Britain has descended into chaos. A nation once famous for its civility has degenerated into an orgy of rioting, burning, and looting. Shops are smashed, pillaged, and burned. Shopkeepers and homeowners are attacked and even killed. There are many contributing factors but virtually no rationalization or justifications for what commentators insist on attributing to “deprivation.” Yet the intelligentsia insists, as the BBC did recently, on describing the rioters as “protesters,” an open admission that Britain’s political ideology is a major contributor to the mayhem. Even the conservative press avoids giving offense. Mary Riddell in the Daily Telegraph writes that more welfare “is the only solution.”
The leftist spin is not simply misguided; it perpetuates and exacerbates the problem, blinding us to the clear indications that civilization is unraveling.
While the left unyieldingly insists on finding underlying social causes for all problems, it studiously avoids the most basic of social causes. Certainly there are several disturbing trends contributing to this anomie: the decline in educational standards and school discipline and the deterioration of the criminal justice system, for example. Yet what stands far above the rest is the breakdown of the family. These rioters are all young (some as young as eight), and many commentators compare their rampage to the social bedlam depicted in Lord of the Flies. Virtually all come from single-mother homes, and in many cases we are now seeing the third and fourth generation of children growing up without fathers. “We are not up against merely feral children,” writes Melanie Phillips. “We are up against feral parents.”
Only recently has this destructive pathology penetrated a larger public consciousness. “Where were their parents?” asks Allison Pearson (also in the Telegraph), albeit in impeccably correct gender-neutral terms. She then recounts tales of single mothers unable or unwilling to control their children.
Gavin Poole of the Centre for Social Justice, a pro-family think tank, likewise arrives at the obvious truth almost apologetically, pointing to a host of social causes:
As wrong and unacceptable as it is, they project anarchy in public because it is what surrounds them at home. Many will have never known stable parenting or fatherhood role models. . . . Many of them face a life on benefits in ghettos scarred by poor housing and street gangs, completely devoid of aspiration. In such communities, they have been written off by society...
Jonathan Bellamy of the Christian group Cross Rhythms is more direct. The rioters are not “scum,” as armchair moralists suggest. “They are the fatherless.”
As usual, it is Phillips who gets to the heart of the matter: “The parents know their children are out on the streets. Of course they see them staggering back with what they have looted. But either they are too drunk or drugged or otherwise out of it to care, or they are helping themselves to the proceeds too.” In a scathing spread in the Daily Mail, Phillips lays out the case that the riots can be laid squarely at the door of the great feminist experiment in single motherhood:
The single most crucial factor behind all this mayhem, behind the total breakdown of any control or self-control amongst the rampaging gangs of children and teenagers who are rioting, burning, robbing, stealing, attacking and murdering, is the willed removal of the most important thing that socialises children and turns them from feral savages into civilised citizens: a fully committed, hands-on, there-every-day father.”
To mention this is to invite cries of indignation about “trapping” women in “bad marriages,” and while few would deny that such cases exist, any policeperson will attest that fatherless youth are behind virtually every social problem, from violent crime to substance abuse to an even greater proliferation of unwed pregnancies in the next generation. Socioeconomic status, interestingly, has little to do with these ominous social outcomes: affluent children without fathers are much more likely to get into trouble than low-income children from two-parent families.
Yet the left (especially the feminist left) continues its formulaic attack on “markets,” “inequality,” and “racism.” The deputy leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Harriet Harman, whom Phillips describes as foremost among the “ultra-feminists” and “one of the principal forces in the Labour government behind the promotion of lone parenthood and the marginalization of fathers,” blames government budget cuts. Harman voices the same entitlement mentality that led to the riots in the first place, citing the spending reductions that Britain (and the U.S.) must make if it is to restore solvency and avoid the financial crisis enveloping Ireland and its other neighbors. In this sense, the feminist welfare lobby is helping to drive both social and financial turmoil.
It’s important to understand that the riots sweeping Britain do not represent simply a few wayward youth. It signifies, rather, that society itself is descending into a dangerous spiral, with an elite ideology encouraging the popular disorder, and the disorder itself perversely rationalizing the ideology.
After all of the destructiveness in Britain, only hardcore ideologues can still share Harman’s adolescent understanding of events. Yet these ideologues control most established institutions: media, universities, the judiciary and criminal justice system. It is difficult to see how anything short of a grassroots revolution can get us out of this, yet in Britain, at least, the conservative mass of society is hardly disposed to popular insurrection. Indeed, revolt is the problem.
With the Archbishop of Canterbury conspicuously silent, it is Phillips, a secular Jew, who calls for a return to “Biblical morality.” To unbelievers, of course, attributing all this to our defection from God sounds like a cliché, even as their own inflexible, political religion offers no plausible alternative, and is indeed itself a major part of the problem. Secular conservatives offer little more, connecting the spreading moral chaos to “social causes” that lie in all of us.
The truth is rooted, rather, in a spiritual reality that profoundly reflects universal biblical principles: the fatherlessness spiral darkly illustrates how each generation’s afflictions are indeed inherited from the last one and in turn descend to the next. The lack of family values among the rioters is intensified by the social expression of the elites’ anti-family ideology, and their rebellions feed upon one another; homeowners, shopkeepers, and “vigilantes” who confront the rioters themselves end up clashing with the police and even with one another.
In this fog of Hobbesian war, no secular ideology can point the way. The Bible teaches us that the sins of one generation will indeed poison the next and that the most civilized societies and individuals will descend into savagery if given the chance. It teaches us that none are free from responsibility and that even the most “ingenious” human solutions are likely to inflame the situation.
Without this understanding, we are reduced to unproductive lamenting and pointless, self-righteous moralizing.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It is also the beginning of what Britain and the rest of the Western world need now: to stop bemoaning and blaming and undertake constructive action to restore the family, along with Britain’s other once-proud institutions. Faith in God is what made Britain great and gave her the civility we all once admired. It is also what will save our civilization from its downward spiral.
Stephen Baskerville is associate professor of government at Patrick Henry College and author of Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family (Cumberland House, 2007). Read full bio.