The Idle Poor and Sturdy Rogues
Although the recent rioting in England has been a much needed wakeup call, certainly for the media, the signs of rot in English society have been there for years. As Theodore Dalrymple, the physician turned social commentator and editor of The New English Review writes.
The ferocious criminality exhibited by an uncomfortably large section of the English population during the current riots has not surprised me in the least. I have been writing about it, in its slightly less acute manifestations, for the past 20 years. To have spotted it required no great perspicacity on my part; rather, it took a peculiar cowardly blindness, one regularly displayed by the British intelligentsia and political class, not to see it and not to realize its significance. There is nothing that an intellectual less likes to change than his mind, or a politician his policy.
The rot has been accelerating since the post-Thatcher years. The riots have highlighted the mindset that has elevated wants to needs, needs to rights, and rights to entitlements. It has served to create a hapless segment of society perpetually frozen in the toddler "gimme-get" mentality.
The problem of delineating those who deserve compassion from those who do not has been going on since the Elizabethan Poor Laws. The Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601 saw the need to care for the "impotent poor" -- those who could not look after themselves or go to work. They included the ill, the infirm, the elderly, and children with no-one to properly care for them.
It also saw the need to help the "able-bodied poor," normally referred to as those who were unable to find work -- either due to cyclical or long term unemployment or a lack of skills. The attempt was to assist them and move them out of this category.
However neither the "idle poor" nor "sturdy rogues," those of "able body" but who were unwilling to work, were considered deserving of poor relief.
Just where the line should be drawn between those who deserve compassion and those who don't has been, and will be, a subject of contention. But the Nottingham riots have shown, to all but the diehard of the compassion industry, that the mindless compassion that fails to draw any line between those willing to work and "sturdy rogues" will find it turns the former into the latter. Handing the "sturdy rogues" the same standard of living as could be reasonably expected by lower-skilled workers denies the latter the satisfaction and self-respect of being able to provide for oneself and one's family and differentiate themselves from the "idle poor."
If the riots prove anything, they prove that the failure to come to grips with the need to draw the distinction, no matter difficult that may be, between those who deserve compassion and assistance and those who do not, has proven disastrous -- a disaster the United States may see sooner rather than later.