There’s a notion, popular among self-avowed “libertarians,” that among the largest threats facing our nation is that of “the militarization” of the police. This idea has been expressed quite a bit as of late, particularly in the wake of the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
In a recent article of mine, I argued against it.
I am profoundly sympathetic to libertarianism. Indeed, I consider myself a libertarian of a sort, a conservative libertarian, as it were, a libertarian who recognizes the need to emancipate libertarianism from the abstract, rationalistic excesses with which it is all too often saddled.
It is because of, not in spite of, my affection for libertarianism that I felt the need to take to task those who insist upon peddling this “militarization” of the police bit. For purposes of clarity, I recapitulate my argument here.
(1)While it makes perfectly good sense to speak of the phenomenon of militarization, it makes zero sense to identify this with the mere possession of weaponry, or of weaponry of a specific sort. Rather, the idea of militarization is inseparable from the ideas of purpose and coercion. To be more exact, militarization occurs when moral agents are coerced into pursuing purposes—e.g. “victory”—that they may have otherwise chosen not to pursue.
To conclude that a police force is “militarized” because of the tools with which officers are equipped is like concluding that a person is a writer (“writer-ized”) because he is equipped with a computer and a creative imagination, or a mechanic (“mechanic-ized”) because he possesses a carjack and a sophisticated miscellany of tools.
It is the manner and purposes for the sake of which a person deploys his resources, and not the resources themselves, that determines what he is.
Similarly, it is the manner and purposes for the sake of which the police deploy their resources—their weaponry—and not their resources themselves that determine whether or not the police are “militarized.”
And this means that if the police are using their fierce weaponry to, not corral decent citizens into parting with their blood, sweat, and treasure to serve some visionary project of the government, but ward off fierce barbarians who are threatening to undo law and order, then it is simply inaccurate to say of the police that they are “militarized.”
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.