Dear English Rioter

Dear English Rioter,

I suppose it wasn’t hard to learn how to fill light bulbs with ammonia (nasty stuff). But how did you bring yourself to throw that first one into a policeman’s face? You knew it was going to cause pain, probably lasting injury, maybe even blindness. Yet you could, and did, still throw it.

Does the harm and misery that you caused bother you, even a little? I do not ask for effect, I really want to know. Do you think you should be punished for this attack on another man, or do you think you should escape responsibility? That, somehow, society owes it to you to let you maim and wound other people?

Your picture was in the paper. Your face was obscured by a mask, but I could see the rest of you. Expensive jeans, stylish tennis shoes (or is it “trainers”?), a nice warm jacket. I should have said, “stuffed into a warm jacket” because you appear well fed. You had a backpack and carried a cell phone, a convenient tool that let you keep in contact with your brother protesters.

It’s not clear what made you want to hurt another man, but if I read the sign you carried correctly, it’s because you worked yourself into a froth because some people have more money and possessions than you do. You have forgotten that nearly all of these people with more are much older than you, have been working their entire lives, and necessarily have more because of this. The proper comparison is with others—those who stayed at home and did not try to cause grief and misery—of your own age group and inexperience.

It’s also true that you yourself have enough to live comfortably; you are in no danger of starvation or exposure. And there’s that cell phone, what most people in the world would consider a luxury good. Who’s paying the bill for that, your parents? Though I didn’t see it (because it wasn’t in the paper), I imagine you are well equipped with a computer and other electronic trinkets.

It was said by many of the “protesters” who had broken into stores to steal and destroy what wasn’t theirs that they were angry that the Government was proposing, and had already implemented a small number of, “cutbacks.” The logic of the Government is simple: the State is running a deficit and hasn’t the money to pay for a lot of perquisites demanded by you and your brother protesters. Since the vault is empty, there is nothing to hand out. It’s the old story: you can’t give what you don’t have (unless you cheat or lie).

The Government proposes shaving a percentage of the money it gives to “quangos” (honestly, I’ll never master British English), which are “quasi-non-governmental organisations financed by the state and linked to the civil service.” Two of these quangos are the Youth Justice Board and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. As noble as these organizations undoubtedly are, and even though you can’t agree with the cutbacks, do you really think it was worth injuring another human being because the Youth Justice Board will see a slight, and probably temporary, diminution of funds?

I think the real reason you are incensed is because the Government is planning on asking people to pay more for their own college: not pay for all of it, but just “more”: and not a lot more, just a little. Many youth (even in my country) feel that the Government owes them this leisure time, that they should be given free education, merely because they exist.

You might have noticed that I have capitalized “Government”. I did this because you do. “Government”, to you, is a mythical paternalistic entity which is all powerful and capable of illimitable love and beneficence, but which has been (somehow) infected by a parasite (“Taken over by the rich”). You think that if these “rich” can be removed, the money and creature comforts that you feel are owed to you will be restored.

The people that man this Government, weak and anxious to avoid bloodshed, will probably accede to your petulance. And they will eventually come to believe as you do. All will cease to believe the government is made up of people, and will see it as something that exists for itself. The government will become The Government, as in “The Government needs to take care of its people.” History says that there will always be men ready to step in and assume the power so willingly given to them. By you.

Looking forward to hearing from you,



  1. Ray

    Socialism is belief in the fantasy that we can all live high on the hog at everybody else’s expense. When reality intrudes, i.e., there isn’t anymore money, believers in the fantasy react with a temper tantrum. They’re like a little kid who had their ice cream cone taken away.

  2. William Sears

    I believe that the most cogent explanation of this behaviour is given by Robert Sheaffer in his book “Resentment Against Achievement” subtitled “Understanding the Assault upon Ability” published by Prometheus Books in 1988. Such an attitude produces a complete reversal of normal moral calculation. In this case those who work hard and contribute to society are considered the moral inferiors to the indolent and the destructive. The latter are then styled as victims of, whom else, the successful and the productive. This is the real meaning of the phrase “Social Justice”, which was invented to hide this ugly fact.

  3. MikeG

    A rule of thumb which serves me well is that any noun preceded by the adjective “social” has the opposite meaning to that which is implied. Even more so if the noun is abstract.

  4. George Steiner

    Perhaps I can explain the violent protest behaviour to the ever-so well meaning but pretend-ignorant.

    Braking glass windows is funn. Looting is funn. Beeting up people is funn. If you can justify it with Marxist/Trotskiist/Maoist fervour all the better.

    But above all when you can do it at no cost to you, that is the best.

  5. a jones

    George Steiner says:
    27 March 2011 at 1:45 pm

    You are largely correct Sir.

