Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots II

I dashed off something last night on the London riots making the point that civilization is something of a bluff.  Via Instapundit, I see Richard Fernandez echoeing that point:

"Since no police force has the numbers to be everywhere at once, it maintains order through the force of its name, the power of the uniform. This was once known as ‘prestige’; today it is better known as ‘legitimacy’.  Although as insubstantial as air it is as vital as oxygen. Without it things become very dificult. Once the authorities begin [to] lose their prestige they must rely ever more heavily on force, of which there is never, ever enough.

In one sense legitimacy is the fiction on which society is based. It is to government what confidence is to a bank.  As long as everyone believes that the bank will pay the depositor no one will demand all his money back. As long as most believe that the King’s justice is effectively invincible, no one will challenge it. But when a government behaves in a supine manner for an extended period — or a bank refuses to pay out without a good reason — then doubts begin to grow."

I take this as one of the fundamental divides between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives understand that civilization is fragile, that it hinges on norms, shared understanding, prestige.  Liberal-Progressive is literally progressive, it takes it as a given that things must move forward (unless reactionary forces win out), and so it has no compunction about attacking traditional understandings which hold society together.  The Liberal-Progressive view has dominated throughout my lifetime.  The London riots are a good indication of what results from that understanding of the world.

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