‘I have never met a young man who passed through [the Great War], or grew up after it, who has any belief in progress at all.” So wrote classicist Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson in 1931, and the trauma of that conflict continues to torment the European mind, and to threaten Europe’s survival.
That is the view of the former Birmingham prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple, author of the newly published The New Vichy Syndrome, who has spent the past three decades describing (often hilariously) Britain’s societal collapse.
Those superficially aware of his immense body of work might think of Dalrymple predominantly as the chronicler (and mocker) of the criminal underclass, but his primary targets are intellectuals and the dishonest ideas they espouse.
Ironically, the horrors of the early 20th century, carried out in the name of utopian intellectual ideas, have led to ever more intellectual folly, the most disastrous being multiculturalism. They thought of its in culinary terms “of couscous today, chicken sagwalla tomorrow, cassoulet the day after, and sashimi the day after that”.
Instead, what we got was more book burning after a sacred western secular value – the freedom of speech – clashed with a sacred religious belief held by Europe’s Muslim immigrants. Protestors held up placards saying “Kill Rushdie”, yet not a single prosecution was brought, nor did Salman Rushdie even receive the backing of most intellectuals (nor the government or the newspapers) back in 1989.
“Suppose that a wild Christian fundamentalist cleric had called for the death of an author who had suggested that Christ was a homosexual,” writes Dalrymple, “does anyone think that Trevor-Roper et al would have sailed forth to support, or at least to ‘understand’, the cleric?”
Of course not, but multiculturalism trumped freedom, and the government of the day took the view that it didn’t want to stir up the Muslim population. And yet: “to have prosecuted and punished rigorously, even at the cost of some temporary inconvenience such as a riot or two, would have sent a clear and unambiguous message that our stern society was determined to defend its freedoms against thuggish obscurantism”.
Again and again Europe’s leaders have shown an unwillingness to stand up for their values. In his time as a prison doctor the author witnessed the brutality experienced by many Asian women, and the cowardice of the state.
Many women were forced to marry relatives from Pakistan, a process endorsed by the British state, while many of Dalrymple’s young female patients were kept away from school from the age of 12. Absolutely nothing was done by authorities, yet who were happy to drive white parents to suicide attempts for the same offence.
As well as cowardice, Europe’s leaders display wilful ignorance. When the French newspapers reported the rise in the French birth rate last year they showed a cartoon of a fresh and healthy Marianna baring her arms and “flexing her demographic muscles”. And yet “there was a ghost at the banquet, that is to say, the proportion of babies born to Muslim mothers”. There was not a word on the subject, and the triumph was put – hilariously – down to the French welfare state. This is a dysfunctional civilisation, and to address the problem we must look at the trauma that caused it, in 1914.
The book ends with an account of the three anti-war plays that stormed London’s stage around 1930, among them For Services Rendered by Somerset Maugham. In the last scene Eva, driven mad by the death of her fiancée and caring for her brother, blinded in the same war, insanely shouts the opening stanza of “God Save the Queen” while her deluded father, Leonard, unaware that his family is collapsing around him, says weakly: “This old England of ours isn’t done yet, and I for one believe in it and all it stands for.”
When Hitler began to re-arm five years later the British were unwilling to react, to stand up for their values. Once again, we seems to be suffering the same fate: the tragedy is that England isn’t done for yet, but do its people believe in it and all it stands for anymore?