    The love of mayhem runs deep in the English Psyche. Hence our splendidly named bovver boots: so well suited to that purpose.

    Any convenient excuse will do from a football match to a demonstration, the signs and placards are mere camouflage to blend in with the crowd.

    There is no political imperative, or indeed belief, the aim is to cause a bit of bovver and with luck some profitable looting too.

    These boys have gone by various names down the centuries, back in the 1970’s they were called Rentamob, but the name hardly matters. It is a fine old English tradition that reminds our rulers of just how tenuous their authority really is.

    As such long may it continue.

    Kindest Regards

  6. John M

    Anyone else notice this somewhat curious caption?:

    “Civil disobedience: Demonstrators use a giant road sign to smash through a plate glass window at the Ritz Hotel”

    Ghandi must be rolling in his grave…

  7. The problem facing “Brit Bovver Boys” is their rioting didn’t quite reach to the level of Wisconsin’s school teachers. How wussified is that? Maybe because they live too close to the French? They have become Euro-ized and are no longer scary. They may need to move to Oz and develop chest hair or give up where they are and begin using eye shadow and moisturizer.

  8. GT

    where is a Dalek when you need one?

  9. Speed

    The breakaway group that headed for Piccadilly had evidently chosen their target, or “secret location”, well in advance: the grocers to Her Majesty, Fortnum & Mason.

    Fortnums is owned by the Weston family, which probably ranks third behind the Wellcome Foundation and all the Sainsbury trusts added together in the amount of money it gives away – yes, gives away in addition to the tax it pays – to exactly the causes that are close to the heart of UKUncut and the services that it was supposedly marching to maintain. suggests that they think the answer to our debt crisis is more spending. In fact, they don’t think we have much of a debt crisis. They want higher taxes, particularly for the rich, whom they expect to wait around meekly to be fleeced. And they insist that higher state expenditure (”investment”) will create more jobs. Why so half-hearted, comrades? Why not go all the way, nationalise every business, place every adult on the state payroll and confiscate all income? By your logic, it would surely make Britain the most prosperous country on Earth.

    The Treasury statistics are unambiguous. Total public spending has risen in every month since the coalition was formed. During the seven months that followed the general election, spending was £23.3 billion higher than during the equivalent period twelve months previously, an increase of seven per cent.

    So there you have it. They are rioting against a financial benefactor to charities. Their solution to the financial crisis is to raise taxes. And … spending has gone up, not down.

    Rioting is an admission of political powerlessness. And being politically powerless in a democracy means you ain’t got the votes.

  10. TomVonk

    When rabble is marching in the streets attempting at murder and theft while staying unpunished , history tells us unambiguously that one of two finishes by happening sooner or later .
    Revolution or counterrevolution .
    Revolution means that the unprincipled rabble self proclaims itself government in order to loot and murder with the law’s sanction .
    This lasts only a short time as those of the rabble who enjoy the government’s power of army and police generally lack the scruples of their democratic predecessors and mass-slaughter their brothers in arms with alacrity and efficiency .
    Robespierre , Danton , Saint Juste went from guillotiners to guillotined in an eyeblink .
    Obviously . Those unfettered don’t intend to share their new found wealth with anybody .
    Counterrevolution means that the people give mandate to a brand new party or individual to forget behaving nicely for a moment and to finish off the rabble .
    While the actual process is very similar , revolution and counterrevolution are not symmetrical/opposite of each other .
    Depending on one’s preferences for a rather indiscriminate chaotic violence or for one more organised and ordered , one becomes revolutionary or counterrevolutionary .
    Unfortunately the country of my fathers has known both and I can tell you that neither is pretty .
    But I am afraid that , like the philosopher said , history stutters .

  11. Ken

    Seems that the Government (capital “gee”) there IS somewhat paternalistic. One cannot really defend oneself from being mugged or having one’s home invaded & broken into. And that Government HAS made paternalistic promises & assurances–overtly & by implication.

    Then, out of necessity, it has to renig a bit. In response that kinder, gentler paternalistic Government got, to some extent, partly to be sure, exactly what it nurtured, the tantrums of a spoiled dependent — spoiled dependents it nurtured & cultivated over years.

  12. AndrewK

    maybe the Brit riotbois are just jealous of all the good press their brothers-in-spirit in Lybia, Egypt, Yemen etc have been getting of late. It seems violent revolution is back in fashion and supported by most civilized govts and bloggers unless it is on their own high street of course

  13. Youth in Revolt. Shades of the Khmer Rouge, or A Clockwork Orange. No good will come of this. The adults who aided and abetted are shameful. If there is a privileged class, it made up of dependents and retainers, and whose fault is that?

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