I have been reading a new book by Theodore Dalrymple which I highly recommend. Readers of the Spectator will need no introduction to the good doctor, his fresh prose or his startling insight. But even for people like me who read most of what Dalrymple writes, Farewell Fear contains a great collection of unfamiliar — and typically brilliant — writings.
I particularly enjoyed the essay ‘Of Termites and Mad Dictators’. In analysing the threats to our freedom he says:
‘It is difficult now to imagine a modern university intellectual saying something as simple and unequivocal as ‘I disagree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.’ He would be more likely to think, if not actually to say out loud in public, ‘I disagree with what you say, and therefore rationalise to the death my right to suppress it.’ In public, he would be more circumspect, presenting a suppression of freedom as an actual increase in freedom… But he would know perfectly well in his heart that what he was after was power: the greatest power of all, that to shape, mould and colour indelibly the thought of others, a power to which he believes that he has a right by virtue of his superior intellect, training and zeal for the public good.’
As Dalrymple concludes, after a number of typically memorable examples, there is a threat to our freedom which is ‘not that of mad dictators in fancy dress, but of termites.’
Do read it all.Tags: Books, Freedom of speech, Philosophy, Universities