City Journal Winter 2016

Current Issue:

Winter 2016
Table of Contents
Tablet Editions
Click to visit City Journal California

By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
The Cost of Frivolity
Is a national culture of pop, fashion, and gambling enough to resist our enemies?
February 1, 2007

A recent article by one of the best liberal journalists in Britain, Catherine Bennett, was entitled “No charm, no sense of humour, not the slightest interest in culture: no wonder we all love Gordon.”

Gordon Brown is by far the most likely man to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister, and some see his rather dour, Presbyterian approach to life as refreshing after the vulgar, semi-regal style of Mr. and Mrs. Blair, who have managed to triple the operating costs of 10 Downing Street since John Major vacated it. By contrast, Brown is “ostentatiously frugal,” at least in his personal manner; in his management of the economy as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he has been ostentatiously profligate—though only with other people’s money.

Bennett says of the chancellor, “Just a short time ago, the long list of things that Brown did not do—from laughing, to sitting up normally, to showing the remotest interest in the country’s cultural life—might have struck one as faintly alarming.” But after years of leadership by a man so taken with image, both his own and that of others, a certain indifference to image-creation is welcome.

What really struck me about the article, however, was the list of activities that supposedly constitute our national cultural life. Brown knows “nothing whatsoever about pop music, gambling, fashionable clothes or television,” Bennett noted. No mention follows of any other constituent of our national cultural life. What about football, public drunkenness, and drug abuse? Do they not deserve a mention?

Coming to his defense, an online correspondent to the newspaper wrote that, back in 1990 or so, Brown selected his favorite music for a radio program and “chose an obscure, morose but highly credible list of alternative/Indie bands from the 70s/80s.” This list was enough, apparently, to establish him as a man of culture.

Another correspondent was not so sure. “[It] depends on what one means by culture. If it is in the modern sense . . . then surely his love of the Arctic Monkeys qualifies him. If it is ‘culture’ in the sense of ‘things not easy to understand,’ ‘high’ culture, then I haven’t noticed Tony displaying any interest either.”

The question of culture is a vitally important one, perhaps the most important confronting us. On the day I write this, the authorities have arrested nine men allegedly plotting to behead a Muslim British soldier who had served in Afghanistan.

Whether the arrests turn out to be another bumblingly incompetent effort by the British police, or a brilliant feat of preventive detection, remains to be seen. But if all our political and intellectual elite offers by way of a national culture is “pop music, gambling, fashionable clothes or television,” then we can neither mount a convincing intellectual defense against our enemies, nor hope to integrate intelligent, inquiring, and unfulfilled Muslim youths—young men principally, of course—to our way of life.

respondrespondTEXT SIZE
If you enjoyed
this article,
why not subscribe
to City Journal? subscribe Get the Free App on iTunes Or sign up for free online updates: