Further to yesterday's post and its comments, I have no doubt that in some ways we're more bestial than we were fifty or one hundred years ago and that in some ways we're more civilised. Personally, I think on balance we're more civilised than we were one hundred years ago and more bestial than we were fifty years ago. My guess is that two world wars and an economic depression did something to make society a couple of generations ago unusually disciplined.
However, I doubt it could be proven to general satisfaction and I have no real confidence that I'm right. We could share examples and counter examples until the cows come back, self-fulfilled, to their broken home.
But I am more sure of one thing and that concerns the fears of imminent social breakdown on the part of the Chicken Licken tendency. This is usually directed at the fear that Muslims are going to take over. But a different strain is coming to the fore as expressed by Sean in the comments yesterday and that is the fear that the People of the Abyss are going to strangle us in our beds if we can no longer afford to buy them off, an eventuality that may be just around the corner now that we're broke. (If you're interested in more spine-tingling tales, Chickenlickenism is retailed by P Hitchens, Melanie Phillips, Damian Thompson, and others as well as our Sean.)
Now I don't believe any of this is going to happen. In fact, I think it's a bit paranoid. But it struck me whilst watching the demise of the evil Moaty that anyone taking on the British state in determinedly violent fashion needs their head examined (as, indeed, did Moaty). There was enough force there - in one small and relatively remote corner of Britain and to challenge one individual whose threat to the wider society was absolutely insignificant - to defeat a small army. Tornado jets were deployed for goodness sake.
Leviathan has never been stronger. As a consequence, and absent some unimaginable catastrophe, reversion to a Hobbesian state is even more unlikely. I guess people might say we've gone soft and would shy away from a resolute response when the time came, that we've become too effete and decadent to defend Western civilisation (I'm beginning to see the attractions of this sort of language, by the way - declaiming stuff about 'Western civilisation' makes you feel very big and important).
The evidence is to the contrary, of course: we've gone to war on three continents six times over the last twenty years, a world record only surpassed (I think) by the US. At home, we have our largest ever prison population and a police force that's bigger, more militarised and better armed than it's ever been. And then look at your own circle of friends and acquaintances. Personally, I can think of plenty of people who I'd not want to get on the wrong side of by threatening them with forced conversion to Islam or expropriation of their goods and chattels.
The British state isn't one of the oldest in the world solely because it's been good at creating consensus and peacefully canalising conflict. It also happens to be one of the most effective monopolisers and projectors of violence that the world has ever seen. And that's not to mention the British themselves...