Decline and Fall

“The lives, not only of men, but of commonwealths and the whole world, run not upon a helix that still enlargeth; but on a circle where, arriving at their meridian, they decline in obscurity, and fall under the horizon again.”

—Thomas Browne, Religio Medici I


There are few books I have read in recent years that I can more heartily recommend to Chronicles readers than Not With a Bang But a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline, the latest collection of essays by British physician and essayist Theodore Dalrymple (the pen name of Anthony Daniels).  For many years, Dalrymple worked as a doctor in the Third World and the British penal system, where he came to disdain what liberalism had done to his country and made the journey to conservatism.  Dalrymple brings his medical training to bear as he offers a grim diagnosis of the modern West, in general, and of his native Britain, in particular, a land Dalrymple left for France in 2006.  But Dalrymple delivers his bad news in the best possible way, in clear, readable prose full of memorable phrases and sustained by deep and penetrating thought.

Dalrymple’s targets are many and well chosen: Steven Pinker’s reductionist critique of grammar, which he calls “characteristic of an intellectual climate in which the destruction of moral...

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