When All Men Are Paid for Existing, and No Man Must Pay for His Sins

The world has turned a horrified eye on the recent riots in Great Britain, where the core of London, Manchester, and other cities have been turned into no-man’s lands of rioting, burning, looting–literal lawlessness, as Britain’s famous constabulary ineffectively strive to maintain the peace. British youths as young as eight or nine are breaking into stores and burning businesses, photographed running out of high-street stores with hoods pulled down over their faces and boutique clothing in their arms. This is no longer (if it ever was) political expression or peaceful protesting, but as the Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips astutely points out, the rampant thievery, destruction, and rebellion we observe are simply the logical results of a thirty-year liberal campaign to undercut responsibility, demolish the nuclear family, and establish a monumental edifice of entitlement and reliance on the state:

Welfare dependency further created the entitlement culture that the looters so egregiously display. It taught them that the world owed them a living. It taught them that their actions had no consequences. And it taught them that the world revolved around themselves. […] Once, children would have been rescued from their disadvantaged backgrounds by schools which gave them not just an education but structure and purpose to their lives. […]

Instead of transmitting knowledge to children, teaching was deemed to be an attack upon a child’s autonomy and self-esteem. Thus it was that teachers adopted the ‘child-centred’ approach, which expected children not only to learn for themselves but also to decide for themselves about behaviour such as sexual morality or drug-taking. The outcome was that children were left illiterate and innumerate and unable to think. Abandoned to wander through the world without any guidance, they predictably ended up without any moral compass. […]

In short, what we have seen unfolding before our horrified gaze over the past four days in Britain is the true legacy of the Labour years. The social and moral breakdown behind the riots was deliberately willed upon Britain by Left-wing politicians and other middle-class ideologues who wrap their utter contempt for the poor in the mantle of ‘progressive’ non-judgmentalism.

Rudyard Kipling accurately predicted this decomposition of society and civilization over ninety years ago in his impassioned poem “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”. The “Gods” he spoke of were the sometimes trite but usually true snippets of Biblical wisdom and common sense printed in every Victorian schoolchild’s copybook for penmanship practice. Kipling mourned the decay of traditional values and public morals in his society, but how far down that road has Britain come since his death? Yet from 1919 the author could say with authority words as pertinent for America today as for Britain then:

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

If Britain looks around and wonders why gangs of looters rule London’s streets and the citizens stand quiescent while their property and livelihoods are destroyed–it’s because they are told to. When I moved to England last year to study at Oxford University, I was told in my orientation program not to resist if we were mugged, simply to give up our wallets, purses, or bags and wait for the police to redress the grievance–it wouldn’t be violent that way, we’d have less chance of getting hurt. Yet a disarmed citizenry hasn’t stopped violent crime, and even the police are cowed. Time’s William Lee Adams quotes a street cleaner in Croyden, one of the worst-hit boroughs of London, “Two hundred kids ruled the police in Croydon. The police are scared of them.”

And Kipling reminds us of the worldly wisdom of the progressive, “They promised perpetual peace. / They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease. / But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe, / And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”” I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that online sales of baseball bats and police batons to Britons stymied by legal prohibitions on knives and guns for self-defense soared on Amazon.co.uk over the course of the riots.

For those that defend the rioters as the disenfranchised, oppressed minority frustrated by a lack of jobs and civil opportunities, Max Hastings notes in the Daily Mail that a casual search of an employment website turned up over 2,000 apprenticeship vacancies in London. Rather, many British youth are passed over in favour of emigrants because their state-supported welfare and education have utterly failed at instilling any sense of personal responsibility:

It is because it is fantastically hard to help such people, young or old, without imposing a measure of compulsion which modern society finds  unacceptable. These kids are what they are because nobody makes them be anything different or better.

A key factor in delinquency is lack of effective sanctions to deter it. From an early stage, feral children discover that they can bully fellow pupils at school, shout abuse at people in the streets, urinate outside pubs, hurl litter from car windows, play car radios at deafening volumes, and, indeed, commit casual assaults with only a negligible prospect of facing rebuke, far less retribution.

And that’s not even counting the many looters and rioters who have no excuse at all–far from the disadvantaged, poor, or under-educated, many of those arrested for thievery and looting are the privileged children of millionaires, promising youth athletes or musicians, university students from middle-class homes or young professionals. Some of the goods stolen were food or bottled water from damaged grocery stores. Their hauls were just as likely to be flat-screen TVs or mobile phones. Many seemed surprised to find themselves in possession of stolen goods, or perhaps just surprised that they had gotten caught. Some may be innocent, wrongly caught up in police raids, like a young father who claimed he was just out trying to purchase diapers. Hopefully the courts will weigh the evidence carefully and free the innocent. But plenty others were caught red-handed or turned themselves in, surprised that they had joined the ranks of the looters. A mother turned her daughter, a promising young athlete and “Olympic ambassador”, in to the police after seeing her in news footage joining in the assault on a mobile phone store. An aspiring ballerina turned herself in after seeing a photo of herself stealing two televisions from a looted store published in a newspaper.

Kipling predicted this, too, in his closing stanza–the eventual, total decay of society when the utopian vision of the progressive finally takes hold and personal responsibility, whether for one’s support or one’s own transgressions, is a thing of the past:

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Robert Taylor, a British businessman and author on the ground in London, comments on the reforms necessary to redeem British society in The American Spectator:

It remains to be seen whether Britain’s riot-fueled heart attack is serious enough for us all to realize that our society is “broken,” as a few of our braver politicians have described it. If we fail to realize this, and fail to transform our way of doing things, then the riots of the last few days will be pigeon feed compared with what will follow.

There’s no reason why Britain has to be like this. Violence isn’t ingrained in our DNA. We can change. First we must follow New York’s lead — from as long ago as the mid-’80s — and arrive on a zero-tolerance approach to crime and anti-social behavior of any sort. We need to put people in the cells without listening to the sob stories that have traditionally made Brits go soft on crime. That alone will be a massive change, consuming vast police resources and hugely extending our prison capacity.

Secondly, we must use every tool at our disposal — financial, educational, and cultural — to transform our society, promoting respect, tolerance, honesty, generosity of spirit and sharing of wealth in all its forms. We must see family breakdown as our collective failure. Again, a massive change.

It will be a massive change. But hopefully the shock of the recent riots will reveal for all Britons the essential failure of the progressive utopian welfare state, and spur them to rebuild the structures of personal responsibility and culpability so that their society may recover. May the terror and destruction of these riots engender the profound social change necessary and not presage an even worse collapse of a once-great civilization.

(Hat tip to David Bass (@davidnbass on Twitter) for links to news stories and to a commenter under the name of “Petronius” on AmSpec that referenced the familiar Kipling poem in connection with the current crisis…)

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