Is it right, fair and just to punish the uneducated?
Politicians have been united over the past few days in their assertion that there is simply 'no excuse' for the recent riots: it was criminality 'pure and simple'. And yet, unwittingly perhaps, the Prime Minister has provided the most significant excuse when he hit out at the rioters for having 'a complete lack of responsibility, a lack of proper parenting, a lack of proper upbringing, a lack of proper ethics, a lack of proper morals'.
For the Greeks, the foundations of corrective justice and a legitimate rule of law lay in an education system which delivered truthful instruction and reasoned persuasion before force. Socratic moral and political thought rests in a principle of fidelity to reason, which demands respect for reason and for human beings as rational agents. It follows from this that reason and evidence must be used in moving others to action and belief.
If respect for persons and of private property is inherent in a just or legitimate rule of law, governments cannot establish a general right to punish lawbreakers without providing for the education of all citizens , which is to say an effective education which encourages them to be rational, exhorts them to pursue virtues, and urges them to be moral: an education which provides them with the reasons for laws being as they are.
By providing for the adequate education of some citizens and not others (as in many inner-city comprehensives), a government might establish a right to punish the former when they commit offences but not the latter, and in that event is obliged as a requirement of justice to discriminate between the two in the course of criminal proceedings. Certainly, send the primary school teacher and educated wealthy to prison. But for those youths whose 'lack of responsibility' may be ascribed to 'a lack of proper parenting (and) a lack of proper upbringing', they cannot justly be incarcerated without first being educated. Who is to blame for their 'lack of proper ethics (and) lack of proper morals' if it is not amoral parenting and an unethical system of state education which no longer distinguishes between right and wrong or inculcates a sense of social responsibility?