Britons Have Been Violent and Cruel for Generations

Still, England has not yet collapsed into a nightmare of destruction and despair.

Christopher Hitchens

Members of the public sweep the streets in Clapham Junction, in south London, on August 9, 2011, of debris following a third night of unrest in London. Click image to expand.Sweeping the streets in London after riotsI realized that the collapse of British society into a Hobbesian nightmare of mutual predation and despair was still some distance off when I caught two little straws in the wind. The first was a well-framed photograph of a badly scorched bit of London, taken on the morning after a night of riots and vandalism. Apart from heavily accoutered cops, the only human figures on the scene consisted of a forest of sleeveless forearms, all brandishing the long handles of mops and heavy-duty scrubbing brushes. The ordinary working day had scarcely begun, but the process of digging out and cleaning up, inaugurated by the volunteer locals, was already under way. Of course, I thought to myself. Inflict a physical disaster on any British city, but especially on London, and the inhabitants seem to know, without any previous training for the role, that they have been cast in a remake of Britain Beats the Blitz.

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