The Roots of Violence
Blame the social state, not the tea parties.


Some of these social philosophies are radical, others are reactionary. Georges Sorel, the social philosopher who in Réflexions sur la violence called proletarian violence “a very fine and heroic thing,” was a man of the Left. Charles Maurras, who as leader of L’Action Française advocated royalist dictatorship, was a man of the Right. What unites the social philosophies is hate. Lenin despised the bourgeois; Hitler despised the Jew and the Slav; the Belgian Futurist in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited “claimed the right to bear arms in any battle anywhere against the lower classes.” If disciples of the social imagination in the United States, like their Fabian counterparts in England, purified the social vision of hatred, they remain in thrall to its vision of class warfare.

America’s social reformers may be as little prone to violence as their Whiggish, tea-partying cousins, but there is one area in which their reforms are likely to exacerbate rather than mitigate the really alarming forms of violence we confront today, the violence that is a by-product of the decay of traditional patterns of communal life and our reliance on the ineffectual social institutions that have replaced them.

While Beltway sages lamented right-wing violence, four people were killed in a drive-by shooting in the capital. Murder rates are up in New York. Although mass shootings appear to have peaked in the 1990s, in the 2000s there were nearly twice as many as in the 1970s and more than ten times as many as in the 1920s.

James Alan Fox and Jack Levin of Northeastern University explain the violence by pointing to the “eclipse of traditional community: higher rates of divorce, the decline of churchgoing and the fact that more people live in urban areas, where they may not even know their neighbors.” Such violence preoccupies us — if you doubt it, consider the popularity of the CSI shows, 48 Hours, and Dateline NBC — in part because we suspect that the rise of the sociopath is only the most lurid manifestation of a more extensive breakdown.