Reporters standing in front of scenes of arson, flames billowing behind them, not very far from scenes of shooting and murder, insist that the protests are “mostly peaceful.” National Public Radio and a multi-billion-dollar global media conglomerate team up to bring you an illiterate “defense of looting.” The president comes to the defense of a dangerously stupid teenager who went looking for trouble illegally armed with a rifle in his hands and, to no one’s great surprise, found the trouble he was looking for.
The lesson of the summer is that intellectual and moral anarchy eventually bring with them political anarchy, that chaos in the democratic mind unleashes chaos in the streets.
Our friends on the left pirouette from position to position, desperate to please the mob. Consider a point of comparison: Only a few years ago, a bunch of irresponsible people who took out mortgages they could never hope to afford eventually lost their houses in foreclosures. People lost businesses, too. That was, we were assured, a national tragedy, an indictment of capitalism. But now the anointed mob is burning down homes and businesses, and progressives sniff that these losses are “just property.” Sometimes, property losses (those resulting from failure to pay a valid debt) are the cause of lamentation and the rending of garments, and sometimes property losses (those imposed by criminal violence) are no big deal.
A cynical man might suspect that such progressive posturing is not to be taken seriously.
In reality, it isn’t “just property.” It is mobs setting fire to homes with children in them. It is mobs shooting children to death. It is mobs shooting adults to death. It is arson that endangers the lives of innocent bystanders, firefighters, and other emergency workers.
It is also a near guarantee of long-term disinvestment from communities in which property is not secure. The same people burning down grocery stores today will be complaining about “food deserts” in 18 months.
But if it were “just property,” that would be bad enough.
Governments exist to protect property. That is what they are there for — life, liberty, and property, each of which is bound up in the other two. Property is the basis of liberty, and security in one’s property is a prerequisite of a decent society. Attacks on property are attacks on civil rights.
Property is necessary for the exercise of civil rights. Civil rights without property rights is a rhetoric, not a reality. The freedom of the press enjoyed by the New York Times is not worth $0.02 without the hundreds of millions of dollars in printing facilities and digital infrastructure that the newspaper relies on to actually disseminate the news. Burning that down would not be “just property” damage. If you can see that but cannot also see how looting a business involves more than “just property,” then you should go someplace quiet and think about it for a while, and pray fervently to whatever deity you believe in to reach down from the transcendent celestial realm and make you a little less stupid.
The answers are not on the radio.
But if there is a case to be made for looting, how about we start with NPR and its affiliates? The NPR Foundation reported holding $342 million in assets in 2018, and NPR’s management and on-air talent are splendidly compensated, many of them in excess of a half-million dollars a year. You can commission a shipload of lectures on income inequality and the salubrious effects of looting for that kind of “just property.” NPR’s headquarters on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C., is “just property,” too — property NPR isn’t even much using at the moment, because of the epidemic. Would NPR object to someone burning it down to make a political point? Would looting NPR’s property be defensible? Yes? No? Why or why not?
A professional investor once said that in the short term, markets are dominated by greed and panic, but, in the long term, they are dominated by math. Politics in the short term may be dominated by tribal hatred and petty advantage-seeking, but politics in the (very) long term is dominated by ideas. Ceding the field of ideas in pursuit of short-term electoral gains is always an error, because vacating the field does not make it vacant — it only clears the field for other ideas, other articles of faith, other systems of values.
In the short term, the problem is the looting. In the long term, the problem is the defense of looting.
Because we live under the yoke of a post-literate culture, there are certain obvious truths that are effectively impossible to communicate to the mass population. Everybody who has ever dealt with the TSA should understand in broad outline what is going on with law enforcement in cities such as Minneapolis and San Francisco, that it is not only possible but common for public-security measures to be simultaneously excessive and insufficient, invasive and ineffective, heavy-handed and incompetent, corrupt and abusive and necessary, that criminal violence and police violence — and police corruption and political corruption — are genuine problems that are entangled with each another in complex ways. There are productive ways to respond to that. Burning down cities is not one of them. Tweeting hysterically about burning down cities is not one of them, either.
But the petulant children in Portland want only to play-act at being Jacobins, and the petulant child in the White House requires a full-time culture war lest he be forced to run for reelection on his record of spotless administrative excellence and confidence-inspiring leadership. If ever two clutches of fools deserved one another, these are they.
Life, liberty, and property: simple to say, difficult to achieve — and still more difficult to achieve if you have forgotten how and why to secure them or never understood in the first place.