Theodore Dalrymple — Aid, Colonialism, & Corruption

Writer and Psychiatrist, UK

The first thing I would say to those who say that we must come and give, otherwise these people are incapable of improving their situation or getting out of their poverty, is to ask them, 'Why?'

Video Player

Theodore Dalrymple—Physician and Writer

Anthony Daniels, who publishes under the pen name of Theodore Dalrymple, is an English writer and retired psychiatrist and prison doctor, best known in the United States for his essays in City Journal and for two collections of those essays—Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass and Our Culture, What's Left of It. He also writes for National Review and has contributed a regular column to the London Spectator. Denis Dutton, editor of Arts & Letters Daily, has described him as the “Orwell of our time.” Dalrymple is a Dietrich Weismann fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Theodore Dalrymple—Life at the Bottom

Drawing on his years of work as a psychiatrist in the East End of London and in a prison and hospital in inner city Birmingham, England, Dalrymple emphasizes a distinction between the poor of the developing world (often hard-working, thrifty and committed to family) and what he describes as “the underclass,” people living in the developed world. These developed poor, he points out, have sufficient access to food, clothing, and shelter but are geographically and psychologically part of a subculture characterized by broken families, domestic violence, substance abuse, and pervasive inability to plan for the long-term.

Theodore Dalrymple on the Causes of Cultural Breakdown

Dalrymple attributes this cultural breakdown among the underclass to two factors: the morally destructive effects of systematic government aid to the poor, and to the West becoming unmoored from its Judeo-Christian cultural foundations. Although not a religious believer himself, Dalrymple commented in an Autumn 2007 City Journal essay that “to regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy.” He continues:

And in my own view, the absence of religious faith, provided that such faith is not murderously intolerant, can have a deleterious effect upon human character and personality. If you empty the world of purpose, make it one of brute fact alone, you empty it (for many people, at any rate) of reasons for gratitude, and a sense of gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency. For what can soon, and all too easily, replace gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Without gratitude, it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have: and life will become an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.

Dalrymple has also written about his experiences in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), Kiribati, Tanzania and South Africa, arguing that international aid to these places has done more harm than good.

Theodore Dalrymple—No Love for Big Brother

Dalrymple retired from his work as a physician in 2005 and celebrated the moment in the Sunday Telegraph: “Retired at last! Retired at last! Thank God Almighty, retired at last! Such are the feelings of almost all hospital consultants and general practitioners who retire from the National Health Service after many years of service: years that increasingly have been ones of drudgery, servitude and subordination to politicians and their henchmen, the managers, who utter Pecksniffian pieties as they secure the advancement of their own inglorious careers.”

  • Colonialism and African Leadership

    The real problem with colonialism in Africa was that it left a model of government which was absolutely perfect for aspiring despots, because the idea of the colonial administrator was that the people who were under his rule were, in effect, children and he was in loco parentis. So he decided everything; he was a philosopher king. And while he might have performed his function honestly and with the best intentions, when colonialism collapsed, that was the model that was in the minds of all the nationalist leaders, and they adopted it with disastrous results, because not only is it a bad thing in itself in the sense that it infantilizes people, but they were in addition, grossly corrupt and often very brutal.

  • Corruption in Africa

    The real problem for large numbers of people in Africa is that, hitherto at any rate, there has been no reason to make an effort because any effort to improve their situation will just be expropriated by the political class.

  • Trade Barriers + Foreign Aid—A Formula for Failure

    We’ve got everything exactly the wrong way around really. We give them money for doing nothing and prevent them from selling anything to us.

  • Foreign Aid in Tanzania

    Take a country like Tanzania where I actually worked. Its greatest receipts in foreign currency were from aid. And the whole of the political process actually was getting their hands on the aid. And actually aid in a way is rather like the role of oil in Nigeria. It’s a free gift to the country, and it’s had devastating consequences for the development of the whole society because in Nigeria, for example, the whole political process is about how you get your hands on the oil money and nothing else, and appropriate it to yourself; and that, of course, increases political tensions. And in the same way, in a country like Tanzania, foreign aid acted as the oil of Nigeria.… It actually kept a large, a largish bureaucracy and political class in control of the whole society, and they had actually an interest in making sure that no one else flourished, because that would be the end of aid. They didn’t want the country to flourish; they didn’t need the country to flourish. And to give a very graphic example, in Tanzania, you could tell a member of the Chama cha Mapinduzi—that was the party of the revolution, Nyerere’s party, the party that controlled everything, including, of course, the disbursement of aid—you could tell a member by the size of his girth. If a man was fat, he was a member of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi. It was as crude as that…. It distorted everything. For example, education, the purpose of education: the purpose of education was to get a job in the government so that you became a member of this parasitic class.

  • The Welfare Industry in England

    [Note to U.S. Readers: What in the United States goes by the label “government welfare” is referred to in England as “Social Security.] Social security is to the poor in our countries what foreign aid is to Africans, and in fact, you could say that the people on social security in countries like Britain and France are … our internal third world. And you can see the same kind of benefits to a very large administrative class in our countries. The number of people who are dependent upon the dependents is very large. In Britain, for example, by far the largest employer is the National Health Service, and I think it’s fair to say that its performance, the National Health Service as far as providing health care, is at best, mediocre. But that isn’t fundamentally its point anymore. Its point is actually to employ the people who work in it, and that is true of our social services. I mean, it’s quite clear that immigrants are, once they leave Africa or Latin America, are quite capable of getting on and get on extremely well. Except of course, if they fall into the social security trap, which is the internal foreign aid of our own countries. Once they become dependent, then they rarely get out of that trap. But if they just go and work, they can do as well as anybody else.