Wednesday 9 March 2016

Change and Decay

In the last week I finished reading a book, The Queens Peace: The origins and development of the Metropolitan Police 1829-1979 by David Ascoli, that's the London Metropolitan Police incase you were wondering. It was written in 1979 for the 150th anniversary of the Metropolitan Police and is an informative and well written history, although no one should read it for exciting tales of derring do, it just isn't that kind of book. But then all of a sudden between Chapters 10 and 11, on page 251 is Interlude: Change and Decay. It's so out of place and so very interesting that I thought you might be as interested in it as I was.

It is divided into 4 parts, the most interesting are the middle two, which is the majority of the Interlude.

"All power corrupts; but it corrupts only those who enjoy the experience of being corrupted. Never was this to be more true than during the post-war years. The new society, with its vision of a synthetic Utopia, its appeal to materialism, its tolerance of indiscipline, and its politics of envy, has much to answer for; both in its equivocal attitude to law and order and in its tacit acceptance that the distinction between liberty and licence is no more than a pleasant dialectical exercise at university high tables. The age of 'angry young men' took no account of the silent - and equally angry - majority; and in its moral confrontation, the police were to be sorely tried; not all were themselves to escape contamination.

These were to be the 'permissive' years, a typically English euphemism for the devaluation of moral standards and justified by civil libertarians as the cult of virtue through the tolerance of vice. There had been nothing comparable since the eighteenth century when wise and troubled Patrick Colquhoun had written: 'Evil will always drive out good, unless good takes up arms to defend itself." Indeed, London in the post-war period had much in common with Rome in the years before the fall of the Western Empire: a city stifled by bureaucracy, decadent, corrupt, happily feasting on borrowed bread and circuses, its churches empty and its prelates marching from Aldermaston to Trafalgar Square. It spawned it's own language: the 'spiv'; the 'fellow traveller' (or more precisely, the communist without the courage of his convictions); the 'beautiful' people; the 'trip'; 'demo'; 'aggro'. And the police, holding that narrow line between anarchy and order, were charmingly labelled 'pigs' and 'fuzz'. It took a Scottish crofters grandson, with Robert Peel's badge in his button hole, to sum it all up: 'You're never had it so good'."

"There are very few Metropolitan policemen of the post-war period who would not find that a more offensive - and provocative - commentary on the temper of our times than all the radical invitations to public indiscipline put together; for consider some of the manifestations of this new Jerusalem.

The traitors - Fuchs, Nunn May, Pontecorvo, Burgess and Maclean, Philby - a new breed of men dedicated to the subversion of the very society in which they had prospered; the Anti-Vietnam demonstrators who abused civil liberty to an extent that would have shamed John Wilkes; the militant trade unionists who defied the law and challenged the law to defy them; the urban guerillas who sought by terror to overthrow an ancient, if yet imperfect, order of democracy; the immigrant tidal wave , born of the dissolution of empire, which was to create for the police the most intractable of all their problems. Hence Grosvenor Square and Grunswick and Notting Hill.

To be sure, the criminal was never to have had it so good, as the bleak statistics of successive Commissioner's Reports rehearse year by year. Typical of the new morality was the growth of two flourishing industries, virtually unknown in the pre-war days: drugs and pornography (add the liberalization of abortion and homosexuality), whose financial possibilities were presently to prove irresistible to a small but greedy handful of detective officers themselves. In such a climate of decadence, Socrates, convicted of corrupting the young, would have been thought a folk-hero.

Yet in the sombre calendar of the years ahead, two other growth industries dominate all the rest: crimes of violence and juvenile delinquency. Neither was new. Both were to achieve levels which would have astonished Fieldings and even Charles Dickens. Of the two, juvenile crime was, and is, the most serious of all post-war developments. There has always been vandalism; but how many of Lord Byng's police telephone-boxes would have survived for a single week today? There has always been hooliganism; but how many railway carriages were reduced to rubble by football followers forty years ago? This has nothing to do with Pascal's view of human nature. It has everything to do with the collapse of authority, both domestic and public. In no other city is it possible to find a parallel statistic to the fact that, during a sixteen-month period, of those arrested for taking and driving away a motor vehicle, seventy-one were under the age of twelve."

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. There's no question that western civilisation had become suicidally self-destructive by the late 1960s.

    Unfortunately the people driving that civilisational suicide are now in charge and the police are now their faithful servants. We now have authoritarian police forces but they are not on the side of civilisatio.