They're Rioting in Britain: But Why? The Bankruptcy of Liberal Ideology
The rioting continues unabated in London, and as of this writing, David Cameron has called out an extensive police presence and vowed to do everything possible to prevent them from spreading. Cameron should have acted earlier, but at least he cut short his Italian vacation to rush back to London and use his powers as prime minister to take the tough action that is needed. The measures include the stationing of 10,000 additional police throughout London, as well as the possible use of water cannons. He has good reason to enforce these measures. Last night, three men were killed when some of the thugs drove their car into a group protecting homes and businesses from looters. As of Wednesday, 1200 people had been arrested.
Londoners had good reason to applaud. An online petition was being circulated calling for rioters to lose all government welfare benefits they might have been receiving. The text said: “No taxpayer should have to contribute to those who have destroyed property, stolen from their community and shown a disregard for the country that provides for them.” And Cameron added that the problem was as “much a moral problem as a political problem,” referring to pockets of society that “are not just broken, but are frankly sick.”
That, of course, will not win him plaudits from the British and the international left wing. As expected, a New York Times report of the riots is written in the usual liberal style, to try and show sympathy for the looters. The story’s headline proclaims: “London Riots Put Spotlight on Troubled, Unemployed Youths in Britain.” It’s the old liberal shibboleth: the underclass riots when the welfare state has failed it. The reporters quote one rioter, 19, as explaining that he took a $195 designer sweater “to get my penny’s worth.” Why not? The culture has told him he has a right to get what the rich can buy, so why not just help himself? The Times story, however, tells readers that the riots “reflect the alienation and resentment of many young people in Britain,” where one million people between 16 and 24 years of age are unemployed. The story notes that “economic despair” and “racial tension and thuggery” derive from the new austerity measures that are starting “to take effect.” In other words: if only the British government had not acted to cut spending and get its economic house in order, then there would be no riots.
Moreover, the story blames teachers who spend time educating solid middle-class students and who ignore those who cannot keep up. As the story says, “the most vulnerable people feel trapped.” As one rioter told police: “You know you are all racist! You know it.”
The former mayor of London, “Red” Ken Livingstone, said that rioting and destruction of businesses had no justification -- but as if to contradict himself “Red” Ken noted that they had to “have a serious discussion about why this has happened.” Hence he feared that “the police will be forced into escalating conflict,” by which he meant that they may actually stop the looters from rioting and burning businesses and homes, and take tough measures to stop the riots. The danger was not from the looters, but from Thatcherism. As he said, “We do not want to go back to the 1980s.” The fault, as he saw it, was “cuts being imposed by the Tory government,” as when “Margaret Thatcher imposed such policies.” Those cuts lead to “people losing control.” It is not the fault of the looters and their culture, but the Tory governments who stop giving them handouts.
Speaking to the press, Livingstone added that the riots were a “revolt” against budget cuts, as if there was a political program advocated by the looters and thugs. He said: “If you’re making massive cuts, there’s always the potential for this sort of revolt against that.”
How long will it take for Frances Fox Piven to go public and applaud the riots? As we know, last year she wrote, “So where are the angry crowds, the demonstrations, sit-ins and unruly mobs? After all, the injustice is apparent.” She has got what she called for in Britain. Perhaps she is waiting for similar examples of revolt here in the United States.
Back in the 1970s, New York City faced looting and rioting during the 1977 blackout. This led the late celebrated historian Herbert G. Gutman to rush to the op-ed pages of the New York Times and, in the July 21, 1977 issue, attack people like Herman Kahn, founder of the Hudson Institute, who had commented that the New York looters “have no idea of what moral standards are. This 'suppressed rage' idea is crap. This kind of reasoning will make the same thing happen all over again.”
Kahn, of course, was completely accurate in his response. But according to Gutman, the rioters were engaging in legitimate social protest, revolting against oppression in the only way they knew how. He had the nerve to compare the thuggish acts of looters in 1977 to the peaceful action in 1902 on the Lower East Side of New York by immigrant Jewish women who boycotted Kosher butchers they thought were overcharging for the meat they sold! It takes the mentality of a leftist New York historian to make such an inane comparison.
