There are many who propose solutions in our post-Ferguson America. In light of recent security breaches, for example, the White House security staff announced that it is considering putting spikes on the fence separating the President and the American people. In a similar vein, many liberal activists are demanding that police be fit with body cameras to document all their actions.
However, such security measures will solve little since they address the symptoms not the causes of unrest that are rocking the nation.
There is something profoundly wrong with a society of spikes and body cameras. It indicates a lack of trust at all levels of society. It is a telltale sign that the social consensus that once existed and acted as glue to unite the nation is no long holding. When the warm social bonds that keep things together are lost, the cold hard force of the law is the only thing left to keep order. Spikes and body cameras are knee-jerk stopgap measures of self-defense that hide a greater problem.
What is at stake in the present trust crisis is our identity as a people and the values we have long shared.
In his work, The City of God, Saint Augustine offers a definition of a people that can shed some light on our days. He states that “A people, we may say, is a gathered multitude of rational beings united by agreeing to share the things they love.”
Throughout the course of our history we have agree to share many things that we have come to love. Not all these things have been good and we have discarded many of them. We have erred along the way and must acknowledge our shortcomings.
However, many of these things we love have proven to be good and served to be a foundation of our prosperity: rule of law, ordered liberty and the idea that God would bless an America that adheres to a moral code vaguely based on the Ten Commandments. Inside this consensus could be found shared institutions of family, community, manners, morals, beliefs and aspirations that brought us together as a people and favored virtuous life in common.
Our problem today is not the things that we love and agree to share. It is that we no longer agree to love, and we no longer agree to share.
Instead we are taken up by the frenetic intemperance of our days where everyone must have everything instantly and effortlessly without regard for others. We have constructed a self-centered culture that leads people to resent the very idea of restraint and scorn the spiritual, religious, moral and cultural values that normally serve to order and temper what Augustine called a people.
When ideas are no longer shared, everyone takes a “what’s in it for me” angle to life. The purpose of life becomes one’s own self-gratification. Life in society becomes difficult and full of resentments, conflicts and mistrust. We see the results of this attitude in the tide of broken families, shattered communities and empty churches that blight our social landscape. It can be found in charred ruins of today’s riots. We see it also in the cold bureaucratic hand of big government everywhere filling in the void.
That is why it is so important that those who still hold to the good things that have united us stand firm. It is only in those existing social institutions of trust that we will naturally and lovingly order society. We demand from our police the impossible when we ask them to substitute the face of a loving mother with the rough and tough face of a New York cop. Reams of government regulations cannot replace simple moral codes.
The only we can return to some kind of order is if we become a people again. We must have the courage to agree to share the good things that we have always loved and look for other things to love that will inspire us to future greatness. We must forge a new consensus of trust beyond the spikes and body cameras.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.
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