From the Gloucestershire cheese riots on, wrongly ascribing motives to rioters only intensifies their sense of impotence. This year isn’t just the first anniversary of last year’s riots, it’s also the 200th anniversary of the Luddite machine-wrecking riot. Eric Hobsbawm called it “collective bargaining by riot”, which was precisely correct of people who deliberately broke looms, but is broadly correct of all riots.
How do large groups of people, with no power other than their numbers, assert themselves? By reminding the world of how much damage they could do. »