NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE ‘A n eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” said Gandhi, whose philosophy of peace helped shape the American civil-rights movement that changed the world. But the video footage now emerging from the riots across the country shows anarchy and carnage: beatings, fires, the smashing up of private property. Above all, death: In addition to the initial brutal incident in which George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, a 77-year-old retired police captain named David Dorn (who happened to be black) was killed by looters. He lay on the sidewalk and bled to death — all streamed live on Facebook. A federal security guard, Patrick Underwood (who also happened to be black), was shot and killed while defending a federal office building in Oakland. Four officers were shot in St. Louis when they tried to disperse rioters who were pouring gasoline on them and hurling rocks and fireworks. Six police officers fired Tasers at two college students in the middle of a protest in Atlanta (two officers have been fired, and all six now face criminal charges). Dozens more have been struck, injured, or mowed down by cars as drivers faced protesters jumping on their vehicles and smashing their windshields.
But what is the purpose of this bloodshed? What are we actually fighting over? I have yet to see anyone make the case that George Floyd’s killing was anything other than criminal and horrific, and that those responsible should be held fully accountable. Quickly after the incident, the officers responsible for Floyd’s death were fired. The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the case. Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar indicated in a tweet that the charges against Derek Chauvin — the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes — will be upgraded to second-degree murder, while the other officers at the scene will also face charges. Peaceful protesters who seek to dignify his memory and decry the scourge of racism are, of course, morally and constitutionally justified (though they are not socially distancing and are thereby defying governors’ edicts in many states). But arson, looting, and cries of “defund the cops” and “f*** the police” are overshadowing the legitimate, important protest. At least that’s what Floyd’s own brother, Terrence, said on Good Morning America. He said, emphatically, that violence and destruction is “not what my brother was about.”
So who are these rioters? And what are they about? One thing we can know for sure is that they are not conservatives. The conservative philosophy (as opposed to right-wing ideology) is rooted in the understanding that human nature is immutably flawed and volatile. The conservative strategy for managing this is to continually reform (and in doing so conserve) institutions that temper our baser instincts while uniting us through a common culture. When this method of continuous reform is working well, the maintenance of law and order is properly balanced with an individual’s right to criticize and change how law and order are maintained. If the police or public-education programs need to be reformed, then they can be, through laws and policies and freedom of speech and assembly — under America’s political system.
The same is not true with the radical leftism that has become disturbingly mainstream among American elites. Political leaders and commentators frequently nod along to this ideology. “Yes, America is burning,” said the Massachusetts attorney general. “But that’s how forests grow.” (She explained this as a “revolution in mindset” as opposed to one of violence, but the logic is the same.) During a press conference yesterday in which he explained why he refuses to defund the NYPD, the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, echoed this type of thinking when he invoked the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, saying:
I think that everyone who hears the song in its fullness thinks about — what about a world where people get along differently? What about a world where we didn’t live with a lot of the restrictions that we have right now?
But “we’re making progress . . . deep, deep progress” toward this utopia, he assured his audience. The song, which Lennon said was based on The Communist Manifesto, endorses the sort of political nirvana that radicals think they (spotless souls) will achieve if they tear down all of our corrupting institutions. Other liberal commentators have glossed over the obvious violence of the protests and looting, encouraged it, or flat-out denied it. Besides, whatever happened to de Blasio’s strict ban on social gatherings? He is not the only liberal leader to be struggling to make sense of this double standard. As my friend Ben Sixsmith wrote of the protesters in London, “the irony of protesters chanting ‘I can’t breathe’ as they raise the risk of catching and spreading a respiratory disease blows the mind.”
In his Conciliation with America (1775), Edmund Burke noted “vulgar and mechanical politicians” among both the colonialists and parliamentarians, “a sort of people who think that nothing exists but what is gross and material; and who therefore, far from being qualified to be directors of the great movement of empire, are not fit to turn a wheel in the machine.” Burke’s views on the American Revolution were complex and, as the title suggests, conciliatory, but his views on the revolution in France were clear: The means (violence) not only do not justify the ends (liberty), they actually thwart it.
The killing of George Floyd is a disturbing reminder of this country’s shameful past. But the better — and time-tested — approach is to reform and unite against injustice, not tear things down.