City Journal Autumn 2014

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By Theodore Dalrymple

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

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
Leveling Britain
Mediocrity on the march
22 March 2007

The increasingly Kafkaesque nature of British society recently received two illustrations in a single week. Under a new, government-mandated system of appointing junior doctors to training posts in Britain’s nationalized health service, senior doctors could not see the curriculum vitae of any applicant, for fear that it might prejudice their choices.

Instead, the candidates responded, via computer, to interview questions, most of them having more to do with the doctors’ ability to present themselves as paragons of political correctness than with anything relevant to medicine. The computer marked the answers and generated a short list of candidates. The senior doctors then interviewed the short-listed candidates directly, but in asking questions they had to stick with a script that government bureaucrats had prepared for them.

Some senior doctors refused to participate in this farce, and 11,000 doctors demonstrated against the new system in London. The government had to retreat, though its record suggests that it will not accept defeat for long.

The government also announced a new policy on university admissions: henceforth, when selecting students, universities must enquire as to whether applicants’ parents have university degrees themselves, in order to discriminate against them and favor applicants whose parents do not have degrees.

In other words, the British government sees universities more as instruments of egalitarian social engineering than as institutions of teaching, scholarship, and research. And it is far easier, of course, to admit students from poorer and less educated homes to university by administrative fiat than it is to raise standards in the high schools that they attend so that they might actually benefit from a university education.

The new systems of selection of junior doctors and university students are leveling in their effect, which is no surprise. Tony Blair’s government is militantly mediocre, and as such is truly revolutionary. Mediocrity triumphs because it presents itself as democratic and because it is dull, and so for many does not seem worth struggling against. In Blair, the mediocrities of Britain have found a leader who understands them from within.

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