In the
diabolical new disorder of things metastasizing around us, churchmen subvert
doctrine
rather than teaching it, and public authorities subvert
law and order
rather than maintaining it.  To be sure, these cancers have been slowly
spreading throughout the bodies ecclesiastical and politic for many
decades.  What is new is the sudden
ghastliness with which an aggressive heterodoxy and criminality have broken
through to the surface, making the reality of the disease evident to all but
the most deluded of minds. 

What is its
source?  Part of the story is natural,
part supernatural.  There is, for one
thing, the tyrannical degeneracy which is,
as
Plato warns us
, the ironic fate of societies which value freedom and
equality above virtue.  And for another,
there is the chronic sickness of heresy which has for centuries
periodically ravaged the Church before being vomited out, and the severity of which
can sometimes approximate the predicted final apostasy. 

But all of that
is rather “big picture.”  It doesn’t
quite answer a more mundane question, to wit: What the hell is going through the minds of these people?  For example, how do persons who have at least
a minimal degree of sanity (just enough to hold a job, to use the toilet, etc.)
nevertheless convince themselves that abolishing
the police
would be a good idea? 
How do you explain a lunatic like new Los Angeles District Attorney
George Gascón, who has
begun to visit upon my beloved city
the destruction he
inflicted upon San Francisco
? 

General
observations about the nature of egalitarian or apostate societies don’t
suffice.  We want to know what the
connecting link is that gets you from general social decadence to a specific
official’s decision to stop enforcing the law. 
The answer appears to be Critical Theory,
broadly construed and in its many malign permutations – once confined to the
most intellectually slovenly and irrelevant academic backwaters, but now
sweeping through city governments, corporate HR departments, college
administrations, and the like by way of an army of activists and bureaucrats
whose minds have been rotted out by it.

The most
important thinker in this connection is surely Michel Foucault.  Now, Foucault was critical of, and more
insightful than, his less subtle Marxist predecessors.  He is also certainly a more interesting
thinker than the mediocrities through whom his ideas are often filtered
(Critical Race Theorists, et al.) – and, though he was a man of the Left, he
was not
entirely unambiguously so
.  But
the fundamental Critical Theoretic project of unmasking the sinister powers and
interests lurking behind purportedly innocuous institutions is the Foucauldian
project, and he famously applied it to an
analysis of the modern penal system
.

For
Foucault, the purportedly objective systems of knowledge that characterize the
mainstream thinking of a society or historical period reflect the interests of
whatever power dominates it.  So far this
is Marx’s theory of ideology filtered through Nietzsche, and thereby expanded beyond
a crudely economic analysis.  A characteristically
Foucauldian elaboration of the idea is that this power acts in a “capillary”
fashion, seeping down into every nook and cranny of the social order and,
indeed, of the individual psyche, in ways of which we are unaware until they
are revealed by Critical Theory adepts.  The
Critical Race Theorist’s paranoid delusion that absolutely everything is
permeated by racism – so that even seemingly innocent remarks and actions are
unmasked as “micro-aggressions” and “implicit bias” – is essentially Foucault
read through a racial lens.

Foucault
himself applied the idea to an analysis of mental
illness
as well as criminal justice. 
Madness is interpreted as a concept by which those who do not conform to
bourgeois standards of thought and behavior are designated as abnormal, and the
confinement by which they might be controlled is thereby given a rational
justification.  The purportedly objective
science by which all of this is made intelligible is really a mask for bourgeois
power – a way of cementing that power by pathologizing any alternative to
bourgeois standards. 

The modern
system of penal justice and imprisonment is alleged to perform a similar
function.  Foucault interprets it as a
manifestation of a broader tendency of bourgeois power not merely to discourage
behaviors it regards as abnormal, but positively to mold individuals so that
their behavior will come spontaneously to conform to bourgeois norms.  The penal system is in this way continuous
with the curricula and examination regime of the educational system, with standard
capitalist business practices, and so forth. 
It is all of a piece, a system by which bourgeois power extends itself in
“capillary” fashion through to the extremities of society.

Now, in an
emendation of Foucault’s analysis
, sociologist Loïc Wacquant takes
this line of thinking in a direction that brings it even closer to the
mentality that we are now seeing in state and municipal officials across the
U.S.  Wacquant notes, first, that things
have not gone the way Foucault’s analysis led him to expect them to.  Foucault had thought that as social institutions
in general take on the prison’s function of molding individual behavior in
order to make it conform to bourgeois norms, the institution of the prison itself will decline.  Building on an analysis developed by Pierre Bourdieu,
Wacquant argues that the opposite has happened.

