Paul Jacob

What is required for peace is a whole ethos devoted to self-protection as well as mutual protection and self-restraint. At the moment of many rights violation, deadly force may be appropriate and sometimes necessary, by the targeted victim or by those defending the victim. But after a lag, then the slower, more methodical rule of law must kick in, and people must find the advantage in not killing those who have hurt them, or might hurt them. And respecting the rights of the accused. And going through proper procedures.

This is the basic idea behind the “social contract.”

And it could be breaking down.

Take Chicago. While most of the country continues a startling trend towards less violence, gangland warfare in the Windy City has evolved to a new and weird level. The gangs no longer fight over drugs. They fight over turf and turf alone. And all kids in the infected neighborhoods find themselves gang members, whether they like it or not. This is surely one of the most astounding developments of recent times, with gangs now behaving like governments. The territory does not apply just to members of one’s club, but all within the territory.

How this new form of gang activity developed should be the subject of careful study and national (and informed) debate. And we should try to avoid simplistic explanations or solutions. “Wishing guns away” will certainly do nothing, just as enacting a few laws will do little. The breakdown of the family, the educational and disciplinary drift in public schools, the dependence of vast sectors of American society on aid, and the never-ending war on drugs almost certainly all contributed to the current war of gang against gang. But ending old welfare state programs and instituting new, “pro-family” policies, improving government schools, ending the drug war — all difficult and some probably necessary policy moves — might not solve the problem.

Some paths, once started upon, are mighty hard to get off.

Chicago is one of the most violent cities in the nation, with well over two thousand shooting incidents last year, and about 500 murders. And, like in Iraq, something very basic has broken down. Everything I’ve heard from Illinois politicians, and nationally (Senate and House — and, for that matter, the Executive Branch), seems to miss the intimate nature of what makes for a civilized, non-violent society.

And what is that intimate principle?

Respect for rights.

As American society has become more and more wantonly bellicose and high-hatted, as the federal, local and state governments exert more and more unprincipled power, to see the lack of respect for basic rights turn into a war zone on the streets of a major city can hardly be a shock. For Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and similar metropolitan centers in America, the degradation of inner-city life serves as more than a warning sign of further degradation.

It presents a problem to be dealt with now.

It’s time for a revolution in thought about these problems. Not stale old statist notions utterly tangential to the basic “deal” of civilization. For remember, while others forget: civilization offers great rewards.

But we can reap those benefits only at the cost of putting gang violence, political violence, state violence, behind us.     [further reading]

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.