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America’s utopian city wreckers

We live in the real world, not the world of John Lennon’s imaginings. Those who seek utopia rather than rational reform will not be happy with what they get.

Boarded-up windows are seen in New York City June 2, 2020. (CNS photo/Mike Segar, Reuters)

“The best is the enemy of the good.” That observation by Voltaire may help to explain the vast destruction resulting from two weeks of violent protesting following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

The saying means that those who are satisfied with nothing less than perfection will never be satisfied. In the case of the death of George Floyd, the sentiment is encapsulated in the slogan “no justice, no peace.” One suspects, however, that what is sought is not practical, achievable justice, but perfect justice—the kind only God can deliver.

In a perfectly just world, George Floyd would never have been killed in the first place. But there can be little doubt that practically the whole nation agreed that he had been done an injustice, and that everything possible ought to be done to right that injustice.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota authorities acted quickly. The officer who killed Floyd was quickly removed from the force, jailed and charged with third, then second degree murder. The three other officers who were involved have also been jailed. The Minneapolis City Council has even proposed that the police force be dismantled. Moreover, many of those who are protesting the killing of Floyd are white. In some cities, white protesters seem to be in the majority. Would this be the case if America were an irredeemably racist society in which blacks will never see justice? What’s more, many of the racial justice reforms that were sought in the past have long been in place. Numerous cities have black mayors, black city council members, black judges, black police chiefs and, in some cases, black majority police forces. In Minnesota, where the nationwide protests first erupted, the chief justice officer is Attorney General Keith Ellison, a black man

Of course, there is, and will always be room for improvement. But, once again, it seems that what many people—both black and white—want is not improvement, but perfection: the kind of perfection that human beings by their very nature are incapable of. It’s not just perfect justice in the area of racial relations that is sought, but, increasingly, in every area of life. And, in some cases, what is demanded is not simply perfection, but impossibilities. Thus, some people believe that there can be no justice in society until everyone is free to choose their own gender. And not only that, but they believe there can be no justice until everyone else is forced to assent to their beliefs. In their quest for justice for one group, they deny it to another.

Likewise, the nationwide protests over the injustice done to George Floyd have resulted in myriad new injustices: almost two dozen killed, more than a thousand injured, many hundreds of businesses destroyed and livelihoods lost.

I am not discounting the role of outside agitators, such as Antifa, in fueling anger and discontent among the throngs of protesters. They play a large role in provoking violence, in spreading the protests and in keeping them alive long after they would normally die down. These groups—mostly leftist—did not spontaneously “hijack” the protests. They had for some time been organizing and preparing to exploit just such an occasion as the one that arose in Minneapolis. And human nature being what it is, the occasion inevitably did arise.

Antifa and Antifa-like groups tend to subscribe to a Marxist vision of society. And that vision is essentially a utopian one. It promises an almost perfect society which will emerge once wealth is equally shared. Although some of these leftist agitators seem to be without conscience, it’s probable that some of them are motivated by idealistic dreams of a perfect society and perfect justice.

The question is, why are so many others so susceptible to the same dream? Why do they find it intolerable that perfect justice and peace has not yet been achieved?

Why do so many in our society believe that utopia is or ought to be just around the corner? The answer is that they have been exposed to an educational system that is heavy on societal responsibility and light on individual responsibility. Part of this comes from a therapeutic strand in education that is obsessed with the goodness of the child’s inner self, and the wrongness of inhibiting its expression. Part comes from the Marxist-socialist strand (typified by Howard Zinn’s view of history) that blames social structures for all of life’s ills. This approach dwells on the many imperfections in American history and gives the impression that perfect harmony is the normal state of mankind, and anything less is the result of oppressive racist and capitalist institutions. Each new injustice, such as the killing of George Floyd, is used to confirm this narrative. The overall message is that you are not responsible for your troubles, society is. Likewise, you are not responsible when you cause troubles. Indeed, your rioting, looting, and arson may be justified by the oppressions you have suffered at the hands of society. Or, as the gang member in West Side Story explain, “We’re depraved ‘cause we’re deprived.”

