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Daniel McCarthy Liberty Politics US Politics

The roots of riot

This is the most sterile rebellion any country has ever seen

That LEGO set or Louis Vuitton bag you’ve always wanted can be yours free if you just wait for the next black suspect to die in police custody. That’s the lesson so far from the riots in Minneapolis, Portland, Atlanta and elsewhere following the death of George Floyd. Arson and luxury looting are not the most obvious ways of fighting racism or police brutality, but at this point riots are a ritual. ‘Antifa’ means bourgeois bolshevism — college-educated mock revolutionaries performing to a predictable script.

This is the most sterile rebellion any country has ever seen. Far from terrifying the establishment, it reflects exactly what is taught in schools and preached over the airwaves and in respectable op-eds. Academics and celebrities have taken to Twitter to assure these wonderful young louts that riots really do reform politics and the civil rights movement was about violence from the beginning. Don’t worry: you’re saving black lives by throwing that brick through a window and lighting a liquor store on fire. You’re just like the Boston Tea Party — only not racist.

This is what significant portions of the opinion-forming classes in America actually believe. There is a spectrum, of course. Some thought leaders cavil more than others about the uncouthness of it all. But even the most delicate of pundits isn’t as bothered by the firebombs and pillaging as he is by Donald Trump’s next tweet: that’s real violence.


There is no place for police in the world that enlightened liberals and their pyromaniac-kleptomaniac children envision. Police maintain order through force. But force is always bad except when it’s used against authority. That’s the most basic tenet of liberalism today. If we abolished police, and made all of America more like Baltimore, our country would be more just and better. Yes, there would be crime, but crime isn’t unjust. It’s simply something that we have to live with — or, if necessary, die from. We should just try to avoid it the way we do COVID-19.

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Few liberals would say this out loud, though some of their antifa offspring would. The only authority that the modern left is comfortable acknowledging is reason, which by definition should not require the support of force. In practice, though, force may be necessary to destroy what remains of the irrational, pre-liberal world. Once force has liquidated racism and other atavistic evils, reason should suffice to supply all the authority humanity needs. Police, unless they are strictly deployed against atavistic evil, are a denial of reason’s sufficiency. You only need police if some people are basically bad; that is, if something in humanity does not answer to reason and must be met by force. Grant that, however, and the door is open to other kinds of non-rational authority — religion, for example — and the pattern of human relationships that is most just won’t be identical with the pattern that enlightened reason alone dictates.

In concrete terms, property, public order, and even respect for police in itself are as important as any liberal concern about justice, and while that certainly doesn’t mean that injustice should be overlooked — in cases of police brutality, for example — it does mean that rightful authority must be affirmed against looters and arsonists, no matter what they claim as their excuse. It means that police should not be presumed to be a menace to rational liberal harmony, because there is no such harmony. The antifa hooligans won’t accept this until they learn it the hard way, but they are only a nuisance in the first place because of the moral sickness of our formative institutions, including the academy and press. The radicalism the country needs isn’t the petulant violence of antifa, but an unyielding moral and intellectual critique of the institutions that malformed them. Don’t literally burn the universities or storm CNN, but put the idea of what they have allowed themselves to become to the flame.


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