Monday, May 26, 2008

Re: Overclass values created the underclass

Tim links to a blog by Melanie Phillips who attacks the Guardianista crowd. She accuses them of being responsible for many of today's social problems through an attack on the social institutions that are often called "traditional values".

If you haven't read it before, Theodore Dalrymple's The Frivolity of Evil, a piece for City Journal, is a superb introduction to this subject and one of the best articles I've ever read. The effects on the 'underclass' of the dangerous combination of the welfare state and the moral equivalence that pervades our culture and institutions is a subject Dalrymple has spent a huge amount of time discussing and if you want to read more his archive at City Journal is well worth a browse.

I think Phillips is wrong on one point. She suggests that "the supercilious overclass" has "the money to get itself out of trouble". It does have the money, education and other advantages to largely avoid the kinds of problems that afflict the underclass. That doesn't mean that it has got out of trouble. Allan Bloom's landmark book The Closing of the American Mind sets out the harm that relativism - emerging out of a frivolous nihilism - has done to the Western elite. It is a hard book to sum up within a single post but here's what I wrote when I first discussed it on my own blog:

"Bloom's masterpiece is hard to precis. It begins discussing his students and how relativism has closed their minds; how a doctrine of 'openness' has perversely undermined serious dialogue between different opinions and cultures. It then goes on a tour of Western philosophical thought illustrating the struggles that brought us to where we are now. My understanding of his critique is that we have lapsed into nihilism without taking the condition seriously. We cannot take seriously old visions of the good life and have broken the processes and destroyed the environments in which new visions might flourish. He sees this as a broad problem for Western civilisation but sees the crucial centre of the problem in the decline of liberal education within the Universities.


Dalrymple's work is excellent but if you only read Dalrymple and look at the problems of the poor it is as if you are studying an oceanic earthquake by measuring coastal waves and understanding the misery of those they make homeless. You need to understand the problem at its source. The source of the awful problems Dalrymple describes is in the elite and their intellectual decline. A philosophical decline in the West. Hopefully Bloom can provide a valuable first step in understanding that source of our problems."

That's pretty inadequate but this is a hard subject to get your head around. It is worth the time though as it is the thread that connects so many problems the modern Right should aim to confront. A relativist distaste for morals, nations and individual free will can be found at the root of a host of less esoteric problems.


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