Libertarianism at Its Best

can be found in this sensible and humane piece by Steven Greenhut, on the ridiculous police state tactics deployed by campus security thugs against peaceful protestors at UC Davis (and the lies unsuccessfully deployed to try to excuse those tactics).

His critique of the growing love of fascist violence by the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism is particularly pointed. Also striking is the repeated and persistent use of the word “animals” by alleged conservatives (many of them no doubt Christian) to describe people who were doing nobody any harm, but whose tribal affiliation and dumb ideas place them on the wrong side of an ideological divide from the alleged champions of limited government and the Judeo-Christian tradition. As Greenhut nicely sums things up:

What’s really disgusting is the natural instinct of so many conservatives to stick up for the police. They don’t like the Occupy protesters, so they willingly back brutality against them, without considering the possibility that conservatives at some point might be on the receiving end of this aggression. Then again, this common, vulgar form of modern conservatism almost always sides with the state, even as it champions the empty words of limited government.

In a rapidly dechristianizing society, you’d think that conservatives and Christians would have the modest foresight necessary to ask themselves, “Gee, what if the state and its militarized police decide that we are menaces who deserve to be treated like lawless rioters when we are just sitting there posing no threat and exercising the right to peaceably assemble? Suppose they blinded me with pepper spray or took the advice of more fascist minded ‘conservatives’ and started beating me or fracturing skulls with rubber bullets all while lying that I was a ‘threat’?” But, as the huge ‘conservative’ support for torture has demonstrated, the Thing that Used to be Conservatism seems to be dominated by an awful lot of people want to live in a police state and who seem to have no conception that a post-Christian police state will not keep them safe.

I see basically no difference between these tactics:

and those of Bull Connor:

Does this mean I agree with the OWSers confused and their mixed up goals? Generally, no. Greenhut speaks for me pretty well:

I disagree with most of what the Occupy protesters are saying, quite obviously, but when I see lines of riot-gear-clad officials standing in front of these unbathed wretches, my heart goes out to the wretches. They need a lesson in economics and politics. The policies they advocate – to the degree that many of them have any well-defined grievances – range from the silly to the disastrous. They are inconsistent, foolish and hypocritical. Many of them are lazy freeloaders. Such is life. They do create filth and chaos in public parks, but if one cannot protest in a public park, there are not many places to have a protest. It’s in everyone’s best interest for the authorities to provide as much latitude as possible for protesters of any political persuasion. We still do pretend to live in a free society, right?

As a matter of common sense, I think it wiser for a Catholic in a rapidly dechristianizing culture to be more worried about vast concentrations of power and wealth in an unaccountable pagan crony capitalist state ruled by a God King who grants himself the power to kill any American citizen he chooses. I think it more sensible to be concerned about the intensely incestuous relationship between Big Caesar and Big Mammon. I think it more sane to keep an eye on legislators from two parties who are about the amassing of vast personal wealth as they contemplate how to force veterans to sacrifice more. I am much more concerned about militarized police who have power to casually pepper spray unresisting protestors and lie that they were a “threat” than I am about a few disorganized people living in tents and playing drums, who are open to reading Chesterton and hearing some Catholic social teaching (as many of them are). Are OWSers sinless victims? Of course not. We all know the stories of the smelly hippies, nuts, creeps and criminals among them (sort of like the smelly hippies, nuts, creeps and criminals who occupy the pews–and sometimes the altars–of the Catholic Church). Arrest ’em if they break the law. But do be sure to arrest them for actual lawbreaking and not merely for being annoying or standing next to a smelly hippy, nut, creep, or criminal. Otherwise the jails fill up and the state has to figure out something else to do, like ask itself if the whole crony capitalism thing is really panning out as planned, when its manifold and manifest failures are generating this much unrest, not only among OWSers but Tea Partiers as well).

But unless there is a real threat, this police state crap must go. Like James Madison, I am generally of the opinion that we have more to fear from the state than from a bunch of people peaceably assembling. There used to be a time the Thing That Used to Be Conservatism knew that too.

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  • Pat B

    Well said Mark.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    Ditto from me. Well said.

  • Kirt Higdon

    This is also the result of the militarization of domestic law enforcement brought about by the endless US wars against the rest of the world carried out by both Demo and Repub regimes. The “thing that used to be” also used to be opposed to foreign wars. Now its main criticism of Obama is that he doesn’t kill enough foreigners. These same critics also consider domestic enemies worse than foreign ones so you see where this is headed.

  • Tominellay

    If these scenes were taking place on a different continent, instead of on a Stateside college campus, both the “thing” and the “king” would be bombing to effect a change of government.

