The G-File

U.S.

The Unwise Crowds Make an Unarmed Return

People walk with signs during “March for Our Lives”, an organized demonstration to end gun violence, in downtown Los Angeles, March 24, 2018. (Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters)
Those gathering for the "March for Our Lives" did so because they like the idea of being part of a movement. Crowds should be viewed skeptically.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (and especially link-clickers),

I am on vacation out West, so we are going to re-post a “news” letter I wrote last year. But because the suits at NR are greedy traffic-mongers, I thought I would add a little fresh copy here to encourage those of you who get this via email to click the link.

In recent days, I’ve been getting a lot of grief on Twitter. And I suppose by “recent days” I could have meant “recent years.” But specifically, I’ve been getting grief about my skeptical or critical comments regarding the recent March for Our Lives and the use of kids as political props. I have been critical of such tactics — in print and elsewhere — for more than a quarter century. But that hasn’t stopped hordes of people screaming at me that I am “afraid” of this “youth movement” and that I am only speaking up because their moral and political authority is somehow threatening to me. But I wrote in this space about my problems with youth politics fairly recently, and I wanted to go a different way.

The Washington Post had a fascinating story yesterday that looked at who attended the rally and the reasons why they turned out. Apparently, they weren’t mostly young and they weren’t primarily there to agitate for gun control:

Participants were also more likely than those at recent marches to be first-time protesters. About 27 percent of participants at the March for Our Lives had never protested before. This group was less politically engaged in general: Only about a third of them had contacted an elected official in the past year, while about three-quarters of the more seasoned protesters had.

Even more interesting, the new protesters were less motivated by the issue of gun control. In fact, only 12 percent of the people who were new to protesting reported that they were motivated to join the march because of the gun-control issue, compared with 60 percent of the participants with experience protesting.

Instead, new protesters reported being motivated by the issues of peace (56 percent) and Trump (42 percent), who has been a galvanizing force for many protesters.

That’s all interesting, but a more basic observation can be made: They wanted to be there because they like crowds. The idea of being part of some movement, of dissolving the self into the crowd, was enticing. For reasons I explained in this recycled “news” letter, I am deeply suspicious of that desire. I don’t like crowds, personally or philosophically. I don’t care if they are right-wing or left-wing, young or old. They are the idea of “strength in numbers” made flesh. Like any other kind of show of force, they can be good or bad depending on the cause that animates them. But I start from the premise that they are to be viewed skeptically. I explain why here, in “The Unwisdom of Crowds,” the G-File from January 21, 2017.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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