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


Norman Podhoretz was once asked “whether they had special typewriters in the Partisan Review office with entire words like ‘alienation’ stamped on each key.” Presumably there are keys stamped “right-wing extremism” at the Washington Post and the New York Times today.

There “is good reason to worry about right-wing, anti-government extremism — and potential violence — in the Age of Obama,” Eugene Robinson warned in the Post shortly after the health-care bill became law.

“How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht,” Frank Rich wrote in the Times. “The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.”

So far, the “surge of anger” directed at elected officials has resulted in the arrest of a single lunatic in Philadelphia who believes that he is the “son of the god of Enoch” and threatened Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.). Beyond that, some intemperate words were uttered, and a guy rear-ended a car in Tennessee because he objected to a bumper sticker.

Small-scale Kristallnacht? Really?

Whatever Rich may think, the debate over health care demonstrates that the United States enjoys a remarkably non-violent politics. Its citizens, conservative, liberal, and independent, settle their differences peaceably at the polls. If there were howls of protest when the most consequential legislation in a generation passed, there was scarcely any violence.

Rich’s argument is the more curious given that the tea partiers — his would-be Putschists — take their stand precisely on the principles that ended the bloody political strife of the past.

Violence was once the law of politics. In The Growth of Political Stability in England, J. H. Plumb observed that “conspiracy and rebellion, treason and plot” were commonplace in 17th-century England. Yet by 1730, the kingdom was tranquil, and “Englishmen were congratulating themselves on their tolerance.”