  • Then again, I can look on the bright side of the police. After all, out of the hundreds and hundreds of police that have been watching over the protests these many weeks, there have only been a few cases like this, and that’s not bad, given the track record of human sin and failing. Certainly compared to other recent crackdowns around the world. It’s worth thinking of when considering the few cases of extremes in the Tea Party, or the cases of extremes in the OWS gang. I suppose it’s how one chooses to look at things. I am the last person not to be concerned with the way things are going, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s always *their* fault they are going that way.

    • Mark Shea

      That’s true. The police are, by and large, to commended for how they have dealt with protests around the country (and certainly in comparison with the goons in the Islamosphere). However, that is often no thanks at all to the “conservatives” Greenhut documents, who long for American police to be as brutal as Egyptian cops on the theory that they will only be brutal to smelly hippies the “conservative” doesn’t like and that such brutality will never be turned toward them. It’s a marvelously naive faith, given human nature and human history. In short, Greenhut’s point is not really about the police, but about the increasing tendency of the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism to approve of and urge fascist violence for really flimsy reasons.

      • TomC

        “The increasing tendency of the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism to approve of and urge fascist violence for really flimsy reasons.”

        Wow. What a remarkably stupid and unhinged statement.

        • Mark Shea

          Read the article I linked. Not pretty. And I’ve been seeing it myself in various places in the blogosphere. And, of course, given that I have spent six years arguing with people who have labored to defend the torture of people because they happened to be swarthy or have a Muslim sounding name, on the off chance they might know something or other: yeah, the endorsement of police state tactics on flimsy grounds is indeed a growing trait of the Right. Just ask Dilawar or Maher Arar. I’d say torture and murder are police state tactics. And I’d say they were applied on flimsy grounds given both men were innocent. And I’d say the steadfast refusal by the Rubber Hose Right to get past the rhetoric of “We only splashed water in the faces of three hardened terrorists” and acknowledge the existence of these and other victims is, indeed, evidence that the Thing That Used to Be Conservatism is dominated by apologists for the use of police state tactics on flimsy grounds.

          • TomC

            “Conservatism is dominated by apologists for the use of police state tactics on flimsy grounds.”

            I came of age politically during the riots outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968, so I’m well used to this charge about Conservatism.

            Conservatives have been labeled apologists for fascist, militaristic, racist, sexist, anti-choice, and homophobic tactics on flimsy grounds for as long as I’ve been following the political and social scene.

            • Mark Shea

              Then perhaps the conservatives in the article I linked shouldn’t be apologists for fascist violence. It does tend to lend credence to the charge, doesn’t it?

              • TomC

                No, comments by conservatives in one article does not lend credence to the charge that “Conservatism is dominated by apologists for the use of police state tactics on flimsy grounds.”

      • Point taken. I would like to think that those in the article don’t speak for the majority of conservatives any more than those police who have lost control, or those OWSers who have gone over the edge, speak for their groups. Part of the problem might be those who are assuming the role of ‘face of modern conservatives.’ Maybe there are some out there we have yet to hear from.

        • Mark Shea

          They don’t speak for all conservatives. But given the overwhelming polling in favor of torture among “conservatives”, the huge popularity of torture at CPAC, and the roars of approval from the crowd for the near unanimous approval of torture and lawless murder by executive fiat in the GOP field of candidates: yes, those people very likely speak for most “conservatives”.

        • carlamariee

          I haven’t seen any police who’ve been “out of control”. What they have done has been very deliberate. That’s what’s so scary.

  • Jo Cunningham

    Thank you for saying what had to be said. Those who applaud ridiculous and unnecessary police violence against protestors better look out the next time they attend a silent rosary protest. They may find out what its like to be on the wrong side of a non-violent protest.

  • Confederate Papist

    You’re right. It does depend on who controls the guns.

    I admit I do not know enough about what happened at UC Davis, but my opinion is that if the OWSers were not doing anything wrong but were just being squatters, smelly, campy, etc., and not breaking any laws, then the pepper spraying is wrong. However, if they were asked to leave, like at Zuccotti, and they refused after the deadline has passed, then, again, pepper spraying would be the wrong choice *unless* the OWSers were resisting.
    I was thinking, on a more humourous note, that since these folks are dirty and smelly, etc., why not hose them down instead of pepper spray? You’re solving two problems with one action! 😉

    • Ink

      I was just thinking that–but you’d need soap too. Or maybe put out a massive announcement that the OWSers have two days to shower or everyone’s getting hosed–but maybe not with actual fire hoses, garden hoses or some such–just to soak them AND be kind of annoying and make a point.

      And, a sort of half-formed thought: can’t you get picked up for public indecency? I am of the opinion that should happen to the kids sleeping around outside. I so would not want to bring children by an OWS camp for that exact reason.