Gutman’s analysis, we can be sure, will once again be made by liberals and leftists in our country, as they are being made by those on the British left. Fortunately, serious commentary in Britain is already appearing. In today’s London Daily Mail, Max Hastings has written a devastating account, whose title says it all: "Years of liberal dogma have spawned a generation of amoral, uneducated, welfare dependent, brutalized youngsters.” Hastings covered the Detroit riots of 1967, in which entire neighborhoods were burned down by looters who destroyed their own communities. He was told then by a black reporter who accompanied him that the young rioters would smile and say, “It was a great fire, man!” He adds that a British girl told the BBC that they were showing the “rich” and the cops that “we can do what we like.”
Like Herman Kahn, Hastings writes that the looters today “have no moral compass” that would let them feel any guilt or shame. Calling them “wild beasts,” he uses the very animal metaphor to describe them that historian Gutman thought horrendous when used in the 1970s in America. They are what a police officer told him some years back: “feral children” who are no better than wild untamed animals. Rather than these people being punished as in decades past, Hastings argues that today “the welfare state has relieved them from hunger and real want,” and when they act out, there are no more sanctions for wrongdoing.
To put it another way, Hastings is talking about a culture of poverty that is being ignored, since, as he writes, society no longer is “imposing a measure of compulsion which modern society finds unacceptable.” No one wants to show these young thugs that they must act differently and accept the social norms of organized society. Instead, we are being ask to shed crocodile tears about the plight of youth who supposedly mean well but are forced to go unemployed because of budget cuts.
So Hastings writes: “So who is to blame? The breakdown of families, the pernicious promotion of single motherhood as a desirable state, the decline of domestic life so that even shared meals are a rarity, have all contributed importantly to the condition of the young underclass.” It is, he argues, the “dependency culture” that causes a tragedy “for those who receive something for nothing.”
Hastings is tough. He concludes:
So there we have it: a large, amoral, brutalised sub-culture of young British people who lack education because they have no will to learn, and skills which might make them employable. They are too idle to accept work waitressing or doing domestic labour, which is why almost all such jobs are filled by immigrants.
They have no code of values to dissuade them from behaving anti-socially or, indeed, criminally, and small chance of being punished if they do so.
They have no sense of responsibility for themselves, far less towards others, and look to no future beyond the next meal, sexual encounter or TV football game.
Rather than curb their appetites and act against them, the liberal culture treats them as victims of the rich and the conservative leaders, who supposedly have taken away their opportunities.
Writing in a bit more refined and cautious manner, Aymenn Jawad, a student at Oxford University, argues in the Jerusalem Post that too many “commentators interpret these events based entirely on pre-conceived paradigms,” and he too refers in particular to the analysis of “Red” Ken Livingstone. Jawad points out that many of those rioting, contrary to the NYT report I cited earlier, “are not poor at all.” Rather, they are lower middle-class who are looting not the homes and businesses of the rich, but of middle and working-class neighbors. He nails it with the following:
Portraying the disturbances as an uprising of the “under-privileged” is to be expected from those who subscribe to the Marxist theory of historical materialism, according to which economic causes are the driving force behind all human actions.
The riots are also taking part in predominantly white areas of London, not in multicultural underprivileged ghettos. They also began when a 29-year-old gang member was shot a few days ago, while he was unarmed. The real issue, he writes, is that “youths driven by greed and a lust for senseless violence have taken advantage of the lack of trust between the police and local communities, using the shooting of Duggan as a pretext.” And, he says, the riots were planned, since many of the looters and burners got their brethren out by texting them on their BlackBerries. They also, evidently, handed out leaflets calling for the riots to take place. Finally, Jawad quotes one rioter who told a reporter about his motivation: “We’re getting our taxes back.” They steal designer clothes, TV sets, and electronic gadgets for one reason alone: “because they can.”
Until some perspective is attained to address the real issues behind the rioting, such events will break out again and again, even if Cameron’s tough measures put an end to the current outbursts. As in so many other areas, the ideology of a bankrupt liberalism encourages precisely the acts which its advocates think more welfare state measures will prevent. The ideology of supporting the thugs and seeing them as victims has to come to an end. If a reassessment fails to take place, we can only look forward in the near future to more of the same.