Saturday, August 27, 2011

the riots and moral relativism

The most insightful analysis of the causes of the recent English riots highlights the role of moral relativism. Encouragingly, this was shared by the Prime Minister. Even though he did not acknowledge where the absolutes would be derived. Another perspective is to see something of the symptoms that engulfed the declining Roman Empire as corroding the West into collapse. If we think this is melodramatic we might consider a decent summary of Gibbon's five basic reasons, as summarised by Tieman H. Dippel in The New Legacy:

  1. The sanctity and dignity of the home were undermined.
  2. Taxation became higher and higher, with public money being spent for free bread and circuses for the people.
  3. There was a mad craze for pleasure and violence, and sports became more exciting, brutal, and immoral as people grew increasingly desensitized.
  4. Armaments were built when the real enemy was the decay of individual responsibility.  
  5. Religion degenerated into mere form and lost its touch with life and no longer had the power to guide people in spiritual directions.
Gibbon speaks generally of the decline in civic virtue as much as economic collapse. It appears that factors 2 and 3 were linked with the boredom of thousands of unemployed Romans who were prone to civil unrest and rioting in the streets. They were bought off by the politicians through free bread and circuses. A rather weak argument has been made that there is a link between the English riots and taxation, because some of the rioters thought they were "getting their taxes back" (even though it will put £100m on the tax bill).