Op-Ed: Rioters Want To Undermine Justice, Not Defend It


As enraged mobs have turned to violence in recent weeks, their irrational intent is becoming clear: They want to bring about the end of the rule of law.

They don’t want justice. They want revenge. And they’re doing violence to the Constitution of the United States.

Justice dies when mob rule takes over.

Right now, Americans of all political affiliations would do well to recall James Kent’s advice on dealing justice during periods of great moral upheaval.

Appointed chief justice of the New York Supreme Court in 1804, Kent understood the necessary role of moral discipline and the principles of virtue in maintaining good order in a society racked by bitter division. Back in 1811 in People v. Ruggles, he warned against the “corruption of the public mind.”

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“We stand equally in need, now as formerly, of all that moral discipline, and of those principles of virtue, which help to bind society together,” he wrote.

The Founders understood that a free people must discipline themselves.

Little Moral Difference Between a Rogue Policeman and a Rogue Mob

There is little moral difference between the brutish actions of a rogue policeman and those of an enraged mob. Both are out of control. Both share the same reckless, rough-necked contempt for the rule of law upon which the rights to life, liberty and property of all human beings must depend.

Do you think rioters are undermining true justice?

Anger and outrage, when uncontrolled, can do nothing to restore and maintain legal protection for everyone.

The true basis of U.S. constitutional law exists in the unalterable, foundational principles of the Declaration of Independence. These principles were endorsed in the Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 as natural law rights recognized through reason to be inalienable and to remain applicable across time and events.

Democracy Itself Is Endangered

When laws are no longer moored to moral principles, democracy itself is endangered, reduced to a fickle majoritarianism shaped by emotional attachment to the dominant ideological novelties of the day.

Without first principles, the law falls into disrepute. It becomes irrational, relying on the political and social will rather than on reason and virtue.

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Prudence, Aristotle said, is the charioteer of the other virtues. Aquinas agreed: “Moral virtue cannot be without prudence because it is a habit of choosing, i.e., making us choose well.”

But for many decades now, violence has been justified in the name of dubiously designated social justice demands. Since the late 1960s, too many Americans have been overly coached in the more extreme aspirations of social justice while remaining ignorant of the absolutely essential moderating virtue of social prudence.

Social Prudence Tells Us When To Walk Away

To reach true justice we must exercise social prudence.

When we march in the name of justice, when we mount a public protest against an injustice, when we participate in public demonstrations for what is right and true, we must exercise rational constraint. We need the courage and good sense to walk away when our principles are hijacked and disrespected by aggressive mobs as they begin to loot and trash.

Walk away at the first window broken, at the first sign of looting, at the first pelting of bottles and cans, at the first act of violence, at the first incident of arson, at the first shots fired, at the first assault on a police officer, at the first torching of police cars.

Don’t cooperate with violence. Just walk away.

Don’t lend the support of your presence to those who are abusing free speech, abusing the right to peaceful assembly.

Reason requires of us prudent social distancing from inflammatory speech and actions proliferating violence and vengefulness.

When peaceful assembly threatens to be overwhelmed by exhibitionist bad behavior and the onset of aggression, walk away.

Go Home; Speak Out from Home

We can and must fight injustice with words, not violence.

Social media is powerful. Never before in history have we been able to access from home so many forms of public communication.

When peaceful public assembly becomes too dangerous, we can still put words to our principles and our arguments and propagate them in online responses and debates. We can call up radio and television networks. We can still write letters and sign petitions and lobby our representatives at all levels of government. We can organize strong, clear community responses to injustice.

Even when peaceful assembly is sabotaged by violent anarchists, we can and must still uphold the Constitution by every other honorable means.

In Republics, Moral Discipline and Virtue Are Necessities

In 1775, John Adams wisely insisted: “Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”

In 1798, he warned: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

James Madison agreed: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”

Later on, Judge Learned Hand, in his famous speech in New York City’s Central Park in 1944, gave this same warning: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women … it is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow.”

Regrettably, when we look at the thousands of Americans who have participated in the wild violence of these past days, we can see how disastrously their faulty education in both history and morals has failed them.

Don’t Trash the Accumulated Wisdom of Your Forebears

Recent generations of Americans, irrespective of ancestry and racial heritage, have raised too many shallow egotists. Their unrestrained passion for self-indulgence of all kinds has delivered self-inflicted wounds that have also wounded the great American venture.

The next generations of Americans must be taught to know and love their country and to exercise the self-discipline and moral restraint necessary to protect not just themselves but their families and communities.

As President Reagan once said:

“America has given a great gift to the world, a gift that drew upon the accumulated wisdom derived from centuries of experiments in self-government… Our gift is twofold: the declaration, as a cardinal principle of all just law, of the God-given, unalienable rights possessed by every human being; and the example of our determination to secure those rights and to defend them against every challenge through the generations. Our declaration and defense of our rights have made us and kept us free.”

To remain truly free, all Americans, of every race and creed, must learn or relearn the inestimable value and integrity of that private and public virtue that so many of their forebears valiantly upheld even through the most perilous of times.

Like the best of their ancestors, they too must resolve to “do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with [their] God.” (Micah 6:8).

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.

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