Continuing a series aimed at understanding the operative elements of both good and bad vigilantism, when private citizens undertake to do the work of law and law enforcement when the governments under which they live…local, regional or national…either refuse or simply are unable to carry out the duties they are charged to do.
The citizens only successfully succeed in these tasks when three conditions exist:
1) They have the physical ability to accomplish it, 2) They have the mental clarity to know that something must be done 3) and the moral clarity to know right from wrong.
In the America Ideal, both of these propositions rest on two fundamental propositions: 1) that there are Higher Laws than Man-made Law, whether one finds those in Nature or God, or both, and 2) that the ultimate human arbiter of those laws are The People; not the written Law per se; not the Government(s) per se, not the State per se.
This is what separates the flag-waving, moral vigilante from BLM or Antifa, both of which operate under the sorts of protections enjoyed by the Ku Klux Klan in the South, 1920-1960.
So finally, when those two sides clash, Nature will always choose those who pursue survival-enhancing social contracts over those choosing survival-endangering contracts. One of the reasons we study History is to note that Nature most often plays the long-game with survival, which interestingly enough, is usually determined when Man plays that game with small-ball.
So, concerning Dr Caughey’s book on vigilantism, Their Majesties the Mob (1960) one of the flaws of liberal thinking at the time of JFK taking office was that liberal governments are Good on their face, not only in terms of the laws they produce, but in the processes they employ to implement and enforce them. FDR’s reign was considered “liberal” during Caughey’s tenure at UCLA, while the Wiki definition cited in my previous chapter would have suggested it is more Left than liberal, depending on whether one were viewing it from inside academic/political end or receiving end. Likewise, LBJ’s tenure after JFK also was leftist, not liberal. But of course the “liberal label” sold well in the middle class as the noble brand at that era, the dignity of Dr King and his movement far over-shadowing the pending caterwauling of Ayn Rand’s “Children of the Damned” whose histrionics would survive and grow another decade, to become full bore Leftist by 1976, and the titular owners of the Democratic Party. I honestly have no idea how Caughey would have reacted to that lot, but from what I could find about his professional life is that, like me, his liberalism was centered around Civil Rights and academic freedom, having refused to take a loyalty oath in 1950 at Berkeley in the early days of the Red Scare, when eastern Europe’s annexation made the USSR an empire, and it was learned the Bolshies had stolen the Bomb’s secrets. He and some colleagues were fired, then sued to get their jobs back and won, in 1954…when he was 52, and still fresh in his memory when he wrote this book. So he was not a kid, having been teaching at UCLA for 24 years. So a good guess would be that his actions were based on principle not fraternity loyalties. So I’ll hold onto my notion that he was a classical liberal.
That said, and having observed three generations of American liberalism’s incarnations, and also having had the luxury of spending several years in the Soviet empire, including when it was still “Soviet”, I’ve come to the general conclusion that a singular failure of both liberalism and modern government is that neither knows what to do when the essential moral framework of the Law begins to fray around the edges. And maybe not even recognize it if dressed in liberal corduroy and horn-rimmed glasses.
Thus the liberal belief that most anything government does is “good” on its face. If something goes wrong it is a human failing, i.e, one of the mechanics, not the machine. The Machine Design itself is perfect, at least until some future elected body should decide to change it. In short, liberals never really understood how the ingredients of sausage has to be made in a free society, just that the meatgrinder, on any given day, has to be viewed as perfect.
So, in his commentaries about “The Mob“, Prof Caughey really made little distinction between the acts of “vigilance committees” in mining camps or on the wagon trains to the gold fields, finding men guilty or innocent, and in comparing to groups of hooded men in the South who would burn a cross in front of a person’s house, or rush into a shack to drag out a black teen because he’d been seen talking to a white girl.
Nor the blacklisting of Hollywood screenwriters from their exposure to ridicule from “the HUAC Hearings”, referred to as the McCarthy era, although Republicans had little to do with it. Some of Hollywood writers were mere intellectual socialists while others were pro-active, hands-on conspirators actually trying to un-do the type of government we first brought to life in Philadelphia in 1787. “The Mob” never mentioned that the Cold War began because the Rosenbergs, members of the Young Communist League in New York, had stolen the nuclear secrets and passed them onto Soviet handlers, and were executed for it. No matter, Russia had the Bomb. Fait accompli. The Communist Party was banned in the United States in 1954, which remained in effect until 1973 when a federal court (In Arizona) ruled it unconstitutional, but SCOTUS has never ruled in the 50 years since. Alger Hiss really was a spy while with the State Department, found out by the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1948, under control of the Democrats, and which knew only a single Republican chairman, (for two years) from 1933 until 1994. He was convicted in 1950 and served 3 1/2 years. The HUAC brought several hundred Hollywood writers and actors/actresses and many were blacklisted because “they took the Fifth” by refusing to answer. I never knew that actor-John Garfield, one of the blacklistees, had never finished high school and probably never finished a book. Joe McCarthy chaired his Senate committee only two of Eisenhower eight years. Still, liberals always blamed McCarthyism and the Republicans, including when Garfield died of a heart attack at 39 in 1952
As I said, the liberal picture gets murky around the edges.
