Walter E. Williams

You might be tempted to charge, "Williams, you're a prude!" I'd ask you whether high rates of illegitimacy make a positive contribution to a civilized society. If not, how would you propose that illegitimacy be controlled? In years past, it was controlled through social sanctions like disgrace and shunning. Is foul language to or in the presence of teachers conducive to an atmosphere of discipline and respect necessary for effective education? If not, how would you propose it be controlled? Years ago, simply sassing a teacher would have meant a trip to the vice principal's office for an attitude adjustment administered with a paddle. Years ago, the lowest of lowdown men would not say the kind of things often said to or in front of women today. Gentlemanly behavior protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior.

During the 1940s, my family lived in North Philadelphia's Richard Allen housing project. Many families didn't lock doors until late at night, if ever. No one ever thought of installing bars on their windows. Hot, humid summer nights found many people sleeping outside on balconies or lawn chairs. Starting in the '60s and '70s, doing the same in some neighborhoods would have been tantamount to committing suicide. Keep in mind that the 1940s and '50s were a time of gross racial discrimination, high black poverty and few opportunities compared to today. The fact that black neighborhoods were far more civilized at that time should give pause to the excuses of today that blames today's pathology on poverty and discrimination.

Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we've become.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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