I've been mumbling on to myself for days, as I do here on The Sensible Bond, trying to prod and poke my way to understanding the riots of the last week in England. Perhaps you're bored with it and want to read about something else. Nobody is stopping you. Go forth with my blessing. The rest of us have to try to understand, however. We have to try to understand because, make no mistake about it, if the country were a physical body, these riots would be as significant as a sudden and complete loss of bowel control.
All the usual suspects have lined up for the identity parade. What was it then that we saw rioting through the streets of London? Was it family breakdown? Absent fathers? The failure of state education? Moral relativism? Sheer criminality? Opportunism? The vacuity of the political system? The structural deprivation in our council estates?
In my view it was all of these and more. Another interesting feature of the events of this past week is that those responsible come from a whole range of backgrounds. Yes, there are the gangs, the career criminals and those 'known to the police'. But there are also the educated, the professionals and the daughters of wealthy businessmen. Whatever ills we put in the dock, somehow we have to recognise that our problem crosses all class divides.
Diseases have a way of joining forces to create a symbiotic tsunami: obesity leads to a strain on the heart which leads to blood pressure which triggers, etc., etc. So I imagine it is with the riots. One crisis simply led to another, while the latter was ready to burst like a boil and provide a catalyst for the next crisis. Okay, enough of the biological imagery. You get my message.
Chesterton characterises modern life as the result of the dismantling of things which once lived in organic unity. The electric light bulb and the radiator are undoubtedly great boons to modern life, but no family ever pulled up its chairs and sang songs around a radiator; no poet could stand looking into the bulb long enough to feel inspired by the passionate glow of its filament. And, as the fire's organic unity of light and warmth were broken up into bulb and radiator - for eminently practical reasons - something was lost which had hitherto graced human life and shaped a million imaginations.
Every comparison limps of course but here is the point: there is a layer of complexity and integrity in the right order of things which cannot be reassembled simply by putting together all the component parts. Life is not a problem set by Ikea or a special kind of Lego.
Let me take just the example of education to explain what I mean. We have heard many laments about education. But the fact is that state education is always a function of the culture in which it is born. Children whose home-lives are characterised by TV dinners, late nights and general dissipation are not going to get what they need out of even the best educational syllabus. They will not be apt to take part in it. The late, great John Senior observed that the Great Books movement had failed not because of the weakness in those books but because students who had not been raised on the 1000 great fairy tales did not have the imaginative and moral capacity to extract the great ideas from the great books. The popular view of education - that it has something to do with what happens in the classroom - is naive at best and hopelessly wrong at worst. Of course, learning goes on in a classroom, but book learning is part of a wider project by which the human subject becomes capable of civilisation. Frankly, there are many paths to that point and they are not all contained in a book. Capable of civilisation: there are many walking around today with iPods, the latest fashions, degrees, doctorates, successful careers, fancy cars and holidays abroad who are in point of fact substandard in that regard.
Everything has been separated from everything else and everything has grown cold: such was Chesterton's conclusion, and he was writing a hundred years ago. These riots were not a new problem and neither can they be answered by all the panoply of the technocratic state swinging into action to express the instinct for revenge. The riots happened because we have not done our duty. We have not done our duty because our duties have long been kept in the deep freeze of pragmatism. And now we're frost bitten, we want to plunge our limbs into boiling water by a juridical backlash against the rioters. Let justice act, of course. But justice; not some substandard form of justice. I honestly doubt we're even capable of it.
So, what should we do now? I have but one answer and it involves our collective repentance and prayer. England needs to pray, it needs to turn off the TV and introduce itself to its neighbours, and it needs to remember what it has lost: principally Jesus Christ. Any priest or bishop who climbs into his pulpit this Sunday and speaks of anything except Christ as the ultimate answer to the problem has thereby declared himself to be part of the problem.
Because short of reconciling with Christ, we will simply continue sleep walking into our next embarrassing disaster, the disaster of a highly sophisticated and popular socialite who functions brilliantly until she goes home at night, makes a cup of tea and retires to her room to self harm. Eventually she'll do it in public.
Everything has been separated from everything else and everything has grown cold. And every evocation of technocratic solutions without the invocation of Christ will only compound our problems.