The Welfare Culture and Its Discontents
Editor's note: The following is a review by Ian Tuttle of a new collection of short stories by Theodore Dalrymple, The Proper Procedure and Other Stories
Theodore Dalrymple uses fiction to tackle a tough subject.
Theodore Dalrymple’s The Proper Procedure and Other Stories is filled with lousy neighbors. They play music loud and all night; they deal drugs; they urinate in the stairwells. The women seduce the men, and the men beat the women. The police visit occasionally but are loath to insinuate themselves. Everyone is, as the unhappy Miss Falkenhagen says, a “predatory beast.”
Miss Falkenhagen (who, make no mistake, has faults aplenty of her own) is a resident of Percy Bysshe Shelley House, one of several public-housing projects that appear in Dalrymple’s first book of fiction: Harold Laski House, Jane Austen House, William Cobbett Tower. What the author says of one goes for any other: “The tower blocks rose at intervals from the ground, creating wind tunnels between them. Most of the land had been concreted over; the grass in the few remaining patches was a scrubby brown-grey-greenish colour, scattered with plastic bottles, constantly swirling pages of tabloid newspapers, and packaging of half-eaten takeaway meals.” It’s difficult to say whether the sties make the pigs or vice versa, but whichever the case, the ten stories that constitute The Proper Procedure are replete with both.
Readers of, among many others, City Journal, The New Criterion, and National Review will be familiar with “Dalrymple” — nom de plume of British physician and psychiatrist Anthony Daniels — who has made, in addition to his medical career, a literary one chronicling the extensive social pathologies of the United Kingdom. Perhaps the most famous of his books is Life at the Bottom (2001), in which he examined at length the “specter . . . haunting the Western world: the underclass,” that sorry mass of persons — a product of personal failings, utopian political schemes, and welfare-statism — whose existences are constituted largely of “violence . . . neglect and abuse of children . . . broken relationships . . . victimization by crime . . . nihilism . . . [and] dumb despair.” The underclass occupies places such as Harold Laski House and Charles Dickens Tower.
Theodore Dalrymple is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal.
This piece originally appeared in National Review Online