Civilizational Collapse Follows When Laws and Consequences Mean Nothing

Civilizational Collapse Follows When Laws and Consequences Mean Nothing

By: Victor Davis Hanson

Part One – May 14, 2024

America is facing a number of existential crises—an open border, 30 million illegal immigrants, $36 trillion in debt, borrowing at the rate of $1 billion every 100 days, a suicidal war on gas, oil, and coal production, a recrudescence of premodern racial and ethnic tribalism, the destruction of deterrence abroad, blue state exoduses to red states, the implosion of America’s big blue cities, 1 million plus homeless people, a military that is woke, short recruits, warped by lobbyists and revolving door ex-4 star defense contractors, and a corrupt administrative state.

But amid such bad news, one common denominator seems to explain the collective suicide of America—the end of consequences, or the expectations that laws will never be enforced, threats never realized, and punishments negotiable. And we can extend that to include national debts not paid down and student loans never repaid—all to be rationalized by lies.

Punishment for breaking the law does not deter most people, whether the fear of shaming oneself and family or the reality of losing six months of freedom to a jail cell. But when there is no bail release, or an exemption of $950 for looting, then theft soars, and the law becomes a lie.

The criminal in a cost-to-benefit analysis figures his theft can be fenced for more profit than the chance of going to jail for stealing something that is not his. So even the enabler Rep. Adam Schiff becomes not safe as he robbed of the very clothes on his back. After serial profitable stealing, the criminal class has less respect for the authorities who empower them than for the rare mayor or district attorney who prosecutes them.

In other words, the longer the law is trampled, the more emboldened the criminal, and ironically the weaker and more impotent and more despised become the authorities who allow it.

Even the worst criminal in his dark heart yearns a bit for an adversarial relationship with the police and prosecutors, rather than being given free rein to run wild and so easily destroy civilization.

In a Road Runner/Mad Max/The Book of Eli world, even among the chaos there emerge criminals who try to reconstruct some sort of codes and laws. Even the Hell’s Angels amid their felonious creed live by codes, a low sort of law to create animal order among their ferity.

After all, to paraphrase Plato, even thieves must resort to some sort of protocols or law when they divide up equally the profits from their criminality—to prevent a free-for-all fight that might squander their loot.

Yet in a land without any laws and consequences, the criminal has too much competition, and so ironically functions better with fewer rivals in an ordered and lawful society. And so given that human nature innately has respect for strength and confidence, even the worst murderer has more respect for the hardest-nose penalty prosecutor determined to try, convict, and put him away for good than the buffoonish George Gascóns or Oakland’s Pamela Prices who destroy the distinction between lawfulness and illegality.

The same logic applies to campus unrest. The more mobs grow, as the rhetoric becomes sicker, and as the masked punks become more aggressive, so even more the college president issues serial platitudes. Usually, the president simply levels obviously empty threats, sometimes daily sermons that sort of praise the “courage” of the thuggish students, sometimes expressing worries that he might have to, just maybe, one day, sooner than later, enforce his own campus rules.

Have you sensed what might follow if just one brave campus president announced:

I may be fired, I might be hated by my faculty, but by God, I am going to enforce this campus’s rules and protect the freedom of passage and speech and communication of most of my hard-working students who are paying for instruction, knowledge, security, and the protection of the Bill of Rights. And so, anyone who breaks our campus laws will be arrested, immediately suspended, and face a hearing on permanent expulsion. Anyone who damages campus property, or who forces the university to clean up after his mess, will have the ensuing costs added to his tuition payments and be prosecuted for vandalism. Anyone who is not a student will be subject to arrest and prosecution for trespassing and unlawful entry. And anyone, who is a foreign student or resident immigrant, and breaks campus rules and laws, shall be summarily expelled and face deportation on suspension of his student visa.

We know that such a college president might be fired, would be certainly reviled in the media, spat upon by the faculty, but also canonized by the country and admired as a rare profile in courage.

And yet no one wishes to be martyred. So, the loud therapeutic talk continues without even a small twin of enforcement.

Part Two – May 15, 2024

In short, if Alvin Bragg or Letitia James or Fani Willis were to forsake lawfare and the publicity it earns, and instead treat the criminals in their big city with steep bail, speedy trials, and stiff sentences upon conviction, we know calm would return to urban America.

We know that truth because such a renaissance occurred in the 1990s when the power of the law returned and even the rock-thrower who broke windows, and the squeegee jaywalker who harassed motorists into forking over tips for his bad windshield cleaning, faced big fines and some jail time. The killer thought that if New York stooped to arrest a window-breaker, then it would surely go after the manslayer.

Just as lawlessness begets chaos, and a law unenforced becomes all laws unenforced, so too a law that has teeth spreads lawfulness, gaining respect from the lawful and earning fear from the lawless. And soon then safety, security, and happiness return.

Almost any current pathology is due to timidity and equivocation when simple rules and customs needed to be reenergized and revived.

