January 25, 2021
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Today, we’re running Editor in Chief P.J. O’Rourke’s riveting thoughts on the January 6 Capitol attack.
America’s Teeter-Tottering Democracy
“A fool’s tongue is long enough to cut his throat.” 17th-century proverb
Storming the Capitol Building was an attack on libertarian conservatism. To be a libertarian is to believe in the sanctity of individual liberty and the duty of individual responsibility. To be a conservative is to believe in the primacy of moral values and the continuity of civilized institutions.
To be a mob is to surrender individual liberty to the madness of crowds, to shed responsibility like a pair of dirty socks, to put moral values out with the trash, and to piss on the walls (or break the windows and litter the floors) of civilized institutions.
Given that America has the institution of democracy (and nothing, to date, has proven more civilized), our political construct is always going to be imperfect. It is, after all, the work of a committee. Our committee is the electorate, with all the frustrations and failings to which committees are prone.
What gets constructed is sometimes an ugly building (though the Capitol is not). The building may be poorly made with floors that aren’t level and plumbing that backs up. The building may need to be repaired… or even replaced. But things are going to be worse if the building collapses while we’re inside it. And a mob can do that… A mob can be the earthquake, the tornado, the flood, or the fire.
As mob violence goes, the attack on the Capitol didn’t go far. The disturbance was quelled in a few hours. We have seen much worse in dozens of American cities over the past eight months – broader mayhem, greater bloodshed, prolonged anarchic occupations, threats, intimidations, vandalism, and looting on a massive scale. Much of that was played down as “mostly peaceful protests” or given tacit approval or even explicit encouragement by people in a position to influence public opinion.
What makes storming the Capitol so significant? (Other than that it seemed to trigger a sudden awakening of the entire news media and political establishment to the fact that mob violence is wrong – even if their message continued to be, “especially when it comes from people who oppose the news media and political establishment.”)
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And why should storming the Capitol be a particular affront to libertarian conservatives?
Because I’m afraid there were people in that mob who would say they are “libertarians” or “conservatives.”
And that would be lying.
I hope I’m wrong… I hope that all the people who invaded the Capitol were the anti-Biden version of the anti-Trump people who led, followed, engaged in, or aided and abetted the previous rioting.
These people, though opposite in politics, are of the same ilk in folly. They do not believe in individual liberty. They don’t think they’re free. They think there is something “systemic” – racism, capitalism, the deep state, canceled Twitter accounts, whatever – that prevents them from being free.
Yet they’ve been acting freely enough. Indeed, they’ve been acting too freely – breaking and stealing things. And the way they’ve treated fellow citizens further proves the rioters’ scorn for individual liberty. They can’t believe other individuals have the liberty to disagree with them.
Individual responsibility is shirked with proud announcements of collective “identity politics.” My wife and I have made the mistake of leaving our little collective of three teenagers at home alone. When we questioned them, individually, about where all the beer went, we got “identical” answers. These people – whether just back from showing off their tattoos and Viking hat at the speaker’s podium in the Senate chamber or still moping around the deserted Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle – are to be regarded more with pity than with anger.
OK… with anger, too. They’re dangerous jerks. But they can’t find anything worthwhile to believe in. They look and act like idiots. They’re leading ugly, pointless, unpleasant lives.
We should feel sorry for them… from a distance… a long distance. I’m thinking from here to Leavenworth for six to 10 years, with time off for normal behavior.
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Managing Editor, American Consequences
With P.J. O’Rourke
January 25, 2021