There Is No Righteousness In Rioting
In case you missed it, the city of Baltimore descended into anarchy over the last few days as protests against the death of a young black man in police custody turned violent. Torched cars, smashed windows, vandalized businesses, all the usual ingredients to a good old fashioned riot were present. And as per usual, the regular collection of talking heads came out with their excuses, and contextualizatins, and justifications. Few openly said anything in support of the riots, of course, but there were enough “buts” “maybes” and “of courses” to make clear where their sympathies were lying in this intolerable situation.
Before going further I want to make one thing very clear. If Mr. Freddie Gray was unjustly killed by the police, whoever is responsible should be tried, and if convicted punished to the full extent of the law. And yes, it would be fair to say that the American justice system today is one where it is less likely for that optimal scenario to occur than is desirable.
However, to recognize that what occurred to Mr Gray was an injustice does not license what we have seen over the last few days, which is an even greater injustice and a far more dangerous one. It is one that strikes to the very heart of the cornerstone of civilization, the rule of law.
It is an ancient concept, this idea that the State has a monopoly on the distribution of justice. It goes back to the old concept of “the King’s justice”, or the idea that the monarch was the sole enforcer of laws and settlor of disputes within his realm. The State, and not the individual, is the one which deals out death and judgement, and in doing so provides security and stability to all.
This is the essence of why we have a state. It is a bulwark against the uncertainties of anarchy. The tremendous irony of here is that the justifications made by the rioters in Baltimore are precisely those made by the Ku Klux Klan a century ago. Both claimed that the law offered them no justice, so both said that the law entitles them to take justice into their own hands.
I can already here the shocked cries of dismay. How dare I make the aforementioned comparison! After all, the Klan was a bunch of racist bigots and the grievances of the Baltimore rioters are just. That is in truth beside the point. Whether legitimate or illegitimate, no grievance justifies the undermining of the rule of law. Such tactics that go around the law only serve to weaken the law as a force in society, and in doing so undermine civilization.
For law is ultimately what makes civilization. It is the acceptance of a group of individuals that they will surrender part of their individual will into a collective sovereignty that binds all together as one whole. It is an agreement we make because we recognize that the alternatives to the benign oppression of the state is the arbitrary terror of anarchy and the mob. Human beings are ultimately vile creatures. In our purest, truest form, untouched by either law or morals, we are violent, greedy, and capable of the most atrocious acts of barbarism and cruelty. Indeed what are morals but a set of unwritten rules that we follow out of fear of the punishment that will be given to us by our conscience. Throughout history we have seen the same story play out when a vacuum of power appears only for it to be filled by violence as neighbor turns on neighbor. It is worth noting that in Baltimore most of the rioters did not attack police officers or burn down city hall (the very symbols of the oppressive system they say inspired their actions) but instead engaged in looting or random acts of vandalism and thuggery against regular bystanders unfortunate enough to be in their path. Remove the fear of the hangman’s noose from man and he reveals his true self, and it is not a pretty one.
We stand by and allow the law to be delegitimized at our peril. In truth doing so harms us all. It is law and civilization that ultimately redeems man, by binding his baser nature and forcing a degree of civility upon him that allows for us to live in community with one another. Law is what stops brigands from waylaying me as I walk home at night. Law is what stops men in white hoods from hanging me from a tree with a roughly tied knot. Law is what stops men in brown shirts from banging down my door and dragging me away in the dead of the night. Law is not a symbol of oppression, but in fact the ultimate enabler of liberty by giving man the stability and promise of continuity he needs to be able to function in a functional society.
It is for this reason that the rioting in Baltimore must be condemned. To do otherwise is to side with mob rule, to say that man may in fact revert to his animal nature without consequence, and to expose all of us to the possibility of true tyranny, which is in fact simple anarchy. Riot not in the name of justice, for doing so does away with law, and without law there can be no justice.