Once it’s no longer accepted that something is wrong all the laws in the world will avail you nought. The law functions as formal expression of a moral code, not as free-standing substitute for it. Last year, on a trolley car in London, a 96-year-old man was punched in the face and blinded in one eye. His 44-year- old attacker had boarded the crowded tram, tried to push past Mr. Chaudhury in the aisle and become enraged by the nonagenarian’s insufficient haste in moving out of the way. “You bastard!” he snarled, and slugged him. A month ago, Stephen Gordon was sentenced by Croydon Crown Court to three years’ probation, which means he’ll have to endure weekly chit-chats with a municipal functionary, assuming he bothers turning up for his appointments. Mr. Gordon was seen to smirk as he left court, notwithstanding the mental health issues entered in mitigation.
Much of the commentary concerned the leniency of the sentence. But consider George Jonas’s dictum: beating up a 96-year-old isn’t wrong because it’s illegal; it’s illegal because it’s wrong. And, if a citizen of an advanced Western social democracy no longer knows it’s wrong, the laws are unlikely to prove much restraint. British society has come to depend on CCTVs