The evidence that we are in the grip of this Rousseauian-utopian delusion keeps piling up. The latest iteration of this noble savage view of human nature is the “We-don’t-need-no-stinkin’-cops” movement now underway in numerous cities. The theory behind the movement is that once you remove the police from the scene, everyone will begin to act like Jean Valjean after the bishop saved him from the gendarmes. Thus, the mayor of Los Angeles wants to severely cut back the budget for the Police Department, dozens of cities want to defund the police, and, as mentioned, Minneapolis wants to disband its police force. But that’s okay. It will be replaced, says one city council member, by a “public safety” committee.

Hmm. “Committee of Public Safety.” Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, that was the group that organized the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. But not to worry, says the city council member: “We can reimagine what public safety means…we can invest in cultural competency and mental health training, de-escalation and conflict resolution…we can declare policing as we know it a thing of the past, and create a compassionate, non-violent future.”

Polls show that the police are more highly trusted by the public than most other professional groups. So perhaps they are more compassionate than the city council member gives them credit for. But, even supposing that police forces can be made super compassionate, does that solve the problem of the lack of compassion in spouse-beaters, looters, arsonists, muggers, and rapists? Will restructuring law-enforcement reshape the criminal? Will you feel safer in a community where the police have been disbanded and re-imagined as social workers and therapists?

I’m reminded of T.S. Eliot’s comment on men who try to solve the problem of fallen human nature “by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”

It’s interesting that the line occurs in the context of the Church’s duty to talk about “Evil” and “Sin,” less men be deluded into thinking that salvation comes from reforming societies rather than reforming lives.

In a press conference during the protests, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio invoked John Lennon’s utopian song “Imagine.” “What about a world where we didn’t live with a lot of the restrictions we have right now?” asked the mayor.

Restrictions? Like prisons? Like the presence of police? But we live in the real world, not the world of John Lennon’s imaginings. Those who seek utopia rather than rational reform will not be happy with what they get. Utopian cities without police to enforce the law will not be pleasant places. The word “utopia,” of course, means “nowhere.” And the cities of the utopian dreamers’ imaginations are nowhere that any sane person would want to live.


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About William Kilpatrick 70 Articles
William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Psychological Seduction, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong and, most recently, Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Professor Kilpatrick’s articles on cultural and educational topics have appeared in First Things, Policy Review, American Enterprise, American Educator, The Los Angeles Times, and various scholarly journals. His articles on Islam have appeared in Aleteia, National Catholic Register, Investor’s Business Daily, FrontPage Magazine, and other publications. Professor Kilpatrick’s work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com.

21 Comments

  1. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, then still came the turmoil of the late 1960s. Why?

    A thick, fine-print federal investigative report was produced. This reader recalls that one chapter explored the so-called “J Curve”, which in political science means that after things actually improve overall, then the sense of “relative deprivation” sets in, fueling complex realities and tendencies toward all-or-nothing utopian revolution.

    This time around, in the sustained period prior to COVID-19, things were moving up economically, and unemployment rates for all, including Blacks and other minorities, were at the lowest (best) levels in American history.

    Unaddressed in our (market-share!) media rhetoric on today’s political economy is the broad institutional issue whether human betterment is better achieved by (a) a redistributive and bankrupt Nanny State (Where’s the federal largesse? Abolish the “pigs”!), or instead (b) by more of a productive Market Economy with its moral underpinnings supposedly still intact.

    A good time for slogans! Not saying here that grievous racial abuse doesn’t exist in many places, nor great disparities. Only that the J Curve also seems to be back, and merits visibility equal (!) to what is given to front-page photo ops and airborne (frozen!) water bottles.

