Chronicling Britain’s Decline

Readers of Theodore Dalrymple will know him as the erudite chronicler of British social decline for the last two decades. He has tackled a distasteful job that few other intellectuals are willing to touch. Commenting recently on the massive riots that have hit England this month, he castigates the welfare state aristocracy for its irresponsibility:

The ferocious criminality exhibited by an uncomfortably large section of the English population during the current riots has not surprised me in the least…. To have spotted it required no great perspicacity on my part; rather, it took a peculiar cowardly blindness, one regularly displayed by the British intelligentsia and political class, not to see it and not to realize its significance. There is nothing that an intellectual less likes to change than his mind, or a politician his policy.

Even before this latest bout of anarchy, Britain had set itself up for mob rule with years of subsidized irresponsibility and criminality. As Dalrymple explains, “long experience of impunity has taught the rioters that they have nothing to fear from the law, which in England has become almost comically lax—except, that is, for the victims of crime.”

As I discovered from trips to the UK during college, famed British civility had given way to vulgarity and thuggery. Even more corrosive than the nihilism of youth cults, which might have remained on the fringes of a normal society, was the impact of socialist planning following World War II. Unlike the United States, where the welfare system came later and was confined to the inner city (with similar destructive effects), the “dole” in Britain was widespread and comprised large numbers of native whites—also revealing that cultural decline is not a racial but a moral phenomenon.

It is worth comparing the response to modern mayhem with the London Gordon Riots of 1780. Back then the violent demonstrators were efficiently subdued. Over 200 rioters were shot by the army and 30 ringleaders were later tried and executed. Unlike today, this was done to the acclaim of the British intelligentsia. Even the radical MP John Wilkes led troops against the mob. How a society confronts anarchic threats is a mark of its health. It is a reminder that barbarism only thrives when a society and its leaders are weak.

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