Filter By

Britain's Liberal Riots

Die Presse

The series of riots that struck England in early August have provoked many reactions, much national debate and widespread international amazement. Across England beginning on the 6th of August four nights of widespread and rising public disorder saw five people killed, random violence of frightening intensity and mass looting in many towns and cities.

 

Emerging from nowhere these riots genuinely shocked the country - perhaps most of all because there seemed no guiding motive or burning issue of injustice. The sense of social crisis was exacerbated by a clear failure of police tactics, initially mis-classifying the event as a race riot and fearing to add fuel to the fire, Police adopted tactical containment strategies that contrary to strategic intention further inspired the sense of unprecedented criminal opportunity for others around the country.

Britons unused to the sense of widespread criminal licence (except in the more refined areas of finance and business) remain profoundly shaken by the riots rightly thinking that something new, indicative and dangerously prophetic had occurred. British politicians similarly struck by the gravity and scale of events realise that this is a defining event that could make or break public trust and have, with decidedly mixed results, desperately been trying to capture and represent the resulting public mood.

Broadly speaking the right has decried the moral depravity of the rioters and promised harsh punishment while the left accepting the clear criminality of the rioting has sought nonetheless to portray the disturbances as an incipient issue of social justice and pledged to investigate its complex causes. Interestingly neither side feels entirely comfortable with its initial analysis, in its more reflective moments the right feels rightly it is more than simple law-breaking, it considers family breakdown and the consequent loss of social morality as a prime causational factor; while the left in the face of the manifest criminality of the rioters' behaviour, has struggled with its instinctive intuition that the riots must either be a political protest at public sector cutbacks (unlikely since they have yet to take effect) or a direct result of social deprivation (as yet unclear given the range of those involved in rioting). Those unable to offer even this level of analysis claim to put the disturbances in their historical context placing mass disturbance within a normal part of the radical English tradition, even more avid defenders of the status quo argue that a tiny unrepresentative minority have been given undue prominence and opportunity by the 24 hour media cycle and modern social networks, and that while not quite much ado about nothing - things will soon return to normal.


30.000 Nihilists? But these riots represent a new sociological phenomenon (in London alone police estimate that up to 30,000 people were involved) and a new nihilistic normal one that reveals and reflects the profound social, cultural and economic shifts that have shaped Britain over the last thirty years. First of all the riots were new in that unlike the riots in the UK in the 1980's and some isolated incidents thereafter they were not characterised by any ethnic or localised concerns. Indeed it was their very ubiquity that was so unnerving - across the country gangs of predominately young unemployed men often with criminal records were able to facilitate using new media, a series of semi-organised disturbances for the purpose not of protest but of criminal gain. This activity drew into violent disorder a far wider section of British society than ever before (from school assistants to university students) to the opportunities offered by looting be it digital TVs or sports shoes.

But why would an unprecedented but nonetheless representative swath of British society suddenly behave in such a manner? An indication is to be found in what the rioters did and did not believe in - they clearly eulogised acquisition and sheer self-interest and eschewed ethics, community, and human regard. They believed in nothing but themselves and held themselves unconstrained by any moral limit and entitled to whatsoever they pleased. In a savage manner they were however merely acting out the values that now seem to govern and embody Britain - ruthless self-interest coupled to a rootless consumer nihilism.

Britain's political class seems uniquely ill placed to condemn such actions since it itself was hugely compromised in the recent political scandal over MP's expenses where some MP's have gone to jail and many including some currently in Government were compelled to repay thousands of pounds illegitimately claimed for expenditure on items very much like those prized by the looters. Moreover the British political class looks highly susceptible to both vested and monopoly interest - with News International for example manipulating both of the main political parties for insider advantage. Most British officials and advisers can barely supress a smile if one speaks of virtue or subjecting the rules of the game to value or principle. And nowhere is this more evident than in the City of London where the bigger the businesses is the more effective it is at avoiding tax, with Barclay's Bank embodying the get away with it if you can culture - paying in 2009 just 1% of its profits of £11.6 billion in corporation tax to the UK treasury.