  2. There is nothing new under the sun. Today’s utopian movement is merely the latest manifestation of what has been going on from the dawn of civilization. As the work of Dr. Julian Strube of Heidelberg University and others has shown, the urge to try and establish “the Kingdom of God on Earth” is a goal of the “new things” of socialism, modernism, and the New Age. It is why Pope Pius XI took as his motto “the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ” and instituted the Feast of Christ the King.

  3. ‘ One soul can make a diffrence for the whole world ‘ – Lord’s words to St.Faustina ; thus , an attitude of taking responsibility , to invoke His mercy and deliverance – ‘ on us and the whole world ‘ …

    https://atxcatholic.com/index.php/2017/09/angels-dragons-iii-st-michael-relic-stone/#.Xt1oDjpKiUk – hope that the Knights would look into helping the dioceses
    for deeper devotion to St.Micheal ,as Patron of police , help in curse breaking prayers and such too , against the powers of evil that have been called in , involving curses of of physical harm too , through secret society rituals and such ( an area of true individual responsibility , effects of which said to afflict generations down .. )
    The exhortation of the Holy Father too, for devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe ..
    how good it would be to have an image of same , next to one of The Vilnius icon , in every church , school and home ..to help drive away the death spirits called forth through evils of all sorts …and how much of a share of such negligences too are in all our lives as well !

  4. The idea that finding ways to begin to defund, dismantle, and disarm the police is a utopian vision would be laughable, if it were not such a sad and dangerous dismissal of the groundswell of a long overdue call for justice rising up now from all corners. As a historian, it seems important to remind readers of this article that the police are not an institution without a history or a point of origin. In the U.S. one origin point for police was indeed in the slave patrol.

    The presence of white protestors at demonstrations does not indicate that we live in a post-racial or non-racist society, as the author suggests. Rather, as Professor Keeanga-Yamatta Taylor recently pointed out in an interview, it is a sign that the struggles of a generation of younger white people are tied to those of our black brothers and sisters. Our existence has been bracketed by war, a recession, and a pandemic where more than 100,000 Americans have died (so far), amid mass death from depression and suicide, alcoholism, and opioid overdose. These struggles are joined.

    If the protests indicate a call for perfection, as the author argues, I feel the need to remind readers that the perfection being demanded is on par with many countries throughout the world where human beings are not killed by police with a stunning regularity (about 1,000 people a year, of late, according to the Washington Post’s meticulous ongoing count of lethal police shootings). The fact that the U.S. incarcerates around one quarter of all the prisoners in the world should also be an indicator that we have a particular problem, and that perfection might not be the correct standard through which to understand it.

    As a Catholic, though, this article, and CWR’s misguided decision that it is worthy of publication in this moment, is disappointing. After Trinity Sunday, we should remember that we are called to try to enter into deep solidarity and community with one another. While that might never be perfect, this author’s response — one which amounts to a dismissal of the massive calls for accountability, reform, and an end to systematic racist violence — seems to me to be a misuse of the religious and historical ideals to which he appeals to support his claims. If perfection can’t be realised, is it too much to ask CWR, or this author, to at least do better?

    • “… one which amounts to a dismissal of the massive calls for accountability, reform, and an end to systematic racist violence…”

      This strikes me as a non-serious (mis)reading and dismissal. No, the decision to publish this essay was not “misguided”. Historians, more than most, should recognize, first, that injustices are a prevailing feature of life in this fallen world and that, secondly, the temptation to suddenly and violently change or destroy social order (which, again, will always be flawed in various ways) rarely ends well. Appeals to pop songs, vague cliches, and endless reserves of “rage” and “anger” are not going to create a better and more just world. Far better, as Dr. Kilpatrick indicates, to pursue justice in specific instances and to rigorously and objectively study, say, what is really known about police violence/shootings, while being cautious about broad, vague, and emotive language about “systematic racist violence”.

    • Richard Hoffman Reinhardt ,
      I think we’d probably agree that many of our prisons house folks who might be better served by drug rehab programs. And I personally don’t understand why white collar criminals need to be housed & fed on our tax dollars when they could instead be making some kind of restitution to society.

