Wednesday, September 02, 2020

How Will THIS "Civil" Society Fare In The Coming Storm Of Pedestrian Violence?


theamericanconservative |   Teenager Kyle Rittenhouse’s shooting of three men in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has sharpened the debate between left and right over whether rioting can be justly met with violence. Opinions about Rittenhouse’s attempt to interpose himself and his AR-15 between rioters and buildings in Kenosha have become entangled with beliefs about the relative value of property versus people, a juxtaposition dishonestly advanced by the left.

Writing in The Nation, R.H. Lossin captured the Left’s point of view artfully, proclaiming: “Plateglass [sic] windows don’t bleed. They don’t die and leave loved ones grieving. They don’t contribute to the collective trauma and terror experienced by their communities. They just break, and then, at some point, they are replaced by identical sheets of glass.”

Leaving aside her comical lack of curiosity about where, exactly, sheets of glass come from, Lossin expresses a widespread sentiment, and it has a certain indisputable logic: things are not, after all, people.

The response of too many on the right, unfortunately, has been to take the bait. They’re ably represented by National Review editor Rich Lowry, who argued that the person-property distinction neglects how people depend on their property for shelter and sustenance. Destroy or steal it, and you inflict physical harm.

This argument, while true, is the ante in a utilitarian shell game, wherein we must weigh the value of property against the cost of harming someone who wants to take it. Whether a store owner can resist people trying to burn down his business suddenly turns on whether he has insurance. Or his track record in the community, as when the author of the newly released book, In Defense of Looting (on sale in soon-to-be looted stores near you!) told NPR that small, locally owned businesses don’t do enough for workers, and are therefore no more deserving of protection than large chain stores. This property versus people framing pushes conservatives into a losing corner: if you’re really pro-life, how can you justify firing a shotgun at someone who just wants to smash a window and take some of your stuff?

As with so many other debates, conservatives lose the moment they adopt the left’s materialism. What’s at stake in these riots is not property, but the civic order. The most honest, ardent leftists admit as much. Looting is imperative, writes R.H. Lossin, “not because property destruction has any moral or political value in itself, but because it is coercive. It is an actual threat to order and a very real threat to capital.” Describing looting advocate Vicky Osterweil’s point of view, her fawning NPR interviewer exclaims that rioters “are engaging in a powerful tactic that questions the justice of ‘law and order,’ and the distribution of property and wealth in an unequal society.”

While we quibble with a leftist intellectual vanguard about the relative value of plate glass windows versus human life, mob rule is being solidified as the new norm in our cities. The question is not whether this should be met with force because of the inherent damage it inflicts on property. The question is whether civil society is worth preserving with violence.

This question answers itself. When civil society disappears, individualized violence is the only means of resolving disputes. In the state of nature, red in tooth and claw, might makes right. Withdraw the police long enough, and you get Kyle Rittenhouse. The shame of it is that so many able-bodied men in Kenosha relied on a boy from Illinois to defend their streets. The danger is that masses of them will begin to feel similarly responsible for confronting hoodlums—as witnessed recently in the streets of Portland.