The sense one gets in listening to true Liberals of that era, even though Jefferson was unequivocal in stating that Man’s fundamental right to pursue Life, Liberty, Happiness and Property were endowed “their Creator”, is that, while agreeing with the proposition, the classical liberal was at best agnostic about its Source, thus making it arbitrary, holding out that those good instincts had to have arisen from the mind of Man. This gives the highest order of Man, “elected man”, the natural right to redraw that blueprint, then carry around a screwdriver, then, an entire toolbox, then to go around redesigning, improving and repairing the original Creation. Thus, in due course, about a century, Elected Man could then pass those tasks and the toolboxes (plural) over to hirelings to continue their maintenance and repair, who in turn would, inside another two generations, begin to write their own laws, only called “Regulations”. Prof Caughey would have taken his first position at UCLA at the beginning of the Great Depression when the first great expansion of that bureaucracy began and died in 1996 so I assume he’d seen this all take place in real time.
The simple truth is that the two conflicting ideas of Law in conflict here are…Natural Law and Man’s Law…only most Liberals can’t allow themselves to acknowledge the former, for that implies laws that Man cannot arbitrarily change, requiring at best a kind of muddled agnosticism and at worst a virulent atheism about the Source of those Higher Laws.
Back to simple reality as seen through the eyes of the men and women who originally built everything “without benefit of Law” and only with the “benefit of clergy”.
If you close your eyes and actually try to imagine a town being born from scratch, it only makes sense that “government” is among the last things those towns produced. As a generation raised on western films and television, “horse operas” they were called, we saw these collisions between good and bad men while the in-betweens sat to the fence and watched, film after film. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” was about a tough rancher with a gun (John Wayne) who loved a pretty girl, and a gunslinger-robber and his gang with a gun (Lee Marvin), and a bookish lawyer with a law book and no gun, (Jimmy Stewart) who got the girl, and became the territory’s first senator when it became a state. (Gene Pitney sang the theme.)There was even a sheriff in that town who stood to the side when serious gunplay was about to occur, which was also an honest look at most cow towns. Most sheriffs kept the drunks off the streets, but at $10 a month, weren’t about to take on gangs with guns and a mean look in their eye. (Makes sense, when you stop and think about it.)
Mark Twain visited the mining town of Virginia City in 1863, during the Civil War, heading West with his brother. Virginia City was the home of the Comstock Lode, the largest silver deposit ever, and the town grew to 25,000 by 1870, a true boom town bigger than San Francisco in 1851, then spiraled down by 1878 when the ore ran out, and is now a sleepy burg of around 400. This has always been how mining towns roll.
When Twain visited he wrote:
Money was as plenty as dust; every individual considered himself wealthy, and a melancholy countenance was nowhere to be seen. There were military companies, fire companies, brass bands, banks, hotels, theaters, “hurdy-gurdy houses,” wide-open gambling palaces, political powwows, civic processions, street fights, murders, inquests, riots, a whiskey mill every fifteen steps, a board of alderman, a mayor… a dozen breweries and half a dozen jails and station houses in full operation…
…and some talk of building a church.
In terms of human priorities when only men came, and wives/families were not part of the founding picture, the church came even behind the military unit (to guard the payrolls), the town government, the sheriff and jails. The offices of government, which classical liberals in 1960 insisted were necessary, came last, after the needs of the unaccompanied men were first taken care of. Whatever “church” came with those men was found inside them.
The history of the building of the West, from the 1830s through around 1893 when Frederick Jackson Turner declared the “frontier” ended was marked with a completely different ratio between good and bad men, or even literate and illiterate men, than the make-up of the settling of the original 13 colonies. A totally different breed.