  • Andy

    I am not sure that it is the thing that used to be conservatism – I fear that it is about the thing that used to be America. The right to petition the government is built into our constitutional framework as well as other “founding documents”. Since the connection of mammon and the ruling class is effectively blocking this access there seems little other way to make concerns known – to use the police to prevent what is part of the American framework means that as a country we are descending into a chasm that has no bottom in sight. The Tea Party and OWS present an frightening view – not to the masses, but to the ruling class – the Tea Party appears to have been co-opted and OWS may be to amorphous to be co-opted so the ruling class will instead attack it.

  • Rosemarie


    The powers that be have already used violence against conservatives. Remember Operation Rescue? Here’s an article from 1990:

    Politics, Pain and the Police : Anti-abortion protesters decry holds applied by officers during arrests.

    As the article points out, back then the torture was euphemistically called “pain-compliance.” There’s more information about what OR protesters went through in this article:

    As OWS Protesters Are Dispersed, We Demolish a Leftist Lie

    (It’s written by staunch conservatives and so drips of contempt for OWS, but it is the only link I could find that brings information from various articles on violence against OR together in one place.)

    • Rosemarie


      And here’s a more recent case from only three years ago:

      Operation Rescue Condemns Police Brutality Against Peaceful Pro-Life Teens At DNC

      • ds

        What is your point? That it is OK to do it to liberals because it was done to conservatives?

        Do you think this kind of police action is appropriate against anyone?

        • Mark Shea

          I think her point is that it’s bad.

          • Rosemarie


            Exactly, it’s bad. My point it that conservatives shouldn’t kid themselves that such violence won’t ultimately be used against them, especially since it’s already happened.

            • Cinlef

              True but I’d hesitate to overemphasize it if only because we want to clearly distance ourselves from the consequentialism we are fighting. Even if I was able to know with 100% certainty that it would always be vaguely Arabic people who would be on the receiving end of torture, or misguided [right about many of the problems wrong about most of the solutions] OWS-ers peacefully protesting who get pepper sprayed and roughed up by the police (and you’re right it won’t be) IT WOULD STILL BE EVIL AND THUS WORTHY OF BEING CONDEMNED

              • Rosemarie


                True, it would still be evil. What bothers me is the shortsightedness of people who call for this kind of thing and defend it.

                Reminds me of the famous “First they came…” quote about the Nazis. Sure, their actions would have still been wrong if they hadn’t come for him in the end, but that’s not the point of the quote. The point is that people should speak out against injustice, even if it is against some group other than themselves.

  • Margarita

    We need to pray for our police. I’m sure there is a lot of pressure on them spiritually and politically to go along with the trend towards denying our liberties and natural rights. I’ve seen both sides of the coin with police: my mom and I were both victims of police brutality during the peaceful sit-ins at abortion mills of the early 90’s here in Atlanta and in Philly. My mom was jailed for a week with other peaceful protesters. She has a photo album documenting people’s bruises from pain-compliance techniques. But recently I also witnessed GA State Capitol police gently defusing a crowd of young anarchists from what could easily have turned into a violent situation – they arrested none of them, although they could have just for wearing ski masks. Earlier that night (at the vigil for Troy Davis the night of his execution), when we decided to march to CNN, some Atlanta police even blocked traffic so we could cross the street – even though this was a spontaneous march for which we had no permit. So I have experienced both ends of the spectrum with police. They need our prayers and encouragement to be servant-protectors of our freedoms.

  • Gabriel Austin

    It seems to be unnoticed that there is a sexual element in torture and brutality, chiefly a sense of dominance over another human being.
    That said, I believe there is a dangerous underlying element in such as the appeals to the Constitution [or even the Declaration]. There is a sense of the ideal state, represented by the U.S. A good and intensive study of THE CITY OF GOD should banish these notions.
    Son of a [legal] immigrant, I am bemused by all the clamor against “illegal” immigrants. Who can determine the legal status of immigrants? Is it the Indian tribes, who appear to have been here first? Perhaps the Hispanics who were first in Florida and the Southeast and [for their sins] California. There is a strong original Puritan element in the establishment of the United States, and the [North] American [as Hispanics name us] sense of entitlement to the land. What are the moral reasons behind arguing that New Mexico should not be part of Old Mexico? The behavior of the Pilgrim Fathers and their descendants is as unsavory as the behavior of the Puritans in Ireland. It is the same conquering mentality.
    Lest anyone should begin to feel comfortable I recommend a reading of Douglas Blackmon’s SLAVERY UNDER ANOTHER NAME: a description of the Jim Crow era in the South, run by Democrats, with accounts of the major corporations using the labor of “inmates”.

