“One thing that surprises me more and more every day; it is the great number of people in the opposition.”
Louis Simond observed a state of near riot in London in 1810. Everyone complained vociferously. The wealthy were indignant over a high income tax, the middle class complained over the closure of markets due to the war and the instability of prices, and the poor were engaged in a desperate battle to fend off starvation. The government which had outlawed trade unions and undertaken other measures in the effort to fight Napoleon, was denounced on all sides as “vicious and corrupt.” Reform seemed not enough—people were demanding revolution.
Simond notes that they were careful to state that they had no wish for the sort of revolution the French had endured. But, as he observes, “who is so presumptuous as to fancy a revolution, when once begun, can be guided and stopped at pleasure?”
It was, he concluded, “a most alarming state of things—a spark might set the whole political machine in a blaze.”
And yet, though society seemed to teeter on the brink of disaster, no one in London appeared too worried about it.
Despite the complaints and “the avowed expectation of a dreadful crisis,” he observes, “the inhabitants of London live just as if they had nothing to fear; amuse themselves and attend to their business in perfect security. It would seem as if all this clamour was only habit, a sort of plaintive mania.”
Is the situation in London today much different 200 years later? Rioters run wild in the streets causing outrageous amounts of destruction. But while British leaders met on Downing Street in emergency session to determine how to stop the violence, just yards away, 1500 people queued up to watch bikini clad women play a pre-Olympic beach volleyball tournament.
Anticipating that the riots will dampen enthusiasm for the Olympic games to be held in London next summer, British athletes chided their countrymen for creating “a bloody disgrace,” according to UPI. But fans aren’t worried—the 2012 beach volleyball events are already sold out.
Photo courtesy of Australian National University’s “The Conversation” – http://theconversation.edu.au/could-freud-have-predicted-the-london-riots-2742