In this regard the top and bottom of British society seem to exhibit remarkably similar values. Both undeserving rich and poor play the system and both see no reason why they should not. But this is hardly a surprise the rule for the last thirty years is that one rules the many by persuading them that the values of the self-interested few ought to be their principles as well. This moral and social collapse that has become so widespread that it seems entirely normal, it represents the final triumph of a value system that does not recognise any objective values at all: liberalism albeit in its most degraded libertarian form. Through a corrupted liberalism both left and right in unknowing but complicit agenda have participated in tearing apart Britain's social and economic fabric. Firstly and paradoxically left libertarianism used state welfarism to create autonomy in people it considered too uncosmopolitan, too dependent on each other and too defined by outmoded codes and values, as such it substituted the central state for the institutions and structures of working class communities. By making welfare and rights dependent on one way entitlement the state produced a dissociative culture that rendered superfluous all the bottom up organisation and structure of British working class life, making people and communities dependent upon state welfare rather than on each other. This has been most invidious in the war on the family – cultural libertarians on the left have followed Engels in deeming marriage to be nothing more than the bourgeois subjugation of women and state subsidy for those who wish to escape has increased dramatically. Since 1997, for example a single mother of two children has seen her benefits increase by 85 per cent. Whereas In the UK the tax burden placed on a one-earner family (two parents two children) on an average wage is 39 per cent higher than that on the same families in other OECD countries.


A changing society. The cultural and economic war on family life has had an obvious outcome. Children in the UK are now more than three times more likely to live in one parent households than they were in 1972, a third to a half of all UK children will at some point live in a lone parent family and a third of all British children are at any one time are living with just one parent. In 1971, less than 10 % of all live births in England and Wales were outside marriage, in 2008 45% of all births were outside marriage. This matters because unmarried parents have great trouble in staying together, by the time a child is 5 some 43% of cohabiting parents have already broken up - as against just 8% for married couples. Since 70% of young offenders come from lone parent families and a third of all prisoners come from families so dysfunctional that they were taken into care by the state - family structure is not something that the state can afford to be value free about.

The collapse in the family sponsored by the left libertarian mantra of choice, freedom and the massive extension of private autonomy has created widespread social anonymity and fragmentation - over 7 million Britons now live alone compared to three million in 1971. The attack upon structures that stabilise people and provide a necessary and secure footing has also been accompanied by a relentless assault on the principles that underpin these foundations be it those of faith, tradition or morality. A hostile technocratic amorality that removes culture, taboo and memory from public policy has been the hallmark of Labour's years in power.

Accompanying this cultural and social assault from the left has been a similar libertarian assault from the economic right. Under the rhetoric of free markets delivering mass prosperity - a rentier state has developed that has concentrated wealth and stripped millions of ordinary Britons of their capital denying them the path to assets, ownership and trade. The new road to serfdom for the bottom half of Britons has seem their liquid capital and savings vanish (in 1976 the bottom 50% had 12% of wealth excluding property in 2003 it was 1%) and the value of their wages as a proportion of GDP stagnate or decline

From the perspective of those who rioted perhaps the most evident indication of how the game has moved against them is migration. Thirty years ago poor unskilled working class kids could at least get jobs in shops or factories however under neo-liberal migration policies – these youths have been wholly outcompeted by hard working and or highly skilled new migrants, an astounding 99.9% of the rise of employment (not jobs) in Labour years is accounted for by rise in foreign-born workers.

In conclusion, the rioters are shamefully emblematic of modern Britain, their values have striking parallels with the UK's current elite not least because the creation of a morally denuded and economically marooned class at the bottom of society has been the outcome of an elite that has eschewed proper moral vision and embraced self-serving economics and the value system that endorses it: libertarianism under the guise of liberalism.


This article appeared in print on the 28th August 2011, in Die Presse.  An abridged version was also published in the New York Times/ International Herald Tribune on 25th August 2011.


