Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple.
Citymaking: Building Community Without Building Walls by Gerald E. Frug.
Dalrymple, a British prison doctor writing pseudonymously, has collected his essays from the Manhattan Institute's City Journal into a powerful book on how intellectuals helped produce the British "underclass"—that largely white though increasingly immigrant group-violent, vulgar, and virtually doomed to failure. "In fact most of the social pathology exhibited by the underclass has its origin in ideas that have filtered down from the intelligentsia," Dalrymple writes. These ideas include sexual liberation, feminism, dumbed-down public education, the loosening of moral responsibility via the all-purpose excuses of poverty and racism— in other words, the whole plate of postmodern nihilism.
A rich example of Dalrymple's contention that bizarre theory has influenced practice is Harvard law professor Gerald Frug's Citymaking. After two insightful chapters on the powerlessness of cities in American political thought, the book takes on a postmodern dimension. The late David Broyles once argued that the postmodern Left is the true heir of the Anti-Federalists. This book vindicates this apercu, as we see Frug's attempt to transcend the "situated subject" and construct "ageographical cities" via "community building."
Implicit in all this is the end of the "bourgeois" concept of rights and the transformation of citizens into powerless products of society. Inevitably, law professors would be in charge. All this reconstruction is necessitated by the problems of the 11 million blacks living in "urban ghettos — less than 5 percent of the country's urbanized population." To justify his astounding leaps, Frug observes, "Romantic images have considerable practical effect." We see such effects on display in Dalrymple's "underclass."
— Ken Masugi
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This article appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of the Claremont Review of Books