The reflections of Sir Mulberry Hawk—if such a term can be applied to the thoughts of the systematic and calculating man of dissipation, whose joys, regrets, pains, and pleasures, are all of self, and who would seem to retain nothing of the intellectual faculty but the power to debase himself, and to degrade the very nature whose outward semblance he wears—the reflections of Sir Mulberry Hawk turned upon Kate Nickleby, and were, in brief, that she was undoubtedly handsome; that her coyness MUST be easily conquerable by a man of his address and experience, and that the pursuit was one which could not fail to redound to his credit, and greatly to enhance his reputation with the world. And lest this last consideration—no mean or secondary one with Sir Mulberry—should sound strangely in the ears of some, let it be remembered that most men live in a world of their own, and that in that limited circle alone are they ambitious for distinction and applause. Sir Mulberry’s world was peopled with profligates, and he acted accordingly.
Thus, cases of injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, and the most extravagant bigotry, are in constant occurrence among us every day. It is the custom to trumpet forth much wonder and astonishment at the chief actors therein setting at defiance so completely the opinion of the world; but there is no greater fallacy; it is precisely because they do consult the opinion of their own little world that such things take place at all, and strike the great world dumb with amazement.
—Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby
Dickens presents an interesting idea, which is that acts of injustice do not arise from an individual’s inherent badness but from a desire to impress a circle of acquaintances who value such acts. I think that in our society we are aware of the consequences of “falling in with the wrong crowd,” but when bad things happen, we tend to focus on the individuals most proximally responsible rather than the subculture that nurtured them. It’s a tricky thing to address, though. There’s a fine line between inviting and enabling people to participate in wider society and imposing and enforcing social conformity. Is there a way for a free society to also ensure cohesiveness? Or is there an unavoidable trade-off between liberty and social harmony?