‘The State’ and civil disobedience.

The recent riots in the UK received worldwide media attention, from newspapers and television to the internet and blogspots. The theme of these responses varied from Schadenfreude through to chicken-licken. The English edition of the French newspaper Le Monde diplomatique gave perhaps one of the more empathetic reports on the riots in its article, UK riots: lessons from the banlieues? Le Monde compares the response of David Cameron on these event to that of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2005, when Sarkozy dismissed the rioters in the banlieus as ‘voyous’ or thugs. Le Monde goes on to say that if the British government can learn anything from the French case, it is that conclusions drawn in the heat of the moment, from a situation that is still fluid and evolving, are not ones upon which to base any longer-term response. In 2006, in his “hug a hoodie” speech Cameron argued:

“The first thing is to recognise that we’ll never get the answers right unless we understand what’s gone wrong. Understanding the background, the reasons, the causes. It doesn’t mean excusing crime but it will help us tackle it.”

There’s certainly no shortage of advice for the UK Government, mostly aimed at addressing social needs. It seems that the general consensus is that these riots are a result of urban poverty, something not being borne out by those rioters being convicted of an offence. A previous post on ‘urban poverty’, would suggest that first world democratic governments administrations have little understanding of the background to urban poverty. These Administrations think that simply throwing money at a problem is the cure. And perhaps here, the cloud of the current financial crisis has a silver lining, there is no mountain of money to cure or bury the problem with. This would suggest that any solution requires funding that would identify the problem and bring about effective long term changes. However, in the French case the class is still out and perhaps this is because there is no easy alternative to a money mountain and certainly no short term solution.

In a First Post article with the title Riots and the Underclass – the view from America Alexander Cockburn poses the simple question:

Amid vast structural unemployment and diminished social expectations how best to assuage the alarm expressed by James Anderton in 1980, when he was Chief Constable of Greater Manchester?

The alarm expressed by Anderton 30 years ago was that;

“from the police point of view… theft, burglary, even violent crime will not be the predominant police feature. What will be the matter of greatest concern will be the covert and ultimately overt attempts to overthrow democracy, to subvert the authority of the state.”

Cockburn concludes his article by saying that;

Emergency laws, rushed through by panicked politicians, are always bad. It will take America many decades, if ever, to restore civil liberties and approach crime rationally – and this will only come with courageous and inventive political leadership in the poor communities. Britons should study carefully the lessons of America’s 40-year swerve.

The primary objective of the police is always to prevent the authority of the State being subverted through civil disobedience, an objective that applies to both democratic and non-democratic States. It’s only in times of normality that perhaps their policing objectives diverge. In times of normality the primary objective of policing a democratic State is the protection of property and people, while for a non-democratic State the primary objective of policing never deviates from protection of the State. The democratic world should make sure that these abnormal times do not allow further erosion of civil liberties to take place such that , regardless of class, the authority of the State can go unchallenged.

Author: Peter

Web researcher

17 thoughts on “‘The State’ and civil disobedience.”

  1. Spot on, Bearsy. Nothing to do with disfranchised youth or anything. Just look at some of the people being prosecuted. Nothing more than an organised thieving spree!

  2. The Amerindian occupation of Alcatraz had a moral justification, even Malcom X’s rhetoric could be understood in the context of his time, and his later moderation showed him to be a man of intellectual integrity. Even some of the riots in the 1960s could be understood in context. There is nothing to “understand” about this. It was nothing but shear, pure criminality. This was the opposite of reason, the opposite of logic. The only thing we need to “understand” about this is that we need to get a grip on ourselves, to immediately cease out non-judgement, to understand that we need to enforce standards of behaviour and keep society in line. Anything else is for the lefty air heads who wouldn’t know how to handle real life if it smacked them upside the head with a cat o’nine.

  3. PB: I don’t claim to represent the typical “American” (ie Citizen of the USA) but I did read the Cockburn article. Personally I do not feel that my civil liberties have been compromised. I do not fear the police nor do I think they are “out of control”. If after 40 years of “mistakes” the crime rate here is down to such a large extent and the murder rate is “as low as 1963” I am fully satisfied that whatever “Emergency laws passed by panicked politicians” were enacted here they seem to have worked. A large prison population, yes, but we had a lot of felons running about loose, many of them now seem to be locked away. I know little of the Chicago police “hustling prisoners onto death row” I do know that the number of death sentences carried out has fallen steadily over the years and now hovers around 50 per year (and all more than well deserved IMHO), this in a country of 300 million. As for the lowered crime rate being due to “A monopoly position of the drug lords” or better yet the “removal of lead paint” they are conjectures scarcely worth the uttering. If this is failure, I wish Britain may do as well with their problems in the next forty years.

  4. “The primary objective of the police is always to prevent the authority of the State being subverted through civil disobedience,”

    Errr, not in this country….by a long way. Not even close. And that is also why I’d never want to live in America!

  5. Interesting links, Peter.

    With regard to the recent riots, and the dangers of knee jerk reactions, I think Daniel Hannan makes some good points!  Once the situation on the streets is under control, we perhaps need to take a rather calmer look at events. They didn’t just happen overnight and some of the causes go back years. There is no instant fix.

    I must admit I groaned when Miliband demanded yet another public enquiry.

  6. All of you are right inasmuch as ‘Civil Disobedience’ is by definition:

    A symbolic, non-violent violation of the law, done deliberately in protest against some form of perceived injustice. Mere dissent, protest, or disobedience of the law does not qualify. The act must be nonviolent, open and visible, illegal, performed for the moral purpose of protesting an injustice, and done with the expectation of being punished.

    In this context I would have to amend my title (regardless of my intention). Would a title change to ‘The State’ and civil unrest clear this up?

  7. Your #10 works for me, Peter.

    Despite the title, it was still an interesting post. I followed one link and had a wander. I found an interesting article about looting in London and the Blitz. Sorry can’t backtrack to a link but it caused the same sort of reaction, and condemnation. Didn’t get quite the same amount of press coverage though.

  8. Has anybody read Barnaby Rudge recently? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnaby_Rudge. Set during the Gordon Riots (anti Catholic protests. Boo!) of the 1780s Dickens writes about the mindless destruction of property by raging mobs and ineffectiveness of the authorities. One of my favourite books, though not one of his best known. I recommend it. The raven Grip was the inspiration behind Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven.

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