George Walford: Shoot ’em!

A nation not engaged in war enjoys peace. Or so we tend to think; the familiar stereotype stands at some distance from the realities of present life in Britain. Bombs, armed robberies and riots, deadly quarrels between drug dealers, assaults by and upon xenophobes, motorway bandits ramming their victims, street attacks, wife-beating and domestic murders; these make up much of the news at home, and things seem little different abroad. Although peaceful life remains the rule, we cannot take it comfortably for granted. But then we never could.

The idea of a time, in the past, when citizens did not need to fear having their lives brutally disrupted, belongs with the other illusions going to make up The Good Old Days. In England the annual murder rate increases as one goes back through the centuries; in the 20th 1 per 100,000, in the 16th 10, in the 13th 20. [1] Two hundred years ago men habitually carried swords or clubs in city streets; the gentlemen of the 18th Century, bewigged and silk-stockinged as they were, fought duels or beat each other up where their descendants claim damages for libel. Violence between individuals permeated the Renaissance, the Middle Ages and Ancient Rome. Early human communities are often said to have lived in harmony with nature; they did not live at peace with each other. War as we know it had not yet appeared, but neither had the degree of peace which most people know for most of their lives today; small-scale, sporadic fighting with raids and ambushes was endemic.

Recourse to violence apart from war is no novelty, no indication of coming social collapse, just the normal persistence of an early mode of behaviour. [1] Heather Mills, in the Independent 29 April.

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REVOLUTION? Many thought it was close when the students of Paris took to the streets in 1968, but: ‘Actually, all they wanted was smaller seminar groups, better teachers and more library books. The stupidity of the authorities and the brutality of the gendarmerie turned a protest over cramped lecture-theatres into a mini-insurrection.’ [2]

Nicci Gerrard reports that a friend visiting Paris at the time found the atmosphere slightly hectic and the people aggressive, but not until returning to England did he learn of the student uprising. [2] Barry Hugill, Educational Correspondent, in the Observer, 22 August; 2.Observer Sept 19,57.

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ANOTHER LEG: In IC 60 we presented several types of ‘Creative Argument‘; the One-Legged one aroused most interest. An addition: Hit-and-run: Faced with an argument you can’t counter, advance something, however weak, against it and go on to talk at length, ending up well away from the original point.

from Ideological Commentary 62, November 1993.