Monday 20 February 2017

Obsessive materialism is not unique to rioters

We have seen the greediest sections of society become the most admired and now we're paying the price, writes Anthony Cronin

Published 14/08/2011 | 05:00

Empires do not fall because barbarians suddenly over-run them. They fall because of the greed, the reckless self-aggrandisement, the short-sightedness, ineptitude and stupidity of their rulers. The Roman Empire did not fall because the Goths suddenly flooded across the Rhine with spears and strange war-cries. It fell because of the utterly crippling taxation extracted from ordinary citizens and because the elite could no longer see or hear what was happening while the ambitious were concerned only with their own success and vainglory.

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The kids who gleefully burned and looted the rich shopping centres of English cities during the week were not barbarians from without. They were barbarians from within. While commentators and politicians spoke with shocked outrage about stealing and common criminality they laughed. Stealing was not taking a few boxes of Giorgio Armani underwear out of a shop being looted. It was, they knew, however dimly, what bankers and financiers and speculators did with the savings, the pensions and the hopes of ordinary people who had been duped into spending their lives in honest toil. Real stealing was stealing in billions, not boxes of trainers.

There was much talk all week of values including family values, of community, of absent fathers and of keeping teenagers in at night. But to restore any kind of values at all you need more than rubber bullets and 'robust' policing. It will need much heart-searching and political action of a kind that the rulers of most western countries are incapable of. And it will have appalling dangers. Values were the stock in trade of Hitler and of our own hypocritical priesthood.

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