The Starving Criminal
As we know it, human civilization is no stranger to drastic changes and radical revolutions. Entire governments have been razed to the ground for a new type of society to emerge. When such an event occurs, a nation is bound to suffer heavy casualties in terms of their culture and traditions. During the Bolshevik Revolution of Russia, the entire Russian society has been reshaped down to the core. The old Tsarist government has been brought to an end, but it didn’t stop there. The people of Russia had completely abandoned their ancient culture and traditions in order to make place for the communism.
With one stroke of a sharp knife, the Russians have severed all connections to their past. Conservatism is an ideology opposing such societal overhaul advocating a more cautious approach to progress and valuing the immeasurable wisdoms of the traditions and cultures. Anthony Daniels under the pen name Theodore Dalrymple wrote “The Starving Criminal” an article that intricately displays some of the central ideas of this ideology. By analyzing this article, we will set out to explore these ideas and acquire a better understanding of conservatism.
Conservatives has a very pessimistic conception of human nature, we are imperfect in every sense: morally and intellectually1. Our passion and desire can easily override our reason therefore we are irrational beings. In “The Starving Criminal”, we can sense by his sarcastic tone that Dalrymple mocks the naivety of the British people who really believes that the solution to eradicate crime is to simply hand out vitamin supplements to criminals. Criminality is a complex problem with depth and scope; the people are so desperate to get rid of it that they’re ready to believe in a grossly simplified and completely irrelevant solution.
This is an example of when desire override rationality Dalrymple makes to demonstrate his support for the conservative view of human nature. For conservatives freedom is a good thing but there are prerequisites before it becomes relevant. Liberty is very desirable but it can become harmful when misdirected or unrestrained2. Dalrymple uses this idea analogically in his text. He argued that prisoners, especially the ones suffering from malnutrition, shouldn’t be hurriedly set free as their misusage of freedom will cause greatly harm their health.
Through incarceration they have a chance to recover their health. The entire essay is an indictment towards the extreme capitalistic society of modern Britain. In this type of society there is an excess attachment to wealth and material goods. Edmund Burke has said, society is like a fabric where different elements such as tradition, culture and individuals are interwoven to form one organism3. However capitalism has rendered Britain an atomistic society, in pursuit of money people abandon their culture and traditions and distance themselves from each other.
Families are not as united as they once were, through selfishness and individualistic thought, family members cease to reaffirm their bonds. Without any sentimental attachment, parents start to neglect their children and won’t hesitate to sacrifice them for money. Without family, the passing of tradition has come to a halt. Without tradition people become lifeless and empty, which is reason why they cannot find happiness and their health starts degrading. Unlike the British families whose traditions are almost extinct, the Indian families remain very faithful to their roots.
Their families frequently gather during meals allowing them to strengthen their bonds towards one another and pass down traditional virtues to their young ones. Although they’re far less wealthy than the British natives, these Indian immigrants live a far happier life and are much healthier. Traditions and cultures are invaluable perks in ones life; they provide you with a spirit and fill you with an essence that cannot be found anywhere else. Dalrymple criticizes the government for failing to grasp the real problem behind the famine plaguing modern Britain.
For conservatives the government should have a clear conscience to make decision based on the best of their judgments and heedless to the opinion of the general public4. Instead of focusing on the real problem, the government of Britain main concern is their appearance to the general public and thus applies ineffective measures to combat the famine. The majority of the people believe that famine is simply the product of poverty and inequality so the government acts according to their opinions by planting supermarkets and establishing a Food Poverty Authority in every poor district.
Not only does the government fail to solve the real problem, they’re also taking advantage of the poverty to generate more revenues and exert a firmer control on society. This is not the enlightened representative government conservative had in mind; by their standards it’s a puppet government of the mass that double-crosses on its people. Their attempt to seize more power is also a direct violation of the conservative belief that power should be dispersed throughout society5.
Dalrymple has also alluded to the importance of private properties advocated by the conservative thinkers. As a consequence of the family breakdown due to capitalism, many people are driven out of their home at a very young age. Since they don’t have much money they cannot afford a private habitation. So they become wanderers sleeping at friend’s houses and sometimes on the streets. Conservatives viewed private properties as a stabilizing force of society allowing people to attach to their society6.
Without a permanent lodging, these young teenagers live like scavengers. They have no choice but to live in an isolated and atomistic way to survive. In essence, Dalrymple uses the ideologies of conservatism as the backbone in his critiques of modern British society. He does so by emphasizing ideas which constitute the pillars of conservatism: such as the importance of tradition, the cohesion of society through bonds and the impartiality of the government. Conservatives are against excessive inclination on a particular ideology.