Monday, August 22, 2011

The Root Cause of the British Riots

England is not consumed in a public debate about the causes of the recent rioting.

It comes as something of a surprise, given that Tony Blair has written that he does not see them as a sign of moral collapse and that Christopher Hitchens has argued that rioting is a venerable British tradition.

Since Brits have always rioted, Hitchens assures us that we should not draw any lessons from them.

Of course, there are still a few leftists who interpret the violence as a rebellion against injustice. Some believe that they show that fiscal austerity is a bad thing.

Finally, other leftists have compared the looting and burning on the streets of England with the white collar looting that was perpetrated by mortgage lenders and rogue traders.

Writing in the Telegraph, Janet Daley has a better idea. To her, as to me, it is about the culture. Britain has been suffering through a cultural decline, one that resembles the fallout from the American counterculture.

In her words: “What real people know – and have known for quite a long time – is that the great tacit agreement which once held civic life together has been deliberately blown apart. There was a time within living memory when all reasonable grown-ups were considered to be on the same side. Parents, teachers, police, judges, politicians – decent citizens of every station and calling – formed an unspoken confederacy to uphold standards of behaviour within their own communities. But their shared values and expectations about human conduct were systematically undermined by a post-Sixties political ideology that preached wholesale disrespect for authority, and legitimised anti-social activity in the name of protest.”

Culture, in the sense of customs and mores, common habits and behaviors, common values and standards, is not written down anywhere.

Shared attitudes may lay the groundwork for legislation and for government policies, but they are not legislated.

Young Americans attacked the culture in the 1960s by rejecting adult authority. They began with a slogan: Don’t trust anyone over 30.

British politicians and jurists translated a distrust of authority into a criminal justice system that emphasized therapy more than punishment. Criminals were not violent offenders; they were misunderstood. We mustn’t subject them to the indignity of incarceration.

In her column Daley argues that this culture rot has arisen from the work of a French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Rousseau argued that people are born good and that they go bad because they are subjected to restrictions imposed by external authorities. Allow them to grow up unconstrained and they will become, by Rousseau’s lights, naturally good.

Daley expresses it well: “In fact, the politics of the Sixties were just a late incarnation of an 18th-century philosophy. We have Jean-Jacques Rousseau to thank for the basic principle that men are born good and will only behave badly if they are corrupted by authority and repressive institutions: that we need only liberate them from those false limitations and their natural moral instincts will come to the fore.”

The therapy culture has contributed to this cultural degeneration with its own mantra: don’t be judgmental.

But if no one is ever allowed to judge another human being’s behavior, and if no one is ever allowed to suffer for bad behavior, what incentive does anyone have to behave well.

Daley explains: “The indispensable tools of social stigma and moral judgment that communities used to have at their disposal for this purpose have been stripped away, and the result – the fearless defiance of helpless authority – is what we saw in its terrifying logical conclusion on the streets. That is what real people know: that they were right all along.”

Perhaps the riots were a wake-up call for Great Britain, a moment where the citizenry saw the folly of its ways and silently vowed to be done with the counterculture and the therapy culture. We can all hope.


The Ghost said...

Put no stock in anything Christopher Hitchens writes. He is a tired atheist who has long since run out of intellectual gas ...

Dennis said...

The root cause of these riots almost every where is the creating a "dependent class " of people. The more they are dependent on the government "Plantation," the more and the larger the riots.
No matter the size of the expectations created, once the government reaches the point that it can no longer afford the benefits that they have promised they also lose their credibility and power over the dependents.
There is no possible way that governments can ever meet the expectations they create. The more they create the bigger the failure. said...

Quite helpful data, lots of thanks for this article.