It must be said of the Left that they have it all over the Right when it comes to rock music. I’m unaware of any economically liberal equivalent of The Clash, who, it would seem in the wake of the London riots, matter again.
As an avowedly Leftist band, the argument they put forward in White Riot in favour of the oppressed both throwing off their chains and throwing a brick through someone else’s window is broadly similar to the justification today’s Left are putting forward in defence of the rioters in London.
At its essence, the argument today, and that advanced by Strummer et al, is that middle and upper class people have more stuff than lower class people, and that this makes those in the lower class jealous. They don’t have jobs, and the system is geared against them, so they shouldn’t be expected to work. Unless the government redistributes wealth from the productive to the non-productive at levels sufficient to achieve near equality, their self restraint will inevitably collapse. When it does, the reasonable desire for a bigger plasma screen and youthful exuberance will naturally result in a certain degree of collateral damage.
Although I didn’t see the riots coming, I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. There is a high density of idle youth are not in the habit of exercising restraint. They are envious of the (perceived) material wealth of others, but cannot see their way to the legitimate acquisition of any wealth of their own. Although some of those arrested had jobs, I doubt very much whether these riots would have taken place without high rates of unemployment among the young. Idle hands have long been known to cause trouble.
Like Europe in 1914, the conditions were such that all that was required was a spark. And, just as in 1914, once the spark was struck the opportunity for a spot of exciting violence was too good to pass up. As Theodore Dalrymple says, it’s fun to smash things.
Unless one believes that members of the underclass are a species of automaton, unable to feel an urge without it be acted on, it is the rioters themselves who are the most to blame for this mess. That assertion is, however, somewhat facile, since it serves as no guide to future action for those of us more inclined to moderate our urge to smash things. It did seem, however, like a point worth making before I move on to blame the government.
I do not think that, with the number of bureaucrats employed in London to analyse and develop social policy, it would have been hard to foresee that a large, densely packed population of idle young men with minimal education and a hostile attitude to society at large might represent a threat to social order at some point. The inevitability of the growth of this population could have been foreseen simply by analysing the incentives created by paying young people to remain idle and to breed, and by pricing them out of the employment market. I think that Dalrymple is on the money when he says:
“How anyone could have missed the aggressive malignity inscribed in the faces and manner of so many young men in Britain is a mystery to me. Perhaps, like Dr Watson, our political and intellectual class saw but did not observe; and they did not observe because they lacked the moral courage to attempt anything but appeasement.”
To the extent that successive British governments have not had the courage to tackle the growth of the underclass, they are culpable in this tragedy. As is their wont, the Left are drawing the opposite lesson; that it is ever greater appeasement of the feckless and idle that is required of society. Given their chance to put this lesson into practice, they will earn their share of the blame for the next such tragedy.