Monday, December 30, 2019

Latest progressive ‘big idea’ is so foolish it’s hard to believe they’re serious… but they are - Thomas Lifson

by Thomas Lifson

It sounds like a joke, but it isn't.

Some progressive ideas sound good and seduce the young and naïve with their idealism. Socialism, for example, pretends that selfishness and indolence would not result from common ownership of the means of production. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” was so seductive that it helped inspire communists for over a century, and still appeals to those whose needs exceed their abilities.

But some other ideas, currently being taken seriously by American progressive intellectuals are so self-evidently ridiculous that it is hard to believe that anyone could take them seriously. But this, via City Journal, is not a joke:
The latest call to action from some criminal-justice activists: “Abolish the police.” From the streets of Chicago to the city council of Seattle, and in the pages of academic journals ranging from the Cardozo Law Review to the Harvard Law Review and of mainstream publications from the Boston Review to Rolling Stone, advocates and activists are building a case not just to reform policing—viewed as an oppressive, violent, and racist institution—but to do away with it altogether. When I first heard this slogan, I assumed that it was a figure of speech, used to legitimize more expansive criminal-justice reform. But after reading the academic and activist literature, I realized that “abolish the police” is a concrete policy goal. The abolitionists want to dismantle municipal police departments and see “police officers disappearing from the streets.”
One might dismiss such proclamations as part of a fringe movement, but advocates of these radical views are gaining political momentum in numerous cities. In Seattle, socialist city council candidate Shaun Scott, who ran on a “police abolition” platform, came within 1,386 votes of winning elected office. During his campaign, he argued that the city must “[disinvest] from the police state” and “build towards a world where nobody is criminalized for being poor.” At a debate hosted by the Seattle Police Officers Guild, Scott blasted “so-called officers” for their “deep and entrenched institutional ties to racism” that produced an “apparatus of overaggressive and racist policing that has emerged to steer many black and brown bodies back into, in essence, a form of slavery.” Another Seattle police abolitionist, Kirsten Harris-Talley, served briefly in as an appointed city councilwoman. Both Scott and Harris-Talley enjoy broad support from the city’s progressive establishment.
As it happens, something like this was attempted when the Boston Police went on strike a century ago. Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge called out the National Guard and mobilized other forces, such as the park police, but there was widespread looting and open criminality in the streets. Nine people died as inexperienced Guardsmen and others (including Harvard students who volunteered as strikebreakers – how times have changed!) fought the rising anarchy.

YouTube screen grab

The public reaction in Boston and nationally was anger and horror at the dereliction of duty of the cops. The New York Times editorialized:
A policeman has no more right to belong to a union than a soldier or a sailor. He must be ready to obey orders, the orders of his superiors, not those of any outside body. One of his duties is the maintenance of order in the case of strike violence. In such a case, if he is faithful to his union, he may have to be unfaithful to the public, which pays him to protect it. The situation is false and impossible.... It is the privilege of Boston policemen to resign if they are not satisfied with the conditions of their employment.... but it is intolerable that a city ... should be deserted by men who misunderstand their position and function as policemen, and who take their orders from outside.... [I]t is an imported, revolutionary idea that may spread to various cities. There should be plain and stern law against it. It is practically an analogue of military desertion... [I]t ought to be punished suitably and repressed.
As with President Reagan’s handling of the air traffic controllers’ strike shortly after he took office in 1981, the strikers were fired and replaced with new police officers. Calvin Coolidge rode the wave of public approval all the way to the White House.

Progressivism is defined by the belief that wise governance (by progressives) can change human nature and bring about a social and political order that will overcome the selfishness, greed and other deadly sins that have been with is since the dawn of humanity.

How is that Harvard students and the New York Times of a century ago were so much more sensible than their successors today? My hunch is that the extended peace and prosperity has allowed elites to drift off into fantasyland, where they indulge themselves in beliefs that win approval from others similarly untethered to reality, having never experienced unpleasant encounters with the baser instincts and behavior of humanity.

The very phenomenon of the current embrace of foolishness by those who occupy prestigious positions belies the notion of progress in human affairs. 

Hat tip: Richard Baehr

Thomas Lifson


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