The true conservative believes that the first need for a civilized society comprised of civilized men, women, and children, is “ordered liberty,” or “liberty under law.” A breakdown of order for any reason threatens a society and all within it. The deaths of people of color at the hands of the police, tragic as they are for the actual victims, threatens the breakdown of society as well.
A society based on ordered liberty is one in which each member may pursue his or her own interests provided nobody is hurt in the process. It is the product of both the development of self-control, and the imposition of external control should self-control be insufficient. But self-control is meant the ability of people to control their impulses and behavior so that they can lead meaningful lives without hurting others. Families, churches, social clubs, and schools and other “agents of socialization,” as social scientists might put it, can all contribute to the development of self-control. The more successful they are in developing self-control, the less we need the agencies of external control—the police, the prosecutors, the prisons, and other institutions by which the government helps impose order and punishes those whose misconduct causes disorder.
A lack of personal self-control leading to criminal behavior is by no means the only threat to public disorder. Other threats may include fires, floods, natural disasters, or foreign invaders. For those possibilities, we need, in addition to the police, firefighters, the armed forces, and other public defenders of order as well.
But we must also remember, as the killings of people of color, of whom Tyre Nichols is the latest but no doubt not the last victim show, the threat to order can come from the government itself. Indeed, the killing of Tyre Nichols is not only an obvious assault on him and his family, but an assault on the ordered liberty of the public as well.
That the government itself can be the threat to ordered liberty was shown in George Orwell’s 1984, wherein he described a dystopian future in which the government kept society in a constant state of turmoil through the deliberate spread of terror. And in fact, it is standard operating procedure for the governments of totalitarian societies–Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, for example—to keep its subjects in a permanent state of fear of the midnight knock on the door and a one-way ticket to a slave labor camp, a “psychiatric” facility, a “re-education camp”—or a gas chamber.
Of course, the United States, contrary to what its critics from the radical left or the radical right might say, is nowhere near the hell on earth of a truly totalitarian society. Yet the fact remains that the killing of Tyre Nichols seems, on the basis of what we currently know, to have been a classic example of a governmental action which not only killed someone who should not have died, but which threatens the ordered liberty by both its own misconduct and by threatening to revive the extreme anti-police sentiments stoked by the murder of George Floyd and other men and women of color, and all that followed—the widespread lawlessness, looting, and rioting; the refusal of irresponsible mayors and governors to use the police and National Guard to protect the law-abiding citizens and their property from the mobs; and the election of soft-on-crime “progressive” prosecutors who sabotage the work of the responsible police while allowing criminals to create more and more mayhem.
The first task resulting from the killing of Tyre Nichols is to thoroughly investigate and, should the facts so warrant, punish the police officers found responsible. But this all-important task must be accomplished with what Tyre Nichols did not get—due process. The former police officers, now defendants in a criminal case, must be accorded the full range of constitutional protections all of us would want for ourselves—an orderly process involving grand jury proceedings, transparent indictments if the facts so dictate, the right to counsel, the right to present whatever arguments possible on their own behalf, and the presumption of innocence unless and until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. These procedures must be followed not only because the defendants are entitled to them, but to abandon those procedures creates the precedent by which each of us might someday be deprived of our own rights as well.
And Tyre Nichols’s family must also be made as whole as possible. I suspect the family will ultimately get a large cash settlement, but naturally, no amount of money will ever fairly compensate them for their loss.
Above all, and beyond securing justice for Tyre Nichol’s family as well as for his killers, we—collectively as well as individually–must work for the ongoing discovery and implementation of policies which keep government simultaneously effective in the maintenance of order and less likely to promote disorder. The fact that all five of the dismissed and accused officers were, like Nichols himself, Black, makes the role of racism, if any, less obvious. Must the training of prospective police officers be upgraded? Must the practice of “community policing” be implemented? So it would seem.
Finding the right balance between order and liberty may make walking a tightrope over a tank of hungry sharks seem like child’s play in comparison. But the ordered liberty so central to conservative thinking must be achieved to the greatest extent possible. Civilized society depends on it. Besides, the innocent person killed in a riot resulting from insufficient order will be as dead as the murdered victim of police brutality.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.
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