A line that has become all too common in some libertarian circles is that the key problem, or even a problem, in Ferguson, Missouri is a problem facing the rest of the nation.
This problem is what these libertarians have taken to calling “the militarization” of the police.
The charge that police forces have become “militarized” is almost as perplexing as the charge—also increasingly common among these same libertarians—that “racism” is alive and well among America’s police officers and white Americans generally.
And this, I believe, is because the term “militarization,” in this context, is about as meaningless as that of “racism.”
For starters it is the libertarian who defends the right of the average, law-abiding citizen to own firearms. Furthermore, the libertarian thinks that, in principle (even if not always necessarily in fact), the average, law-abiding citizen has a right to own whatever kind or kinds of firearms that he chooses—regardless of whether his neighbors think that he “needs” them or not.
So, if there is nothing objectionable about the hairdresser next door owning a bazooka or an M16, then why is it objectionable for the police—the police who exist solely for the purpose of shielding civilization from barbarism—to own and, if need be, use bazookas and M16’s?
Surely, it can’t be the mere presence of such weaponry in the hands of uniformed police officers that has the libertarian howling about “militarization.” If so, then the libertarian sounds eerily similar to his leftist counterpart who can’t resist personifying inanimate objects like guns and SUV’s.
Maybe what’s got the libertarian’s goat is the fact that, as the law currently stands, police are permitted to possess weaponry that are forbidden to citizens: the latter should be permitted to own, say, machine guns, but they are not.
Now, if it is this that has the libertarian apoplectic, then he is in desperate need of new terms in which to cast his position, for it isn’t “the militarization” of the police at all to which he objects. He is unhappy that citizens aren’t also allowed to be “militarized.”
It is as sensible for the libertarian to go on about “the militarization” of the police because it is illegal for citizens to bear comparable arms as it is sensible to become outraged over the practice of rewarding and punishing because, sometimes, individuals don’t deserve the rewards and punishments that they receive.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.