      But violent criminals are another story. For every one serving time there are any number prowling about who plea bargained, got an undeserved early release or in some other way achieved the freedom to prey on society again.

      There seem to be too many non violent offenders incarcerated & too many dangerous ones that go free. Just my 2 cents from some experience with those folks.

    • The mistake of some historians Mr Reinhardt is the conviction that the fact that injustice exists is irrefutable evidence that all institutions must be morally responsible. One such ill conceived is the current concept of systematic racism, a concept that is all inclusive. Those who think this way perceive justice as siding exclusively with the violent and dissatisfied. Refusing to acknowledge the mutual lack of responsibility for injustice. Read the Gospels and learn wisdom and a true sense of justice.

    • I notice, RHR, that your argument is based on assumptions, not facts.

      You say that American citizens are killed by police with “stunning regularity” —“about 1,000 last year.” May I remind you that there are some 330,000,000 American citizens?

      Yet, as stunningly small as that number appears, you neglect to state how many of those 1,000 were armed and, thus, posed a potentially lethal threat to police.

      Here, sir, are the facts:

      In 2019 police officers fatally shot 1,004 people, most of whom were armed or otherwise dangerous.

      African-Americans were about a quarter of those killed by cops last year (235), a ratio that has remained stable since 2015. That share of black victims is less than what the black crime rate would predict, since police shootings are a function of how often officers encounter armed and violent suspects.

      In 2018, the latest year for which such data have been published, African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and commit about 60% of robberies, though they are only 13% of the population.

      The police fatally shot 9 unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed whites in 2019, according to your “meticulous” Washington Post database, down from 38 and 32, respectively, in 2015. (Interestingly, the “meticulous” Post defines “unarmed” quite broadly to include such cases as a suspect in Newark, N.J., who had a loaded handgun in his car during a police chase.)

      In 2018, there were 7,407 black homicide victims. Assuming a comparable number of victims last year, those nine unarmed black victims of police shootings represent 0.1% of all African-Americans killed in 2019.

      By contrast, a police officer is 18½ times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.

      So you see, RHR, there is no “genocide” directed against blacks as has been alleged by your leftist comrades. Unless, of course, you consider the rampant drug use, utterly worthless schools and broken families in Democrat-run inner cities to be weapons intentionally used to keep minorities dependent, resentful and ineffectual.

      The fact is, black lives *do* matter. Which is why the Democrats’ chokehold on the neck of the black community needs to be broken once and for all.

  5. “Numerous cities have black mayors, black city council members, black judges, black police chiefs and, in some cases, black majority police forces. In Minnesota, where the nationwide protests first erupted, the chief justice officer is Attorney General Keith Ellison, a black man”

    ***********

    A case in point being the racial makeup of the 4 Minneapolis officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s arrest & subsequent death: two white, one Asian & one African American. Two white officers & one African American officer physically restrained Mr. Floyd while the Asian officer stood guard- per what I’ve read in the news .
    Why wasn’t it assumed to be a case of bad or badly trained cops instead of racial discrimination?

    • “Why wasn’t it assumed to be a case of bad or badly trained cops instead of racial discrimination?”

      To even raise this question is to invite accusations of racism. That’s where we’re at.

      • Thank you Mr. Olson.

        I first heard about the African American & Asian officers involvement in Mr. Floyd’s death from a Christian radio host who was himself African American. He was puzzled about why this was assumed to be white on black violence & not just a case of bad cops.

        Officer Chauvin would probably not have been able to kneel on Mr. Floyd’s neck in that way & for so long had not the other two officers, black & white, been holding him down as well. And the Asian officer kept any onlookers from interfering. It was a combined group effort. I think that makes it even sadder.

  6. Detroit is a sterling example of Utopian liberal “Gobbly-Kook”,and has been since 1962.Of course the local media and even some national MSM continue to bang the drum of Detroit is coming back ! How so? No real reality of the city,would lead a sane person to match what his eye’s see.To the pipe dream presented as fact by the MSM.

