NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Life At the Bottom

March 26, 2004

It is often alleged that the welfare state and a "freedom from want" will bring about a crime-free utopia, where individuals are given all that they need and the reassurance that their behavior has been dictated by their environment. However, after interviewing thousands of patients from the lowest rung in British society, Theodore Dalrymple says this view is a dangerous illusion.

In his new book, "Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass," Dalrymple describes the world of the underclass as one wracked with crime, senseless violence, drug abuse, illegitimacy, nihilism and a total -- sometimes scary -- refusal to accept even a shred of responsibility of one's actions. He argues these are simply byproducts of a system of "subsidized apathy" in which there is nothing to hope for, nothing to fear, nothing to gain and nothing to lose.

Though not poor in a traditional or historical sense, Dalrymple says the lives of the poor are devoid of hope. Among his other findings:

  • With no incentives outside of instant gratification, the poor grow bored, restless, unhappy and increasingly violent.
  • The underclass has dishonestly embraced "determinism" -- a philosophy that suggests behavior is caused by one's environment and not one's personal choices -- to provide justification to milk the comforts of victim hood.

Regrettably, Dalrymple says that the British intelligentsia has promulgated the notion of determinism -- whether to show solidarity with the disadvantaged or to enhance their own sense of moral superiority -- thus ensuring that hopelessness pays. He adds that the intellectual elite do not share this view as it pertains to their own lives.

Source: Arthur E. Foulkes, "Life at the Bottom: Socialism Destroys Freedom," Carolina Journal, January 2004, John Locke Foundation; based upon: Dr. Theodore R. Dalrymple, "Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass" (London: Ivan R. Dee, 2001).

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