Watching the news nowadays has for me become an exercise in exasperated critical thinking. I often say to myself: “What the hell do they think is going to happen?” The propaganda expounded by the talking heads, pundits, pseudo-experts, and academics leaves one wondering what “big lie” will be next, and then they outdo themselves again. Since the Michael Brown shooting in 2014 the drumbeat against American law enforcement has been growing, without facts to support the position and “the powers that be” have continued to demagogue and legislate their way toward a backward tribal society. Back when sociology was still a functional science, and not a progressive advocacy club, a sociologist named Mariano Grondona developed a typology for backward or progressive societies that should serve as a warning to the elites clamoring for “reimagining” law enforcement.
In Grondona’s view, backward societies—those resistant to actual freedom and growth—made the law subservient to authority, an authority often achieved by force. In modern, free societies respect for the law is essential, and authority is subservient to the law. Pluralism, tolerance of opposing views, looking forward instead of backward, are traits of modern, freedom-oriented societies.
I find myself growing more cynical about the motives of the ruling class who use their esoteric language and vague generalities to sway the masses to approve actions that seem to drag our country closer to what Edward Banfield described in his groundbreaking book, “The Moral Basis of a Backward Society,” as “the extreme poverty and backwardness … which is to be explained largely (but not entirely) by the inability of the villagers to act together for their common good…”
Look, I’m not saying America is becoming a 1950’s town in southern Italy, but the point of Banfield’s research was to understand free, prosperous, diverse societies, and the traits of those that failed to achieve those goals. Undermining people’s trust in government, social institutions, the police, and each other seems like a toxic mix that creates the backward society Banfield found in his research.
America has always been a society based on trust; trust first of each other, and then of our political leaders to adhere to the founding principles. In “Who Prospers: How Cultural Values Shape Economic and Political Success,” Lawrence E. Harrison explained that the United States flowered following World War II by displaying the four cultural factors he found essential for prosperity, diversity, and freedom: 1. Radius of trust, identification, and sense of community. 2. Rigor of the ethical system. 3. The exercising of authority. 4. Attitudes about work, innovation, saving, and profit.
All these attitudes were fully maximized following our remarkable ability to outproduce and outfight the Axis Powers, and America prospered like never before. Unfortunately, by the 1990s, Harrison found much of this essential engine of success had been eroded by the civil strife and changing social attitudes about prosperity, success, and community, and he called for a cultural renaissance. Harrison was not some conservative, but a liberal who still demanded we reaffirm our basic principles to be “committed to the future, to education, to achievement and excellence, to a better life for all, to community, as well as to freedom and justice.”
All of the above is my way of saying, “What the heck are you thinking?” as I watch politicians and leaders make patently absurd policy decisions or fail to stand against those decisions. For example, defunding the police.
Defunding the police has become a mantra chanted without an adult in the room. Civil society, free societies, flourishing societies, all have a functional constabulary, subservient to the law and not above it, and our cultural history of local control, not centralized control of that authority, has served to make us the most free and prosperous society in history.
If we find trust in each other and our institutions is being eroded we need to seek data-based, fact-based reasons for any policy or belief that encourages that erosion. Saying something “is so” is not reason enough to destroy long-standing traditions or institutions, and the major cities that have followed the “defund” path are quickly discovering that their streets are becoming unlivable and their ability to avoid accountability is becoming harder and harder. Refund the police is now becoming “a thing.”
The American law enforcement community has been a key element in our nation’s success, and it is time for our leaders and our communities to demand better of the political class. Become an activist, get involved in your local political activities, demand excellence and, please, keep faith with each other. Freedom needs you.
Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of “JD Buck Savage.” You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.