When he was 6, my son suddenly started stealing things from his classmates. Market value wasn’t the object. Like a magpie, he went for the sparkling, brightly colored stuff. Naturally, he got caught. The school imposed appropriate consequences, but it was left to me to explain to him that stealing is bad, not just because you can get caught and punished, but because it’s fundamentally wrong.
The approach I took, and one that worked surprisingly well, was the Ten Commandants. I explained to my little six year old that the Ten Commandants are the BIG RULES. Even if you don’t believe in God (and he’s always parroted his father’s atheism), they’re still exceptionally good rules for a functioning society. People cannot live together if they’re murdering each other, or stealing from each other, or constantly eaten up with jealously. The Ten Commandments represent the wisdom of the ages. Whether from God or from man, they are the keys to a successful society in which people can go about their ordinary lives. My son never stole again.
I thought of the Ten Commandments today when I read the opening sentence of Theodore Dalrymple’s take on the convulsions in England:
The youth of Britain have long placed a de facto curfew on the old, who in most places would no more think of venturing forth after dark than would peasants in Bram Stoker’s Transylvania.
Whether from God or from man, the Ten Commandment’s dictum that the young must “Honour thy father and thy mother,” if applied, would have prevented the riots. That’s because these weren’t ordinary riots. Think about it: In the past, whether it was the Poll Tax riot in 1381, or the Chartist and other riots in the early 19th century, Britain’s riots were driven by adults with legitimate political grievances. This time around, it was just angry kids. As the Victorians knew, and they were certainly well-steeped in Biblical morality, idle hands are the Devil’s playground. And when those idle hands are attached to minds that respect nothing and nobody . . . anarchy results.