  7. “After Trinity Sunday, we should remember that we are called to try to enter into deep solidarity and community with one another.” And, what is “solidarity?”

    On the one hand we read that calls for police improvement are utopian; on the other that the legitimacy of the police is colored by historical “slave patrols.” Competing hyperboles. From a more complicated public policy perspective, one CONCRETE PROPOSAL for “solidarity” comes today from David Brooks of the New York Times. Predictably, he champions “reparations,” but in the form neighborhood Opportunity Centers and suggests, yet again, that “it takes a whole community to raise a child.”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/04/opinion/united-states-reparations.html

    A certain merit here, but conspicuously unmentioned is the deeper fact that it first takes the solidarity of a whole FAMILY to raise a child.

    Today, 40 percent of White children are born out of wedlock, and 70 percent of Black. (And now, arbitrariness on steroids: classroom gender theory…). Most statistically recorded “families” and children in poverty are also single-parent. Hello! Is there possibly an on-the-ground connection between the elementary breakdown of families and “mass death from depression and suicide, alcoholism, and opioid overdose”?

    Families first, the foundation of neighborhoods. Overall, a good grounding for the “solidarity” we all seek might be to recall Martin Luther King, Jr., who in the 1960s still appealed directly to Natural Law:

    “One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream [not de Blasio’s “imagine”] and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage [!], thereby bringing our nation [!] back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers [“fathers”!] in their formulation of the Constitution and [AND !] the Declaration of Independence” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963).

    • Today, 40 percent of White children are born out of wedlock, and 70 percent of Black. (And now, arbitrariness on steroids: classroom gender theory…). Most statistically recorded “families” and children in poverty are also single-parent. Hello! Is there possibly an on-the-ground connection between the elementary breakdown of families and “mass death from depression and suicide, alcoholism, and opioid overdose”?

      If we are made for communio with Perfect Communion (the Trinity), but we insist (as a society) on embracing actions, behaviors, and ideologies contrary to or openly antagonistic to communio, we should not be surprised that people are angry, detached, destitute, disordered, suicidal, violent, and otherwise anti-human.

  8. Mr. Reinhardt, if I understand your argument, the criminal element bears no responsibility for the high incarceration rate in the United States. Nor does the criminal element bear any responsibility for resisting with deadly force a peace officer who is trying to make an arrest. It is all the fault of the police, all of the time as an absolute. Really?

    Also, in your pursuit of justice I note your intolerance of an opposing viewpoint. You employ the tool of invalidation by attacking the article and CWR for publishing it. Rights are a two way street Mr. Reinhardt.

    As regards your litany of bracketing events, yours is not the only generation that has had to navigate them. Keep that in mind.

    Yes, we are all called to enter into deep solidarity and community with one another but before that we are called as individuals to deep solidarity and community with Christ crucified, something you fail to mention. The Catholic Church of which you claim membership is not an NGO or political social change organization. Her message of the good news of Christ will effect the justice and change that you so correctly seek of only people would accept and embrace that message.

    Since you claim to be an historian I should think that you would appreciate the long view of history. No nation is perfect Mr. Reinhardt. Perfection is an impossible goal but one we strive for through thoughtful, measured change, not through sweeping social upheaval. Be careful of the fire with which you play.

  9. I for one have never been able to understand the attraction of Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’.

    “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can.” – This from a man who lived in luxury in a New York Apartment.

    “Imagine there’s no heaven – it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky” – Pretty much speaks for itself.

    I wish that I could say that I was surprised by the Mayor’s quoting Lennon, but I am no longer capable of it. The fact that this man was once considered a serious candidate for the democratic presidential nomination is merely the icing on a very rancid cake.

    Sigh

  10. I sympathize with the family of George Floyd and the victims of police brutality and racial discrimination. But I refuse to show any solidarity with BLM and Antifa, who are nothing more than violent terrorists looking for an excuse to burn, rape and pillage. They belong in prison.

