I have a headache at the moment, so what I’m going to do tonight is point you to two articles which perfectly illustrate why I love to read “Theodore Dalrymple’s” literary and social commentaries:
The Cambridge Guide to English Literature describes Three Guineas as an established classic—but a classic of what genre exactly? Of political philosophy? Contemporary history? Sociological analysis? No: it is a locus classicus of self-pity and victimhood as a genre in itself. In this, it was certainly ahead of its time, and it deserves to be on the syllabus of every department of women’s studies at every third-rate establishment of higher education. Never were the personal and the political worse confounded.
The book is important because it is a naked statement of the worldview that is unstated and implicit in all of Virginia Woolf’s novels, most of which have achieved an iconic status in the republic of letters and in the humanities departments of the English-speaking world, where they have influenced countless young people. The book, therefore, is truly a seminal text. In Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf lets us know without disguise what she really thinks: and what she thinks is by turns grandiose and trivial, resentful and fatuous. The book might be better titled: How to Be Privileged and Yet Feel Extremely Aggrieved.
It is true that Marx, like Turgenev, is on the side of the underdog, of the man with nothing, but in a wholly disembodied way. Where Turgenev hopes to lead us to behave humanly, Marx aims to incite us to violence. Moreover, Marx brooked no competitors in the philanthropic market. He was notoriously scathing about all would-be practical reformers: if lower class, they lacked the philosophic training necessary to penetrate to the causes of misery; if upper class, they were hypocritically trying to preserve “the system.” Only he knew the secret of turning the nightmare into a dream.
In fact, the hecatombs his followers piled up are—to the last million victims—implicit in the Manifesto. The intolerance and totalitarianism inhere in the beliefs expressed: “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties. They have no interest separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”
In other words, there is no need for other parties, let alone individuals with their own personal quirks: indeed, since the Communists so perfectly express the interests of the proletariat, anyone opposed to the Communists must, by definition, be opposed to the interests of the proletariat.
“Dalrymple’s” unique melding of erudition and sarcasm is such a treasure.