.

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Phil said...
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