  • Martial Artist

    @Mark Shea,

    You are absolutely correct. If protesters become a public nuisance owing to either disruptive activity, disturbing the peace, destructive behavior, or matters of public health and sanitation, then the correct action would be to disperse them, but even then pepper spray is not the first, or even the second, form of encouragement to be employed.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  • What exactly is your complaint, Mr. Shea? Are you complaining about the tactics used by the police or about the fact that they were interfering with a political protest?

    Do you think the police should not enforce laws about trespassing or disorderly conduct if the actions in question are part of a political protest? What constitutes a protest? Does a single trespasser get this protest immunity or does it have to be a group? How many?

    If some wanker were publicly masturbating on the steps of the Capitol to protest how Congress is screwing the country, should he be left unmolested (by anyone other than himself, I mean) as he comes and goes, in order not to interfere with a political protest? If not, exactly what laws should be enforced against protestors and which ones should be ignored?

    And shouldn’t this sort of thing be stipulated in law rather than left up to the judgment of the police who have been ordered to enforce the law? Do you really want police to make decisions about what political groups should be allowed to break what laws? Shouldn’t the police try to enforce the law without prejudice against everyone regardless of their political motives?

    Or if you are complaining about the tactics for breaking up the illegal activity, I’d like a little more detail on that. How much force can police use on a large group of people who are conspiring to break the law and resist arrest? Would tasering them one by one have met with your approval?

    Is pepper spray really that awful? I’ve never experienced it myself, but I know that all of these police probably volunteered to experience it as part of training and as a consequence probably don’t consider it that awful. The students probably won’t either in a day or so. I expect that it will just be a good war story for them with no lasting damage. I find it hard to understand where this sense of horror is coming from.

    In addition, I think you are confused about the the conservative reaction to this. I propose that the conservatives who were cheering the police were not doing so just because they don’t like these particular protestors. They were cheering because they believe that laws should be enforced in an impartial manner.

    These protestors, for the first few weeks, were given a special “liberal protester” exemption from normal enforcement of the law. That rankled conservatives who suspect (probably correctly) that there would have been no similar “conservative protester” exemption in these liberal cities if Tea Partiers had flouted the law so brazenly.

    And if there is any real schadenfreude from conservatives, I propose that it is not directed merely at the fact that the protestors are on the other side, but at the abrasive self-righteousness of these protestors, believing that what they have to say is so important that it justifies law-breaking to bring attention to themselves but not so important that they should have to argue for it rationally.

    Personally, I was not worried about the precedent that this enforcement action would have created if it had been allowed to stand. The precedent would have been that protestors have to obey the law just like everyone else. As a conservative I’m fine with that. If I ever need to break the law as part of a protest, I’ll take the consequences. The potential harm from that eventuality is less, in my view, than the potential harm in a precedent that allows political groups an ambiguous, un-legislated special exemption from the law. Who knows where that would lead?

    • Mark Shea

      It’s not really complicated. I’m objecting to the unnecessarily brutal tactics, as is obvious from what I wrote. Your article, boiled down, is “They had it coming.” No. They didn’t. As Greenhut made clear. Your note eloquently demonstrates exactly what Greenhut is saying about the love of violence so common among the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism, which tends to believe the state is infallible when it uses violence.

      • You will have to forgive me for thinking that you were suggesting that the police should not have enforced the law when you describe a group that conspired to break the law and forcefully resist the police as “a bunch of people peaceably assembling.” But I’m glad to hear that you only object to the specific police procedures and not to the fact that they were enforcing the law against political protesters.

        I also should say that I agree with you that people who say things like “when the police tell you to move, you move” are a bit worrying. I’m not as worried as you though, because I have enough faith in my fellow conservatives to assume that beneath the brusque exterior, they are humane and charitable, and that most who make such statements are doing so under the assumption that the police are making lawful orders. If things really became as bad as you fear, I think most of them would quickly change their minds. I think your judgmental attitude is a bit over the top.

        You paraphrased my comment as: “they had it coming” which I take it to suggest that you are accusing me of enjoying the misfortunes of the people who were pepper-sprayed, or viewing it as proper retribution. This is wrong. I view the pepper spraying as an attempt to enforce the law. The police have no business punishing people or exacting retribution, no matter how much their target “deserves” it, and I would not support such an action. Punishment and retribution is the job of the courts.

        All I see in that video is an attempt to enforce the law against a group of determined lawbreakers. Was the attempt poorly done? Maybe. I’m not an expert in crowd control so I don’t know. Still, pepper spay just doesn’t seem that horrible to me. Apparently it didn’t seem that horrible to the victims either because they volunteered to stay and take a second dose.

        So the only real disagreements we seem to have are that I don’t judge people as harshly as you do and a disagreement over whether pepper spray is “brutal”. On that basis alone you feel free to accuse me of loving violence and believing the state infallible when it uses violence. All I can say is that you are wrong on both counts and that it is unreasonable for you to make that accusation in the first place.