Still, this was the natural process, and every town in America, until we started building planned communities and suburbs in the 1950s, was created by the same process, beginning with a period of “lawlessness” civilized only by the moral sensibilities of its founders. Not every town had criminal gangs, but every town had to deal with bad behavior before a town government or territorial government could be organized. Still, most towns were built when humanity and morality outranked inhumanity and immorality at the rate of 10 to 1 or better. Gold and silver mining towns were the exception, not the rule.
Caughey was genuinely an expert on the California Vigilance Committees of San Francisco, one in 1851, lasting three months, the other in 1856 also lasting three months. San Francisco by then was over 20,000 and wide-open. (Some of California’s grandest dames were saloon entertainers who married miners who struck it rich, and Voila!, they were high society nabobs in the biggest house on the hill, but even then expected audiences with the Queen. Just thought I’d throw that in…about what it sometimes takes to become a grand California dame, and why Hollywood was built there.) With 700 men the first go-round and 6000 men the second, the Vigilantes hung exactly 8 men. And deported several more. They turned the rest over to local authorities for trial. Further out in the sticks, and through the rest of mining country over the next 20+ years, a few hundred more were hung, several more lashed…but a few wrongly, according to Caughey’s eye witnesses. But all had juries, often hastily appointed and of questionable sobriety, and executions almost immediate. But according to the chroniclers, in all but a few cases those hung were guilty as charged, and most, being hard men, met their fates like men. In fact, that was often the chief reason the original writer chose to write about them in the first place; how they died, not the shoulda, woulda, coulda. Only in a couple did I find any regret by the chronicler about what he had seen, and no outrage…other than Caughey’s in his brief introduction, and usually about the lack of due process, or a real lawyer- judge.
Thus spake the classical liberal.
While Caughey moved through the South about the KKK and Jim Crow, he failed to mention two prominent episodes, both turned into films, about the 1946 “Battle of Athens” (Tennessee) where several returning veterans gathered their guns and took the town away from a corrupt city government and police department, or, the 1954 cleaning up of the city of Phenix City, Alabama, which all during the lead-up and war years, had been taken over by a crime syndicate selling booze and prostitution to soldiers at nearby Ft Benning, just across the Georgia line.
I can’t know why Caughey missed these two positive “vigilante” events.
But I don’t know if the clearly developing intellectual inconsistencies between liberal academicians over the rise of a Nanny State for blacks, with only specially-designed escape routes with a kind of passport system into college and the employment (mostly government) sector….but in the lay community of liberals, such as myself (Newt Gingrich also comes to mind) it was very difficult to call ourselves liberal out loud, and more and more were finding more comfortable surroundings inside the growing conservative movement as preached by Bill Buckley. As I mentioned in the previous essay, I gave liberalism the final heave-ho in 1976, but was mostly liberal only about Civil Rights in the first place. In the late 60s, early 70s, because of my love affair with mountains and trees, I became an environmentalist, favoring saving the wild places for future generations. Then came Earth Day,1970, (Lenin’s 100th birthday) which was the first environmental scam in American history, and suddenly, by the time I had graduated from law school, I saw all my “liberal” nature-loving hiking clubs turning out their white-haired directors and replacing them with lawyers. By the time I graduated I was told by the Kentucky environmental groups that just loving walking around in the woods wasn’t enough to qualify for being an “environmentalist”. Now I had to sign onto the new EPA agenda, as well. That period between 1970 and the final nail in 1976 was just one long downhill slide about my ideas of liberalism and the Modern Left’s definition. Fortunately for me, I got to spend four of those years in uniform, in the Far East, getting to watch another part of American history unfold.
My reading of “The Mob” brought all those nagging inconsistencies back.
My bottom line, contrary with Dr Caughey’s assessment, regardless of his inner motives, is that the vigilantism he seemed most to deplore, when it erred, it erred on the side of “small”. The vigilantes of San Francisco only hung 8! A slow weekend in Chicago. And the only errors were in the process, which, as I mentioned earlier, Nature would take very little notice.
At the same time Government, even well-meaning government, for reasons the well-meaning modern vigilance committee will have to enquire more deeply into as to circumstances closer to home, almost always errs on the side of “humongous” primarily because, embedded in all government and the bureaucracy gene they have to implant in order to carry out their mission, requires them to go Big. And the Big gene kills. And the vanity gene insures they will never admit it.
So, since you’ve already noticed, I already have formed the idea of small-ball vigilantism as a cure for several reasons I outline in the next two entries. I’m not trying to convince myself that I’m right, but convince you that it is justified, and well worth the risk.
And it may well be the only way.