Republics have always been unstable forms of government; they need profound stories to hold them together — David Blight
According to German economist and philosopher Max Weber, the defining quality of the modern state is that it claims sole authority over the legitimate use of violence. Unlike feudal societies, the modern state has sole responsibility for protecting its citizens and punishing its lawbreakers.
Cops and courts manage our disputes for us. A neighbor threatens a neighbor and, instead of Appalachian generational family feuds, someone can sue, an observer can call the cops, the dispute can be adjudicated by a jury of peers. People can still be hateful and nasty, but the legal process sterilizes otherwise bloody disputes and removes generalized violence from everyday life. This distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence is the heart of American law, a social contract, real or imagined, of people coming together to bind themselves in community under a state.
But sometimes the state can abuse its monopoly on violence. Police officers and other law enforcement officials may overstep their bounds, kill innocent civilians, or otherwise betray the justice system they are supposed to represent. When that happens, our Constitution provides the recourse through recurring elections, the right to protest and speak out, and various other checks on state power. Citizens have the ability and duty to take to the streets, to call their representatives to respond, and to vote them out of office if they don’t.
When people call to “disarm”, “defund,” or “abolish” the police, they are rejecting the ability of the government to enforce the laws. Using violence to intimidate their own elected officials and hold their communities hostage, they’re seeking change outside the legal system they voted in. In short, they are rejecting the social contract. They’re rejecting the American experiment.
Americans need to buy into our common history and principles in order to be a country, especially to be a democracy. Political reporting has told us for many years now that America is two nations. That’s, of course, not factually true. But we have begun to throw away our national myths. The 1619 project is literally rewriting American history curricula to recast everything from the American Revolution to the Civil War to modern politics as racist ploys. Did you hear the thirteen colonies went to war to protect slavery? That’s a dangerous new myth that threatens to replace our unifying old ones.
We need myths, true and inspiring stories, to hold our nation together. By calling into question the stories of our past and using them to reject the procedures of law in the present, we are rejecting that which holds us together.
A new insidious and pessimistic narrative is spreading rapidly through social media and schools, protests and riots, across our country. When we lose the ability to enforce our laws, we lose our legal system. When people are confused about what America was, they don’t believe in all that it can be. It’s hard to believe the rioters want a better America. It seems like they don’t want America at all.