In March, thieves broke into the home of Mrs. Adu-Mensah, an 83-year-old Ghanaian woman living in South London. Not content with stealing her property, they bound her hand and foot, suffocating her to death, and then set her body alight. The Independent, one of the newspapers favored by Britain’s liberal intelligentsia, reported without comment that the police were investigating the possibility that the crime was “a break-in that went wrong.” I couldn’t help thinking of the way surgical procedures with fatal outcomes used to be described: the operation was a success, but the patient died. In this case, the burglary was a success, but the householder died.
In the Independent’s report, we see how deeply and unconsciously entrenched a perverted way of thinking has become in the minds of much of the British establishment. Thugs break into an old lady’s home and murder her in the most brutal way imaginable, and the police consider her death as an unintended consequence of a normal and even acceptable event, a kind of meteorological freak accident that occurred without the intervention of human agency. A journalist, almost certainly a university graduate, accepts this without demur, because it happily coincides with his newspaper’s liberal outlook. It was not the burglars that killed Mrs. Adu-Mensah, but the burglary. A cold front brings us bad weather; a burglary brings us a charred corpse.
If caught, the perpetrators of this horrible crime will no doubt also claim that the crime went wrong, that unexpected circumstances somehow perverted their good intentions: their burglary having a kind of Platonic existence independent of their decision to commit it. In like fashion, violent men and women are likely to say that their relationships went wrong, as if relationships existed independently of how people behave toward one another. Last week, I asked a man who was complaining that his wife had deserted him whether he had ever been violent toward her.
“Yes,” he said. “There was violence used”—used, no doubt, in the course of an argument that went wrong.
Of course, man has always sought to distance himself from responsibility for his own wrongdoing by ascribing it to forces beyond his control. Is there, in fact, a man alive who has never done so? Four centuries ago, Shakespeare remarked upon the “admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star.”
What is relatively new, however, is the willingness, even eagerness, with which intellectuals endorse, promote, and validate the admirable evasion. Murders are now committed by burglaries, not by murderous burglars. Not all men are whoremasters, of course: but all too many of our intelligentsia are.