Take transgenderism. What if our society encouraged a transgendered sports category, a third league between male and female? That is, a coach, a principal, a college president, a mayor, or a governor might simply have said:

“After 60 years of seeking parity between women’s and men’s sports, we are not going to allow biological males to wreck six decades of hard work, much less participate in contact sports where they might injure smaller and less strong female athletes.”

He would be canonized and begin a movement where reality returns and the rule of the absurd ends. Transgenderism would return to its status of the pre-hysterical 2010s when gender dysphoria was treated sympathetically as a rare disjunction between sex at birth and one’s natural affinity with the attributes of the opposite sex. In other words, we would go back to a world where transgenderism/trans-sexualism/gender dysphoria was an identifiable malady, but one affecting about .01 percent of the population, not a fetish of 10-30 percent of elite campus youth.

And our open border? Is it not yet another example of the destruction of the rule of law and the ensuing suicide of Western civilization?

In November 2020, the border was secure. Illegal aliens had been deterred by Trump’s resumption of building the wall, fear of deportation, a war on the cartels, and ultimata to Mexico to cease its own efforts to destroy its own northern border. We relearned the truth of Voltaire’s admonition—il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres—or Napoleon’s reported restoration of law and street order through “a whiff of grapeshot.”

Translated, that means if a new administration in its first 30 days began building a vast new wall, stopped catch-and-release, ended refugee status applicable inside the United States, and deported as a start 20,000 recently arrived illegal aliens, then would not the illegal immigrant come in fewer numbers, with legality, and more respect for his soon to be adopted homeland?

Would ex-admirals and retired generals become more circumspect about smearing their commander-in-chief as a “Nazi,” a “Mussolini,” and a “liar,” if Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (i.e., “Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”) was just enforced one time (applicable to retired and serving officers as well)? If the offenders were court-marshaled, then would we have a less weaponized military and fewer megaphonic officers?


Part Three – May 17, 2024

The people yearn for laws to regain their potency. They are sickened by statutes on the books that vaporize upon needed enforcement. They are tired of excuses and inaction. We feel the chaos everywhere from the trivial to the existential. How many times has Joe Biden threatened the Houthis? Is the Red Sea safely navigable—or not?

What does Joe mean when he virtue-signals “Don’t!”? Did his “don’t” stop Putin from attacking Kyiv? From Iran targeting Israel with missiles and drones?

I recently flew on a Southwest flight. I had purchased a first-class ticket to board and earned a second in line according to Southwest’s singular protocols. But first were the supposedly invalided. And there were 12 such that claimed serious maladies that not only required wheelchairs but also the accompaniment of their families. All told some 20 boarded first. And purchased first-class ticketholders were relegated to 6-7 rows in the rear.

I lingered before deboarding. Some 10 of the 12 walked out easily along with 7 or 8 of their relatives.

I said nothing, but just listened to the other passengers, who complained that there were zero rules to ascertain disability and their first-class tickets were a bitter joke. I thought silently that had all the stricken been apprised they could board first, but would have to disembark last, then some of the “disabled” might have thought of boarding with the majority.

Why does not one pay any attention to federal servants who swear under oath to tell the truth to Congress and federal investigators, and then summarily lie so boldly?

Again, there are no consequences. No consequences for once CIA Director John Brennan who with exemption lied twice under oath. So did Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. And with self-confessed impunity.

Add in Anthony Fauci and Andrew McCabe. How could James Comey seriously claim amnesia 245 times when interrogated by the House Intelligence Committee? How could “51 Intelligence Authorities” simply lie on the eve of the 2020 election by swearing the authentic Hunter’s laptop was likely a product of Russian disinformation? Did Leon Panetta or Mike Morrel suffer ostracism, ridicule, or public censor for boldly lying on the eve of a presidential debate and upcoming election?

If we just charged one government grandee with perjury who lied under oath, and if convicted jailed him, perhaps the truth would return to the government. Or for the public liars who prevaricate with impunity, what if we just ostracized them, as if lying was a cardinal sin?

If laws were enforced, if lying earned a perjury charge or at least social ostracism, then the order would follow. Deterrence would reappear, and the smash-and-grabber, the carjacker, and the knockout-game puncher would recede into the shadows.

A final note. Laws must not just be enforced but done so equally and symmetrically.

No one believes Trump would be prosecuted by Bragg, James, Smith, and Willis were he Biden and not Trump.

No one believes that the laws were enforced against arson, rioting, murder, mayhem, and looting during the summer of 2020. And yet illegal parading was charged against many of the January 6 demonstrators.

Some like Peter Navarro go to prison for refusing a congressional subpoena; other refuseniks like Eric Holder claim hero status. Does anyone believe if the evidence against the Biden conglomerate were comparably applied to the Trump clan, the latter would be similarly excused and exempt?

If a special prosecutor in 2017 found that Trump had removed classified files in the manner of Robert Hur’s findings of Biden’s illegality, then surely Trump would have been impeached, convicted, jailed, and removed from office.

In sum, when laws are not enforced, or enforced erratically, unfairly, and dishonestly, then there is no civilization. And so, we witness why America has become what it is: home of the unfree and home of the lawless.