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Social evils and social good

Discussion of social evils on the theme of 'a decline in values' which argues that it is the responsibility of each of us to confront such difficulties.

Written by:
Anthony Grayling
Date published:


The JRF’s recent public consultation revealed a strong sense of unease about some of the changes shaping British society. This Viewpoint continues the discussion about modern ‘social evils’ on the theme of a decline in values’. Anthony Grayling argues that it is the responsibility of each of us to confront such difficulties by getting them in proportion; working out if they really are problems; and deciding what we can do about them, individually and collectively.

Key points

  • Every generation thinks that the past was a better place and that its own time is one of crisis. Yet contemporary Western liberal democratic societies offer greatly better lives for the majority than fifty or a hundred years ago.
  • Lament over the demise of traditional forms of community overlooks the new forms of community, especially among the young, made possible by the Internet. Now there is a wider range of shared experience and knowledge in the nation as a whole.
  • Personal autonomy and responsibility, self-determination and independence are far more likely to promote than to degrade concern for others. The illusion of a breakdown in civil intercourse, for which individualism is blamed, is far more the result of a contrast between the worlds we occupy as children and adults.
  • Most consumption is a means to the enjoyment that possession offers, and the process itself is therefore often pleasurable.
  • Our own time is greatly more moral, equitable, just and caring than the Victorian age.
  • There can be and are good and happy families with only one parent in them, and achieving this is the desideratum that society should work towards without preconceptions about traditional models and numbers.
  • We must find ways of giving young people responsibility, recognition, status, self-respect, and a chance to acquire and internalise self-discipline – for self-discipline is a liberating power and transforms life for the better.
  • To decriminalise drugs and their use, and to place them into the same framework as alcohol, would reduce the allure of drugs, free police time, and wipe out the criminal drug industry at a stroke.
  • That inequalities persist is a cost of the other benefits that accrue from the arrangements of contemporary Western liberal democracies. As long as continual efforts at rebalancing are maintained, it is a cost worth paying.
  • Crime and violence are endemic in human societies but people (aided by the media) tend to over-inflate its seriousness.