British doctor Theodore Dalrymple, who's worked in some of the poorest countries in Africa, the Pacific and Latin America, declares ''I have little hesitation in saying that the mental, cultural, emotional, and spiritual impoverishment of the Western underclass is the greatest of any large group of people I have ever encountered anywhere.'' Does he point a finger? You bet-straight at Western intelligentsia. But there's a telling discrepancy here. Though twentieth century intellectuals advocated setting sexuality free from any social, contractual, or moral obligation, they weren't able to abandon these obligations themselves. No doubt their own mores relaxed, but the family unit remains at least partially intact. This kind of relativism also infiltrates linguistic, educational, and cultural values, transforming the underclass into a caste not unlike the Untouchables. Dalrymple wishes to describe the resulting misery of this class ''in an unvarnished fashion,'' laying bare the dysfunctional values behind its steady decline in the hope of combating further misery. He is a storyteller and essayist of high literary quality, and his book draws upon his own experiences as a doctor in a British slum. Beware: the pictures Dalrymple presents here are sometimes horrific, sometimes hilarious. But he maintains that 'if blame is to be apportioned, it is the intellectuals who deserve most of it. They considered the purity of their ideas to be more important than the actual consequences. I know of no egotism more profound.'
An Eighth Day View:
Here is a searing account-probably the best yet published-of life in the underclass and why it persists as it does. Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist who treats the poor in a slum hospital and a prison in England, has seemingly seen it all. Yet in listening to and observing his patients, he is continually astonished by the latest twist of depravity that exceeds even his own considerable experience. Dalrymple's key insight in Life at the Bottom is that long-term poverty is caused not by economics but by a dysfunctional set of values, one that is continually reinforced by an elite culture searching for victims. This culture persuades those at the bottom that they have no responsibility for their actions and are not the molders of their own lives. Drawn from the pages of the cutting-edge political and cultural quarterly City Journal, Dalrymple's book draws upon scores of eye-opening, true-life vignettes that are by turns hilariously funny, chillingly horrifying, and all too revealing-sometimes all at once. And Dalrymple writes in prose that transcends journalism and achieves the quality of literature.