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London's Burning Social Contract

Government has lost any moral right to disarm civilians.

By Petrarch  |  August 11, 2011

We are all by now aware of the massive riots that have been burning London and other English cities for the past several days.

The phenomenon of a rioting underclass and a pusillanimous police unwilling to hit thugs with anything harder than pillows is hardly new.  France seems to have become used to the torching of several hundred cars per month, more when it's hot.  Moscow has the same problem.

Whenever there's a major sports victory or defeat almost anywhere in the world save Asia, a destructive riot ensues.  America is now seeing marauding armies intending racial violence unprompted by even a tenuous triggering event.

The argument over the causes is the same as we've heard for the past half-century - poverty, bad education, and racism, the hardy perennial liberal lies.  The solutions proffered are the same failed ones: more money, more social programs, more preferences for the incompetent, more tolerance of the intolerable.

Forget all that.  What went up in smoke in London was not a store here, a warehouse there, or a car round the corner, but something far more important: the Western social contract that's held for centuries but is now in its death throes.

The King's Peace, In Pieces

We've all learned from Hollywood that life in the Middle Ages was nasty, brutish, and short.  At any time, an invading army might arrive to burn down your village and murder your family.  In between invasions, highwaymen and bandits roamed the land.

The wise commoner stayed near home, in the partial safety of neighbors who knew and trusted each other.  Those who had to travel did so only with armed protection, preferably their own.

Over time, as government grew and became more organized, the king desired to exert a monopoly on violence - that is, to allow only his officers to beat people up, and only at his command.  This has grown into the modern desire for control of guns and other weapons - after all, you don't need a gun when you can summon armed cops to your defense, now, do you?

Like any contract, the social contract of violence had two sides.  Western civilians have mostly given up their armaments and their readiness to use them, but in exchange for the government's promise of protection.

All but the most extreme libertarians don't think private individuals need to own fully-armed tanks and missile launchers for self-defense.  Why?  Because we all trust the Army to defend us from anyone else who is so equipped.

What if it wasn't?  What if the Army wasn't able to protect us from an invading army?  Then wouldn't you feel better having your own tank, or your town had a handful of them under the authority of the Mayor, dedicated purely to protecting your hometown?

For well over a century, England and the United States have become accustomed to the contract being upheld on both sides.  The Wild West permitted individuals to have and to use weapons of any sort because organized law and order had not arrived to defend the innocent; as the cavalry, marshals and sheriffs extended the writ of law, it was thought that the need for every man to be armed at all times diminished.  Unfortunately, crimes against women have increased since women gave up their right of self-defense.

England even reached the point where the police didn't need weapons, so great was their moral force and the confidence in swift retribution against any criminal.

Alas, for several decades now that retribution has not been there.  Criminals walk off scot-free while the law-abiding are berated for defending themselves or "not understanding their culture."  Is it any wonder that the police are no longer obeyed?

For this, we have to thank four decades of politically correct policing, and a gradual breakdown of the informal network of authority figures that once provided an additional element of control over the bad behaviour of young people. Adults are now reluctant, or too scared, to step in and stop things getting out of hand, or to impose a wider moral code – and in any case, they are no longer listened to. Deference to age and authority has been eroded by years of genuflection to the twin gods of multiculturalism and community cohesion.

The police, bludgeoned by criticism for the way they handled the Brixton riots 30 years ago and the Stephen Lawrence murder in 1994, have become more like social workers than upholders of law and order.

For days on end the London police don't seem to have even tried to protect the innocent.  Urgent phone calls for help went unanswered until daylight, if then.  For the first two days, the innocent were entirely at the mercy of the criminals, subject to whatever depravities they chose to inflict.  Even now, the British government is reluctant to authorize any sort of an armed response, in a situation where any sane person knows "shoot to kill" is the only effective way to stop a looting mob in its tracks.

It can take a little while to undo the conditioning of a century of peace. but people aren't stupid, and not everyone is a sheep.  England still has outrageously strict laws against personal gun ownership, but the British are doing what they can:

Aluminum bats, police nightsticks and other weapons dominated the "movers and shakers" list of hot-selling items in's Sports shop on Tuesday as riots spread across Britain for the third day... One of the top items, an aluminum baseball bat, gained a whopping 6,541% on its "sales rank" over the past 24 hours.

If there was no expectation of police protection, wouldn't you arm yourself to the best of your ability?  A bat may not stop a bullet or a mob, but it's better than nothing.

Of course, anyone doing combat can expect casualties: three neighbors defending their community were murdered while “doing the job of the police” - reportedly by a carload of looters that drove up on the sidewalk to run them down.  Much more of this, and citizens will demand the right to properly equip themselves with firearms and military-style defenses - and not before time!

Could this happen in the United States?  It already has happened in those places where the citizenry has been disarmed, like Chicago and the Milwaukee State Fair.

Where you have a highly effective, honest, diligent and disciplined police dedicated to stopping lawbreakers in their tracks, liberals have a point: individuals don't really need to be armed.  The problem is that a half-century of liberalism has ensured that we don't have such a police force.

Having failed to provide thoroughgoing police protection, Western governments have no right to stop honest men from defending themselves and their families by whatever means is required.

The social contract has been broken; citizens now bear the responsibility of their own defense.  It's time our laws recognized this, and insofar as they don't, the laws of England as of Chicago are unjust, immoral, and tyrannical.