Theodore Dalrymple stirs the pot

By skepticlawyer

British psychiatrist Theordore Dalrymple (aka Anthony Daniels) both annoys and interests me in equal measure. On the one hand, he’s a resolute defender of personal betterment: as documented in Life at the Bottom, he was willing to put his career on the line so that welfare recipients could gain an education — up to and including university — while on benefits. On the other hand, however, he’s a traditional Tory who draws a hard line between the ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ poor.

He’s the source of many of the policy arguments that make receipt of state support conditional on changed behaviour, and has been very influential in the Netherlands and various Scandanavian countries (which have far more paternalistic welfare policies than do Australia or Britain). Unsurprisingly, this interview was recorded on Dutch television. 

Some of the arguments Dalrymple rehearses are discussed with critical understanding in this article (recommended by my supervisor).

Note: some of you may have to click the ‘launch in external player’ tab in order to watch the video, which runs for about 40 minutes.

Launch in external player

16 Comments

  1. jc
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I stopped reading him. Nearly everything he writes is negative and hopeless however I also thought there was a grain of truth in what he saw.

    Too often these days you read about really depressing stories such as certain areas of the UK are only functioning simply because they are wards of the state and with that you end up with perverse social ills.

  2. Posted February 26, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    He is very depressing. Life at the Bottom makes you want to slit your wrists by the end. Unfortunately — as you say — there is some truth in it. The interview is interesting because the Dutch interviewer pushes him for solutions, and apart from some good ideas on welfare reform (many of which have been discussed on this blog), in other respects he’s quite bereft, and doesn’t have anything useful to offer.

  3. John Greenfield
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    SL

    I don’t know if you have spent much time getting to know Britain’s lower orders. I did. And they are even more simian, rank and vile than TD conveys. Britain does not need a Human Rights Act, it needs 1 million prison wardens!

  4. Posted February 26, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    And he was great in the Star Wars movies too. 🙂

  5. Posted February 26, 2009 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Ahh yes, C3PO. No wonder the real Dr Daniels chose a pseudonym — always a risk attached to being mistaken for a large gold robot.

  6. Posted February 26, 2009 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    There are a few things about the Nordics, that (grossly over-simplifying) make the “mutual obligation” work:

    (1) Low GINI, so with much flatter after-tax wage differences between people, there is more incentive for a sense of self-worth to come from competence in what your are doing.

    (2) The paternalism/nannyism is real and can be relied upon as not to be so low that it is hard to get back on your feet if you’ve fallen over. Growing up with this, it is only natural that some sense of obligation arises similar to that which grown children feel towards good parents.

    (3) It’s worth noting that in Oz, individuals getting welfare are treated with much more suspicion and prying than companies getting corporate welfare.

  7. Posted February 26, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    SL

    I don’t know if you have spent much time getting to know Britain’s lower orders. I did. And they are even more simian, rank and vile than TD conveys. Britain does not need a Human Rights Act, it needs 1 million prison wardens!

    Uhh, John … I am one of Britain’s lower orders.

  8. Posted February 26, 2009 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    It is worth remembering that it was not that long ago that the greater populace was regarded as being moronic and incapable of intelligence.

    It is also worth remembering that the childhood environment has a fundamental bearing on intellectual and personal development. This is where “The Bell Curve” goes seriously astray because the authors lacked any significant insight into developmental processes and how seriously these can be impacted.

    And for the record, if any of you met me, you would regard me as being of a lower order. So get stuffed.

  9. Posted February 27, 2009 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    You’d probably be interested to know that a group of Oxford postgrads (mixture of locals and blow-ins, including yours truly) had a roaring debate just yesterday about the whole Gail Trimble blow-up (difficult to avoid if you’re in Oxford).

    One of the participants was German, and found himself admitting that about the only useful thing ‘Old Adolf’ did for Germany was smash the class system to bits. To my mind, the cost that ‘Old Adolf’ exacted in exchange for an end to class distinction was a bit on the high side, but it was certainly a stunning admission.

    That said, Dalrymple’s point (and the video is worth watching for this argument, quite apart from the fact that it’s all in the first 10 minutes) that excusing ‘loss of control’ among the very poor is very much a middle-class affectation, and has done dreadful damage to those least able to recover from it — while doing none at all to the rich and privileged — is worth bearing in mind.

  10. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    My father did get a trade but in terms of traditional book schooling he left when he was 12. He raised four kids and has done well in life.

  11. Posted February 28, 2009 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Fortunately or unfortunately, I can’t get this interview to open on my clunky computer, so I can’t comment about anything he says in it.

    One thing that always astounds me is the freedom that TD allows himself to disclose confidential patient information. This would be entirely unacceptable in any legal practitioner.

    This seems to me all the more despicable given that so many of his patients are likely to be consulting him under some kind of compulsion. Maybe that’s one reason for the pseudonym. If his patients knew who he was, maybe they would resist seeing him. “No! I don’t want to be in the Spectator!” they could cry, though maybe that still wouldn’t keep them out of his clutches.

    To the extent that he changes the details to protect the patients’ confidentiality, then he is just making things up.

  12. Posted February 28, 2009 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Fortunately or unfortunately, I can’t get this interview to open on my clunky computer, so I can’t comment about anything he says in it.

    Not just you, Marcellous — DEM has a u-beat all-singing all dancing late-model Mac, and she couldn’t make it work either. I strongly suspect I have cocked up the embed code, at least for some users.

    And yes, psychiatrists (not just Dalrymple, although to be fair he used a pseudonym until he retired) are fond of dragging out client histories. I’m pretty sure M. Scott Peck wasn’t a pseudonym, and nor is Oliver James. Their entire schtick (and large role as commentators) is based on something that does seem to sail very close to inappropriate disclosure, although of course they all swear that they’ve altered enough details for this not to be the case.

  13. Posted March 2, 2009 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    Oliver James is a psychoanalyst though, not a psychiatrist (which requires an MD).

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