Because I live in a beautiful old apartment building in Adams Morgan, a Washington, D.C. neighborhood as dependably leftwing as, say, Berkeley in California, I am surrounded by lefties, most of them quite pleasant. I had dinner with a group of neighbors the other night. Some of them professed a desire to go to New Orleans and help “the poor” there. A fundamentally decent impulse, but something disturbed me about this. I suggested that one of the problems is that we’ve already done a lot to help “the poor” develop bad habits. I think that Theodore Dalrymple is disturbed by the same thing in the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas’ otherwise admirable concern for those at the bottom of the economic ladder:

“What Habermas fails to recognize is that self-destruction-which he correctly implies has reached epidemic proportions among a segment of the population-grows out of attitudes to life, beliefs, and mentalities; it is not a mechanical response to a mechanical problem. And one of the beliefs that favors self-destruction is that no alternative to it is possible, because the world is so constituted, at least until the people’s saviors gain power, that one’s choices make no difference to the course of one’s life.”