  11. “In the U.S. one origin point for police was indeed in the slave patrol.”

    Balderdash, on steroids. You are attempting to strip people of the protection of the law and leave them defenseless by tainting the police with ridiculous statements. Try reading Thomas Sowell rather than your silly socialist: https://www.theadvertiser.com/story/opinion/columnists/2016/07/14/thomas-sowell-war-police-officers/87076494/ and
    “It is what I call the “Social Justice” vision. That is, if there are disparities, it proves that somebody was wronged by somebody else. It’s one of those things that you don’t need one speck of evidence for. It sounds so good that many people will easily buy into it.

    “And many people around the world have paid with their lives for that vision. Especially in communist countries where communists came to power to supposedly correct such disparities. And once the communists are in power they create problems that make the problems that came before seem like nothing.

    “But that’s true of the left in general. They judge their actions by the wonderful things they are trying to do and are often oblivious to the actual harm they visibly doing to society.” https://thefederalist.com/2019/06/13/an-interview-with-thomas-sowell-on-discrimination-race-and-social-justice/

    and http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell102015.php3
    https://www.nationalreview.com/2014/12/race-cards-steep-cost-thomas-sowell/

    “the struggles of a generation of younger white people are tied to those of our black brothers and sisters. Our existence has been bracketed by war, a recession, and a pandemic where more than 100,000 Americans have died (so far), amid mass death from depression and suicide, alcoholism, and opioid overdose. These struggles are joined.”

    Oh, you poor pwecious ickwe things, suffering so very much more than any generation in the past ever suffered! Why, those wimps who lived through two world wars, Spanish flu, the Great Depression, and actual racism – they just have no idea what it’s like really to suffer; their lives were just easy and smooth sailing!

    “As a historian”

    You must be the world’s most clueless, self-absorbed historian.

    “The fact that the U.S. incarcerates around one quarter of all the prisoners in the world should”

    You would have to prove that those incarcerated in the US have not committed crimes, and that people are not getting away with crimes in other countries before I’d even begin to care about that statistic.

    “As a Catholic, though, this article, and CWR’s misguided decision that it is worthy of publication in this moment, is disappointing.”

    How dare CWR publish an article with which you disagree! Good grief, you’re an absolute parody of precious snowflakehood!

    “After Trinity Sunday, we should remember that we are called to try to enter into deep solidarity and community with one another.”

    After Trinity Sunday we should remember that we are called to worship God and that our ultimate goal is heaven, not earthly perfection that can never be achieved.

    “While that might never be perfect, this author’s response — one which amounts to a dismissal of the massive calls for accountability, reform, and an end to systematic racist violence”

    The massive calls for “accountability” for an action by a policeman that is condemned by just about everybody, for which he has been arrested and charged with murder? He is being held accountable. You are presuming that he did what he did based on race. How do you know? If you discover that he did it for some other reason, are you still going to claim that it must because of racism?

    “If perfection can’t be realised, is it too much to ask CWR, or this author, to at least do better?”

    As judged by you? I certainly hope they don’t try.

  12. There’s one thing Prof. Kilpatrick is missing here. It’s the other shoe that the left is positioning to let drop on America.

    Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has upgraded the charges against the police involved even though lab tests revealed that George Floyd was infected with the covid-19 virus and had fentanyl — an often lethal drug — in his system when he died.

    With contributing factors like these, any decent defense attorney will be able to cast reasonable doubt on a charge of “willful murder.”

    So why would Ellison upgrade the charges? Because if you thought there were riots after Floyd’s death, wait till the cops are acquitted. Which they very likely will be now, thanks to Ellison’s corrupt, cynical and destructive ploy.

    The riots after the acquittals will tear America apart. Because acquitting these cops will prove that America is exactly what the left claims — racist, corrupt, stacked against minorities.

    It’s a total set-up. The party of hate is ensuring they’ll get another bite at the apple.

    Spread the word.

    The left is determined to destroy America.

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