Thursday, August 11, 2011

The English Riots and the "Death Of Liberalism"

So now that the smoke has disappated, the police are in force, and calm has been restored to the streets, the inquest has begun. Or the blame game. Depends on your point of view.

The riots of the past four days have been the worst in the UK (and possibly in Europe) for decades. Certainly, I doubt there has been such widespread breakdown of law and order in Britain for a hundred years or more. During the Depression, I didn't read of any such looting and destruction ever happening on such a scale as England has witnessed in the last week.

Why did it happen, and what can we do to prevent it from being repeated? This is what people from opposite ends of the political spectrum have been debating endlessly.
The Conservatives, not surprisingly, and those at the extreme right, say that a culture of Liberalism is to blame. When there is a culture of criminals being able to claim benefits from the state, and when there is a culture of lack of responsibility in general, this feeds into this wicked cycle of a breakdown of values.
On the "liberal" left, people like Ken Livingstone have been talking of a culture of cuts creating anger and resentment from the poor, added to the decades of underinvestment and a culture of ignorance that institutions such as the police and the government have shown to the poor.

Clearly, both of these views can't be completely right. Blaming "liberalism" completely does not provide the full picture; there are plenty of other "liberal" countries in the world that have not had riots - Scandinavia being the obvious one; Germany also provides a fairly positive example (considering that nearly ten percent of the German population is ethnic Turkish, there are relatively few racial issues; though the fact that Germany is culturally pacifist since the Second World War also helps).
At the same time, emphasizing social issues as a root cause (as the left does) also fails to deal with the full issue; again, there is plenty of poverty in the developed world as a whole, yet there has been no similar breakdown in law and order elsewhere on this scale.

The closest comparison is the French riots in the middle of the 2000s (when Sarkozy was the interior minister); that went on for weeks, and the spark was also a controversial death blamed on the police.
As most of our leading politiicans have pointed out (rightly, as I mentioned in my previous post), it is about a gang culture, that has grown out of a lack of moral leadership from parents and other authority figures.
This issue cannot be blamed on the left or right, because being taught social and moral responsibility is not a political issue; it is a family issue. If parents choose to abrogate their responsibilities as parents, that is not only their problem, it becomes a social problem. It is how children turn into potential criminals; it is how children turn into potential sociopaths.

So it would be wrong to blame a "culture of liberalism" for these riots; nowhere does liberalism as an ideology tell parents that they have the right to not be parents. This is not about liberalism or conservatism, this is about basic parental responsibilty and children being given positive moral examples from their family.
There are plenty of families struggling in poverty because of social deprivation that bring up perfectly good, law-abiding children. Interestingly, many of those children are the families of immigrants; judging from some of the teenagers seen looting and rioting, many of them were not the children of immigrants - they were the children of "chavs".
It depends on the moral code that the parents teach their children; if they tell their children that it is OK to commit crime because they are poor, then these parents are passing on their own responsibilities to society; if they choose not to care what their children are doing once they walk out the door of their home, they are no longer acting as parents.

Any decent person, regardless of political persuasion, I think would find it difficult to argue with that. The scenes in Peckham, where people were going out of their way NOT to blame multiculturalism for the riots, shows us that some people at least, do not want to find quick scapegoats for the unrest. On the other hand, the scenes in the London suburb of Eltham, where vigilanteism was hijacked by the thugs of the anti-immigrant English Defence League, was another reminder that some people ARE susceptible to the easy answers of reactionary politics.

So, Liberalism is far from dead; but Liberalism was never about excusing common criminality and parental ignorance. Only an anarchist or nihilist would support the actions of the past few days in England.
Liberalism is about giving people the freedom to do want they want within the commonly accepted boundaries of lawful behavior; it is about accepting that the market does not provide all the answers for society, and that people sometimes need goverment to provide services that the private sector cannot fairly provide; it is about goverment providing a helping hand where needed to those who follow the law and respect others, while providing an effective punishment to those who do not.

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