Comments on: Britain's Liberal Riots

Gravatar Joy 11 January 2013
The new road to serfdom for the bottom half of Britons has seem their liquid capital and savings vanish (in 1976 the bottom 50% had 12% of wealth excluding property in 2003 it was 1%) and the value of their wages as a proportion of GDP stagnate or decline
Reply
Gravatar Joy 11 January 2013
The new road to serfdom for the bottom half of Britons has seem their liquid capital and savings vanish (in 1976 the bottom 50% had 12% of wealth excluding property in 2003 it was 1%) and the value of their wages as a proportion of GDP stagnate or decline
Reply
Gravatar Joy 21 December 2012
The new road to serfdom for the bottom half of Britons has seem their liquid capital and savings vanish (in 1976 the bottom 50% had 12% of wealth excluding property in 2003 it was 1%) and the value of their wages as a proportion of GDP stagnate or decline
Reply
Gravatar Joy 18 December 2012
Thirty years ago poor unskilled working class kids could at least get jobs in shops or factories however under neo-liberal migration policies – these youths have been wholly outcompeted by hard working and or highly skilled new migrants, an astounding 99.
Reply
Gravatar adidas 06 December 2012
Probability of using pros and cons for ultimate topic stated as above is difficult in nature due to the crux of theme that writer wants to foucs infront of the e-media. But I am much concerned with financial aspects and think about the life in circle of f
Reply
Gravatar vietnamese girls 05 December 2012
I am interested in this subject matter and would like to explore out some more information as my colleague need information on this topic. r/>r/>http://www.idateaisa.com
Reply
Gravatar vietnamese girls 05 December 2012
I am interested in this subject matter and would like to explore out some more information as my colleague need information on this topic. r/>r/>http://www.idateaisa.com
Reply
Gravatar ugg boots black friday 2012 28 November 2012
I will book mark this web site with regard to foreseeable future viewing 88wjihuyeghg9. r/>r/>http://www.uggbootswolaile.net/
Reply
Gravatar Research Paper Writing 26 October 2012
Great blog! I really love how it"s easy on my eyes as well as the facts are well written. I am wondering how I might be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your RSS feed which ought to do the trick! Have a nice day!r/>r/
Reply
Gravatar here 01 February 2012
Its not the geostationary that commonwealth moldiness be completely fused with communicator"s views neighboring musing. So this is what happened with me, anyways its a jazz toil, I revalue it. Thanksr/>r/>r/>http://www.insideyourrv.com/
Reply
Gravatar here 01 February 2012
Interestingly neither side feels entirely comfortable with its initial analysis, in its more reflective moments the right feels rightly it is more than simple law-breaking, it considers family breakdown and the consequent loss of social morality as a prime causational factor; while the left in the face of the manifest criminality of the rioters" behaviour, has struggled with its instinctive intuitionhttp://www.insideyourrv.com/r/>
Reply
Gravatar Malcolm Rasala 07 September 2011
"no guiding motive or burning issue of injustice" So the shooting dead of a young man by the police is for Philip Blond "no guiding motive or burning issue of injustice". Wonder how Blond would have felt if it had been his son or brother or boyfriend or father?
Reply
Gravatar Reality 07 September 2011
Why did Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight (BBC2 6 Sept) call Philip Blond "a self-styled think tank"? He then listened seemingly in incredulity at Mr Blond"s high pitched utterings. At times, Paxman, seemingly was laughing at Mr Blond. No respect there we the audience thought. Does Mr Paxman know something about Mr Blond we should be told?
Reply
Gravatar xbox 360 games bundle 07 September 2011
Riots have been the only options for those people whom wanted to fight for their right. Riot in Britain is very much violent and it disturbed a lot of people there. Not only that they could fight with that police but the people have damaged a lot of property.r/>r/>http://www.xbox360gamesbundles.com/
Reply
Gravatar property india 04 September 2012
@wendel hampton: Thanks for this informative post. It help me a lot. And it gave mo ideas on how to make more money in marketing business. I hope lots of people visit this site so they can easily learn this informative post.r/>r/>http://hotindianprope
