08 Oct The Morning Call looks at the recall of Chesa Boudin
SAN FRANCISCO: MAN UNRESTRAINED
What happened in San Francisco the other day was both remarkable yet utterly predictable. It was a triumph, but one made possible only by recurrent defeat. It was, in short, the story of American society over the last half-century, its bifurcation and its struggle to retain what is left of its formerly immense promise.
As you likely know, on Tuesday, the voters of San Francisco decided overwhelmingly to recall their District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Boudin, of course, is the adopted son of Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, the erstwhile Weather Underground terrorists who have a made a nice bourgeoise life for themselves in Barack Obama’s old neighborhood in Chicago. Boudin was “adopted” and raised by the Ayers family after his own parents, also Weather Underground terrorists, were convicted of murder in a failed Brinks armored-car robbery that left two police officers and one Brinks security guard dead. Boudin ran for DA on a plat5form of criminal justice “reform” and proceeded to reform the city into a ghastly urban hellscape.
Let us begin our discussion today with a reminder: generally speaking, civilized man responds to one of only two constraints on his instinctively selfish and antisocial behavior, conscience or fear, that is to say, morality or law. Or, as the late, great James Q. Wilson put it in a 1994 essay for Commentary:
There are only two restraints on behavior — morality, enforced by individual conscience or social rebuke, and law, enforced by the police and the courts. If society is to maintain a behavioral equilibrium, any decline in the former must be matched by a rise in the latter (or vice versa). If familial and traditional restraints on wrongful behavior are eroded, it becomes necessary to increase the legal restraints.
Over the last sixty years or so, American society has been the subject of a great experiment. For a variety of reasons – some benevolent, most malevolent – American institutions have encouraged the abandonment of the first of the restraints on man’s behavior, morality. This morality, the institutional elites have insisted, is stifling and antiquated and, worst of all, designed specifically to create and maintain division and inequality. The morals of our ancestors, they continued, was based on superstition, not on reason, and was, therefore, ill-equipped to provide real-world answers to real-world problems. In the end, it should be abandoned for the betterment of mankind.
And abandoned it was.
Ironically enough, however, this abandonment was incomplete and itself unequal, and those who refused to conform to the new moral morality were, for the most part, those who encouraged it most vociferously. In his 2012 essay about Belmont and Fishtown, the inimitable Charles Murray noted the following:
As recently as half a century ago, Americans across all classes showed only minor differences on the Founding virtues. When Americans resisted the idea of being thought part of an upper class or lower class, they were responding to a reality: there really was such a thing as a civic culture that embraced all of them. Today, that is no longer true….
America has never been a classless society. From the beginning, rich and poor have usually lived in different parts of town, gone to different churches, and had somewhat different manners and mores. It is not the existence of classes that is new, but the emergence of classes that diverge on core behaviors and values—classes that barely recognize their underlying American kinship….
The surge in crime that began in the mid-1960s and continued through the 1980s left Belmont almost untouched and ravaged Fishtown. From 1960–95, the violent crime rate in Fishtown more than sextupled. When we can first break out imprisonment rates in 1974 (after crime had already been increasing for a decade), there were 215 imprisoned Fishtowners for every 100,000 persons ages 18–65. By the time of the most recent survey of prison inmates in 2004, that number had grown to 965. The comparable figures for Belmont were infinitesimal and flat (13 in 1974, 27 in 2004). Furthermore, the reductions in crime since the mid-1990s that have benefited the nation as a whole have been smaller in Fishtown, leaving Fishtown today with a violent crime rate that is still 4.7 times the 1960 rate….
The Founders, skeptical as most of them were in their own religious beliefs, were unanimous that the religiosity of the American people was absolutely essential to the success of the new republic: When restraints on behavior do not come from without, they must come from within, and they believed that religion is indispensable in sustaining that most elemental form of self-government.
While the nation as a whole has become markedly more secular since 1960, Fishtown has become much more secular than Belmont. It runs against the prevailing narrative of secular elites versus a working class still clinging to their religion, but the evidence from the General Social Survey (GSS), the most widely used database on American attitudes and values, does not leave much room for argument. For example, suppose we define “de facto secular” as someone who either professes no religion at all or who attends a worship service no more than once a year. For the early GSS surveys conducted from 1972–76, 29 percent of Belmont and 38 percent of Fishtown fell into that category. Over the next three decades, secularization did indeed grow in Belmont, where the percentage of de facto seculars grew from 29 percent in the 1970s to 40 percent in the GSS surveys taken from 2006–10. But it grew even more in Fishtown, where the comparable numbers went from 38 percent to 59 percent….
It may be said without hyperbole that these divergences in the Founding virtues put Belmont and Fishtown into different cultures.
The disparity here is essential. As Americans have faltered in their moral beliefs, both the faltering and the consequences of it have been unequally dispersed. And while Murray’s essay (and subsequent book) is about “White America,” the damage done and, thus, the disparities imposed have been even more prominent among the racial minorities, on whom the ruling-class elites have focused their anti-social message of amorality. In short, white (mostly) liberal elites have encouraged poor whites and especially poor minorities to behave differently, to abandon the “hang-ups” of traditional morality. The results have been precisely as anyone sensible would expect: the decrease in moral constraint has necessitated a concomitant rise in legal restraint.
What this means in practice is that Chesa Boudin and his ilk are not necessarily wrong about the unfairness and inequities of the criminal justice system. The poor and minorities are, indeed, incarcerated at much higher rates than middle and upper-class whites. About this there can be no argument. The catch, of course, is that this disparity is not coincidental and it is not the result of “systemic” prejudice. Rather, it springs, in large part, from the condescension and nihilistic guilt of the white ruling class itself.
Moreover, the solutions offered by Boudin and the other Progressives – non-enforcement of the law – spring from the same source. Boudin legitimately sees an unfair system. But because he doesn’t recognize that the system’s unfairness is the result of progressive moral condescension, he offers even progressive moral condescension as the solution. And the result, in this case, have been as entirely predictable as they were in the previous case. If society intentionally removes BOTH constraints on man’s behavior – morality AND the law – then man can AND WILL behave without restraint.
What’s to know?
There is a reason that the only precincts in San Francisco that voted to retain Chesa Boudin are those that are home predominantly to upper-class whites. Not only are these elites insulated by their wealth from the most deleterious effects of man unconstrained, they are also unwilling to acknowledge their own role in the creation of this disaster. They are emotionally and intellectually incapable of understanding how their condescension and guilt are the problem here, not the solution. And so, they are also incapable of even trying to fix the problem they created
The removal of Boudin as District Attorney in San Francisco is, inarguably, a victory. But it is one that will be short-lived and largely irrelevant unless it becomes the harbinger of a larger rebellion against the ruling class’s self-absorbed destruction of societal norms.