Friday, September 02, 2005

Lessons of Katrina

After the excesses of the French Revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in 1835 with an inherent mistrust of democracy. While here he studied the effects of political liberty and legal equality on Americans and came to admire American democracy. He concluded that the interests of individuals and those of their political representatives were unified by a thousand small bonds. Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” described a country that had won his heart.

However, Tocqueville recognized a potential danger that citizens might cede their independence to a benevolent government that labored for their happiness but “chose to be the sole agent and only arbiter of that happiness.” What would remain, he said, but to “spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living.”

Upon leaving America Tocqueville traveled to England and found that which he most feared. At that time Britain was the most prosperous country in Europe, if not the world, yet a sixth of the population was living on the public dole. “Memoirs on Pauperism” published later in 1835 recounted his observations of physical squalor coupled with moral and emotional degradation in the midst of prosperity.

Tocqueville rightly attributed this gross pauperism to the Elizabethan right to public assistance that was unique in Europe at that time. He realized that humans, as thinking beings, would tend to take advantage of entitlements leading to voluntary idleness. The resulting social pathology destroyed both kindness and gratitude and dissolved the social bonds that protected people from the worst.

Writing about contemporary Britain, Theodore Dalrymple (“Our Culture, What’s Left of It”) describes a country where “mass drunkenness, crude and violent relations between the sexes, unbridled hedonism leading to chaos and misery especially among the poor” are commonplace. Like Tocqueville, Dalrymple blames the welfare state, plus the bad example of intellectuals who believe that man is endowed with rights but no duties.

All during the 20th century liberal intellectuals preached that man should be freed from the shackles of social convention and self control. The rich usually have the means to overcome their poor choices. But the poor, the unemployed and the welfare recipient – those most in need of boundaries – suffer dearly from their own “progressive” behavior.

Tocqueville and Dalrymple would be saddened but not surprised by the scenes of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “The looting and the apparent near-anarchy in the flooded streets have nothing to do with Mother Nature, and everything to do with human nature, unconstrained by the thin veneer of civilization.” (Thomas Lifson, The American Thinker)

This thin veneer separating civilization and chaos has collapsed. A National Guardsman was shot outside the arena. A Mississippi man murdered his own sister over a bag of ice. Several girls have been raped inside the Superdome in the midst of thousands of people. Thugs took pot shots at rescue helicopters.

Then, of course, came the looting, the inevitable exploitation of misery that contributes the insult of human depravity to the injury of natural disaster, a piteous reminder that in the race to the bottom, even the most heinous of the elements are no match for the baser instincts of Man.” (Gerard Baker, London Times)

There has been a descent so clear into indecency that one must address it as pressingly as the breakdown of the city's levees. It is as if the moral and civic "levees," too, were overwhelmed by the torrent. Once the waters have receded, New Orleans will face a task that will test our national mettle. A part of that task will be to ask why so many stooped so low as the waters rose so high.” (Tunku Varadarajan, Wall Street Journal)

But 165 years ago Tocqueville knew the source of the New Orleans social pathology. Approximately 25% of the people there receive welfare payments. Many of those who ignored the mandatory evacuation were waiting for their welfare checks that were to arrive yesterday. The murder rate in New Orleans is 10 times the national average. Loose living is the way of life in "The Big Easy."

The barriers that separate civilization from barbarism were as weak as the levees.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful and tragic reading, Bill. Thanks. My emotions run from extreme sadness for the human suffering in New Orleans and surrounding areas to anger at the absolute disregard for misery by the thugs (terrorists!?).

How sad to see human beings sink to this level. My own mind cannot begin to understand it. I come to the Biblical explanation that man is sinful. Period. Some choose to sink into depravity and others choose to rise to the best God has put in us.

Interesting numbers on New Orleans, too. I wonder how our numbers in L.A. are and whether we would see the same thing happen here (or anyplace) if something of this magnitude happened? I think we would unfortunately. I still remember the lootings and beatings, etc. that happened after the Rodney King verdicts.

Dori Medina

P.S. I agree with do indeed have a knack for writing. :-)

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A bullseye yet again! Outstanding!

Thanks for sending (as with all others)!


2:01 PM  
Anonymous Pamela Cleveland said...

This blog for me was one of your best! Then again, I usually think that after every blog of yours I read. What you did in this one is succinctly summed up profound insights by Tocqueville and Dalrymple and the others; added your own on-target truths that just cannot be denied by leftists. Yet, Marxism was never based on truth. So, as it goes...liberals can rant and stare at truth and spit it in the eye anyway.
I had Grover read your blog. He remarked, "Billy really wrote this?" Then added, "Billy knows how to articulate my thoughts the way Rush does, in a way that makes me awed!"

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so right, and I am sick of these people trying to blame the president. The mayor of New Orleans said on national tv that Bush had pissed him off. Well, the mayor could have loaded up lots of those people in school buses and gotten them out.

I feel sorry for Texas getting all those people and I do hope they don't tear up the astrodome.

Also, for people to get to that area they would have to come through Jackson. We have trees down all over the highways, no gasoline much less power to pump the gas, no telephone service and no cell phone service. It is gradually coming back on but this takes time.

Nobody really thought it would be this bad or they would have left their homes and gladly given their possessions to the many looters and gangs.

I waited in line for 4 hot hours to get 4 gal of gas the other day and I still have no electricity at home but I am not fussing or blaming anybody. Frankly I think I am very lucky and so should those people that lived through the thing.


12:37 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

Home Run!

7:36 AM  

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