Reply
Gravatar property india 04 September 2012
@wendel hampton: Thanks for this informative post. It help me a lot. And it gave mo ideas on how to make more money in marketing business. I hope lots of people visit this site so they can easily learn this informative post.r/>r/>http://hotindianprope
Reply
Gravatar Sean Linklater 08 September 2011
@xbox 360 games bundle: Why are some people pretending or blind to the first cause of the riots. As todays Times (page 3 reports) the taxi driver who witnessed the police shooting of Mark Duggan has said "he should not have been shot". The Times goes on "Clasford Stirling who is advising the Met about feelins in the community, added "Those who were sitting on the fence (waiting for the IPCC report) ain"t sitting on the fence no more. They say it is a lie and a cover-up There is a lot of anger and we, the community, are going to be caught in the melee....there is so much tension andissues about police harassment that its very very tough". Middle class tut tutting and generalisations as above are silly and not worthy of educated minds. Do not shoot innocent people (what crime was this young man committing?) and we will not suffer such riots. Injustice inevitably and maybe rightly elicits an over the top and equally criminal reaction.
Reply
Gravatar Megan Teng 07 September 2011
@Mark Macho: Philip Blond seems to decry the breakdown of marriage but says nothing about the example of marriage breakdowns of his beloved monarchy. Charles Windsor divorced and sleeping with another man"s wife while she was still married). Anne Windsor divorced. Andrew Windsor divorced. Margaret Windsor divorced. And so it goes on.r/>r/>If marriage is as wonderful as Mr Blond suggests, why cannot his royal family make it work? Why? Because in many cases marriager/>is bad and not the institution he and his friends crow it is. Check out how many Conservative politicians are divorced. But how they theyr/>look down on a East London estate divorce and criticise the consequences. You are right Mr Macho they fork tongued.
Reply
Gravatar Mark Macho 07 September 2011
Mr. Blond"s arguments smack of the old freedom license argument.r/>If a result is approved of it is christened freedom. If disapproved of wer/>call it license. Times change and many social disasters are christened revolutions. And Mr. Blond would like to rechristen some social revolutions disasters. Nothing new in that. Nothing new in riots of underlings. Or profligacy of the rich. r/>r/>Mr. Blond suggests that Monarch and Lords and Church as institutions created by privilege know something that others do not.r/>What they know is privilege. The rich are not like the rest of us. They have more money. The life of the heir to the throne has beenr/>as maritally chaotic as anyone"s. Families have been broken. Butr/>there is enough money for all and houses for jilted partners andr/>spare offspring.r/>r/>If values were really communal we would worry more about life"sr/>unfairness, that even two clever people both working hard andr/>studying hard could fare as differently as they do in the income stakes, let alone those less hardworking. And we would certainlyr/>not be supporting privileges that allow some to make as many mistakes as everyone else yet seem to have made none at all.r/>r/>Virtue and worldly success usually work out as two separate things.r/>The virtuous may succeed because of their virtue but not always.r/>Mr. Blond knows this and merely wishes it were true more often.r/>O tempores! O mores!r/>r/>r/>r/>r/>r/>r/>www.10muses.com
Reply
Gravatar wendel hampton 07 September 2011
Maybe the 7 million living alone want to live alone. Has anybody asked them if they are unhappy? Today sex is free; you can go out a find a bonk and then go home and enjoy your own company without the burden of a partner. Surely arguing that only the family unit brings personal happiness is very passed-its-sell-by-date thinking. This writer should enter the 21st century.:
Reply

Join the discussion Have opinions on this matter? Why not get involved and comment on this below.

Become a Member Joining ResPublica give you an exclusive amount of features. Gain early access to ResPublica events, contribute to topics and much more.

Detailed Summary

Date Published
30 August 2011

About The Authors

Phillip Blond

Phillip is an internationally recognised political thinker and social and economic commentator. He bridges the gap bet...