UK Riots and Malaise in the West

“So while there’s nothing wrong with our country, there is something wrong with our politics, and that’s what we’ve got to fix.”  Thus proclaimed President Obama in his first official trip outside the beltway in a month, having been confined to Washington, D.C. to deal with the debt crisis.  Two days after Obama’s speech, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced his candidacy for the Presidency, including this observation:  “America is not broken.Washington, D.C. is broken.”

In my view, both Obama and Perry are dead wrong on the first half of their equation.  Yes, the polity has been derailed, led by corrupt and obtuse politicians.  But the economy has also jumped the tracks, and culturally the country is a tragedy worse than any train wreck.

To be critical of the culture is taboo among mainstream politicians ever since Jimmy Carter’s poorly received malaise speech of 1979.  Carter went ahead with his address 13 months after his First Lady weighed in against Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s commencement address at Harvard, with its constructive criticism for the West.  Looking askance through her rose-colored glasses, Rosalynn Carter had countered, “[T]he people of this country are not weak, not cowardly, and not spiritually exhausted.”  In the same Pollyanna-like spirit we now have Perry and Obama, backed by Republicrat spin doctors.  They tell us that it’s just a governmental problem; the country itself is okay – don’t worry.

Across the Atlantic, however, London’s worst rioting in living memory may be having some salutary effects.  The Prime Minister, David Cameron, seems to be awakening to the reality of social malaise.  He has begun speaking of a “broken society,” and of a “slow motion moral collapse” in Britain.  Addressing a youth club, August 15th, Cameron outlined plans for a police crackdown, but he added this caveat:  “Our security fight-back must be matched by a social fight-back.”  He pledged to create “stronger families, stronger communities and a stronger society” (LA Times 8/15/2011).

A related point was made by a member of the British parliament, John McDonnell.  He was right on the mark when he told Reuters that, “a society of looters created with MPs and their expenses, bankers and their bonuses, tax-evading corporations, hacking journalists, bribe-taking police officers, and now a group of alienated kids are seizing their chance.”  Or as the British writer, Daniel Hind, observed, “The same politicians now denouncing the mindless violence of the mob all supported a system of political economy that was as unstable as it was pernicious. They should have known that their policies would lead to disaster. They didn’t know. Who then is more mindless?”

The same could be said about American financiers who have put the stability and prosperity of our own economy in jeopardy.  Or of militant secularists who work fiendishly to transform society into a spiritual wasteland.  Or of our cultural commissars on the U.S. Federal Bench who have checked every attempt to keep moral decadence — pornography, sodomy, abortion, to name a few examples — from defacing America the Beautiful and despoiling her beyond recognition.

As a current case in point, the Federal Judiciary with jurisdiction over Florida is siding yet again with the ACLU in seeking to rid the public square of ethical lighthouses, whenever their illumination happens to shine forth from our Judeo-Christian tradition.  At the courthouse in Cross City, FL, the Ten Commandments monument is now slated for removal, notwithstanding that the small town opposes the eviction with virtual unanimity.

But since the Warren Court went on the rampage in the 1960’s, our black-robed politburo has routinely disregarded “the consent of the governed” — a foundational principle of the Republic. All polls indicate opposition by a majority of the American public to the removal of religion from public life, and yet the process has been inexorably advancing for decades, despite the fact that “we the people” dissented and continue to disapprove.

An unintended by-product of the policy of militant secularism is that young rioters in London were quite undiscriminating in selecting their targets, and utterly oblivious to the distinction between the victims and the perpetrators of postmodern tyranny.  Godlessness in the public square is bearing its inevitable, bitter fruit.  As Teddy Roosevelt put it, “To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”

Yielding to the passions is encouraged by postmodern society, rather than adhering to the virtues and practicing self-denial as per the principles of old time religion.  As Alexis De Tocqueville put it:  “It is not liberty but tyranny that can survive without faith….  How is it possible for a society to avoid destruction unless moral restraint binds more tightly in proportion as political bonds are more relaxed?” (Democracy In America 1:308).

In the UK, the powers-that-be showed themselves as ignorant of this truth as the equivalent class in the US, at least until the riots opened some eyes.  I refer here to the bipartisan political class, which cuts across all party affiliations.  In the United States it is identified in various surveys of public opinion conducted by Rasmussen Reports.

With a little more introspection, the governing class in Britain might also be prompted to revisit the works of their famous fellow countryman, John Milton.   In his immortal Paradise Lost (book XII, 1.87-93), Milton summarizes the process whereby departure from right reason begets riotous conduct, followed by political tyranny:  “Reason in man obscured, or not obeyed, immediately inordinate desires and upstart passions catch the government from reason, and to servitude reduce man till then free.  Therefore since he permits within himself unworthy power to reign over free reason, God in judgment just subjects him from without to violent lords.”

Milton puts into verse the ancient process of social degeneration.  Just as with Gresham’s law of economics — bad money drives out the good — so with freedom: the parodies of liberty drive out the genuine commodity.  Less than two years after the downfall of Communism in Russia, John-Paul II traveled to the newly emerging democracies of the former USSR to warn of the “enormous contradictions” and risks of democracy when it is insufficiently rooted in ethical responsibility.

License they mean when they cry liberty; for
who loves that must first be wise and good.
John Milton, On the Detraction II.

These are timeless principles that transcend the ages.  But America’s postmodern regime tends to disregard the wisdom of the past and to dismiss the lessons of history.   Thus they resemble the Jacobins of the French Revolution, in that “all the past was loathsome to them, all their agreeable associations were connected to the future” (Macaulay).

Unless we can mount a viable resistance to such a regime, our children and grandchildren are doomed to experience an Orwellian Animal Farm compared to which the rioting in London will, I fear, look like a picnic.

(© 2011 Robert Struble, Jr.)

Bob Struble is a retired history teacher, and a writer of books, articles and poems. He is Lecturer for the Knights of Columbus in Bremerton WA, and is an associate editor at Catholic Lane.
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