by Theodore Dalrymple (May 2015)
It is a sad fact that many distinguished men, who in their time seemed to bestride the world like colossi and excited anything from extreme admiration to the utmost detestation, but who never evoked mere indifference (if indifference, that is, needs to be evoked at all, rather than being merely our default attitude to the majority of our fellow beings), are no sooner dead than forgotten. more>>>
"The world will little note nor long remember what we say here" -- still as true as it ever was, sadly. Few people succeed in bucking the trend. "It is odd that people who have lived in close proximity to [chameleons] should have remained so superstitious about them." I can understand it, to a degree. Colonists in the New World thought tomatoes were poisonous for a long time -- I guess nobody wanted to be the first to test one by eating it.
Excellent essay. I too relish used-book-bin oddities, as I wrote in Forgotten Books of Witness (http://benfiniti.com/2011/12/26/the-forgotten-books-of-witness/). Your thoughts on snobbery add to those I remember from a prescient article by Charles Murray in the Wall Street Journal of 6 Feb 2001. Entitled “Prole Models”, he analyzes the phenomenon as an example of Arnold Toynbee’s “the vulgarization of the dominant minority.” (The Study of History, Book V “The Disintegrations of Civilizations”, Ch.XIX “Schism in the Soul”). Murray summarizes Toynbee: “The growth phase of a civilization is led by a creative minority with a strong, self-confident sense of style, virtue and purpose. The uncreative majority follows along through mimesis, “a mechanical and superficial imitation of the great and inspired originals.” In a disintegrating civilization, the creative minority has degenerated into elites that are no longer confident, no longer setting the example. Among other reactions are a “lapse into truancy” (a rejection, in effect, of the obligations of citizenship), and a “surrender to a sense of promiscuity” (vulgarizations of manners, the arts, and language) that “are apt to appear first in the ranks of the proletariat and to spread from there to the ranks of the dominant minority, which usually succumbs to the sickness of `proletarianization.'” Toynbee sees the receptivity of the elites as imitation of both internal (our underclass) and external (multicultural underclass) proletariats, as the dominant minority “atones for its sins”. Murray sees himself as adding Toynbee’s analysis to that of Gertrude Himmelfarb and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Theodore Dalrymple must be added to the list of Cassandras on this topic.