28 May 2011

Book Review

In Praise of Prejudice by Theodore Dalrymple

If ever there were book that should not be judged by its cover alone, this would be it, especially if it is a leftist that is passing judgment.  At any rate, prejudice has fallen out of favor of late, and Dalrymple is the perfect man to defend.

It must be clarified up front that Dalrymple is not speaking of racial prejudice per se.  Instead, his focus is on social prejudices, which were perhaps at one time referred to as taboos.  These prejudices are quite necessary for social health, for they help to keep the baser members of the population in line.  The taboo of premarital sex, for example, helped to ensure that young women did not bring bastard children into the world, and helped to ensure that young women not sport about with complete cads who would use them and lose them.  In many ways, then, social shame served as an adequate substitute for abstract contemplation.  One need not be farsighted to see that chasing after cads would lead to misery; rather, one need only bow to social pressure to achieve the same result.

In addition to noting the value of certain prejudices, Dalrymple also notes that prejudice is inevitable.  One cannot condemn prejudices out of hand because doing so reveals a prejudice in itself:  namely, that prejudice is bad.  Prejudices cannot be eliminated, only replaced.  This realization has not occurred to some, and so there is still a rather zealous call for the elimination of prejudice yet today.  Unfortunately, the elimination of certain prejudices has only ushered in new prejudices which are inferior, at least if one judges the value of a prejudice by its effect on society at large.

Dalrymple also notes the hypocrisy and selectiveness of the anti-prejudice crowd.  Even the most strongly anti-prejudice activist in the world is somewhat selective in determining what prejudices to attack.  Funnily enough, activists tend to fight against prejudices that would bring social condemnation upon themselves.  And. As noted before, said activists seem not to realize the hypocrisy in condemning prejudices.

In Praise of Prejudice is a very stimulating read.  Dalrymple has a rather droll style, in spite of the somewhat dark nature of the work.  His insights are clear and piercing, and well-stated.  Though it can be a bit dense at times, the book is a very rewarding read indeed.

1 comment:

  1. And to those who read "prejudice" and assume "racial bigotry", it's worth noting that Dalrymple is English, and in England the major social pathologies generally do not break down along racial lines, as they do to a large extent in America.

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