First, he
suggests that the welfare state and the prison system should be seen as two
means – the first maternal and nurturing, the second paternal and punitive – by
which the modern capitalist state “manages” what he calls “urban marginality,”
i.e. “the unruly poor” and minority communities.  Now, with the rise, beginning in the 1980s,
of policies of a “neoliberal” or free market nature (he might as well have said
“bourgeois”), the institutions of the welfare state went into decline,
increasing “social insecurity,” especially among poor and minority communities.  And this has led to an expansion of the other,
punitive method of “managing” them – to what Wacquant calls a “remasculinization
of the state.”   Thus the penal system
has expanded rather than declined, contrary to Foucault’s expectation.  And its focus has been on minorities and the
poor, specifically, rather than on the molding of attitudes and behaviors in
the general population.

Second, Wacquant
says, this expanding penal system has not aimed at molding the attitudes and behaviors
even of the individuals it does target – once again defying Foucault’s
expectations – but rather merely at “warehousing” them, thereby neutralizing
the danger they might pose to the “neoliberal” order of things, but in a way
that is indifferent to what goes on in their heads.  And the general public is inured to this
callous treatment by way of what Wacquant calls “law-and-order pornography” –
entertainments that glorify law enforcement officials and demonize their
targets (reality shows like Cops and America’s Most Wanted, dramas like Law and Order and CSI, and so forth).  Thus,

Wacquant says, do we have the
structure of a “neoliberal” or capitalist system of “punishing the poor.”

Now, is
there something to such Foucauldian analyses
of power and punishment?  Well,
sure.  But there is also the studied imprecision,
massive oversimplification, and tiresome melodrama that seem endemic to contemporary
continental philosophy and fields influenced by it.  There is the refusal to think beyond the false
binary choice of being either a broadly Randian pro-capitalist or a broadly
Marxoid anti-capitalist.  There is the
vaguely idealist-cum-voluntarist metaphysics that tends to lie implicit and
unexamined behind such analyses.  There
is the hermeneutics of suspicion, of which we should always be suspicious.  And all of that greatly overshadows any
insight to be found in these analyses.

But yes,
there is something to them.  For example, it is true that there is a link
between bourgeois and “neo-liberal” economics and politics on the one hand, and
the nature of modern penal and welfare systems on the other.  But the link is not what Critical Theorists
and other leftists think it is.  The link
is that the same individualism that drives the economics and politics destroys
the stability of the traditional family, which in turn generates an underclass
that is “managed” by the welfare state and the penal system.  The remedy is the restoration of the traditional
family.  But of course, the contemporary Left
will have none of that, because its
hatred for traditional sexual morality is far stronger than its hatred of
capitalism. 

It is also
true that a just society ought to avoid merely “warehousing” offenders, and
that the welfare system ought not to treat human beings as mere “cases” to be
managed.  The Left is right to criticize
the impersonal bureaucratic nature of modern welfare and penal systems.  But here too it would refuse the correct remedy.  The remedy requires welfare and penal systems
to be informed by the spirit of what Catholics call the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  As Pope Leo XIII taught in Rerum Novarum, in dealing with such
problems “no satisfactory solution will be found unless religion and the Church
have been called upon to aid,” and without them “human striving will be in vain.”  But if there is anything the Left hates even more
than traditional sexual morality, it is traditional religious belief.

It is also
true that the basic assumptions about reality that are inculcated through the
culture of a society – through its educational system, its entertainments, its corporate
culture, and so on – tend to reflect the perspective of the powers that
dominate it, and that dissent from these assumptions tends to be
pathologized.  But under contemporary
capitalism those assumptions have moved ever further to the left, not to the right.  For example, in contemporary academic,
corporate, and political culture, there is no one more “pathologized” – treated
as a crank, as wicked, as not to be listened to or given a platform – than the
person who dares to defend traditional religious belief or traditional sexual
morality.  It is by way of this
pathologization that secularist and Sexual Revolutionary “power” maintains its hegemony.

The Left does
not see the fulfilment of our social nature in the places it is in fact primarily
to be found – in the family and the community of faith.  It looks for it instead in collectivist
political action, which is inevitably even more impersonal, alienating, and
oppressive than market forces.  The Left
wants to get us out of the liberal individualist frying pan, but only so that
we might fall into the socialist fire. 
It’s alterative to “bad” is always “worse.” 

But I
digress.  Our topic is the origin of the
Bizarro-world approach to law and order of the police defunders and George Gascóns
of the world, and I think we’ve found it. 
Foucauldian analysis yields a picture of the mental health and criminal
justice systems as means by which malign bourgeois power exerts its control,
especially over the poor and minorities, by pathologizing behavior.  This paranoid and simpleminded view of the
world, first developed with cleverness by a thinker like Foucault, is retailed through
second- and third-rate academics who add their own little details to the
story.  It is then popularized by the fourth-rate
minds who imbibe it in university, then regurgitate it through their activism,
their Twitter feeds, their screenplays and journalism, their work as HR
bureaucrats or high school teachers, or what have you. 

Eventually
this worldview trickles (in “capillary” fashion, you might say) into the head
of some dumb politician, who’s read a book or a New York Times profile of some Critical Race Theorist.  He gets it into his head that the way to free
the oppressed is to defund the police, or in Gascón’s case to “stop filing
first-time misdemeanor offenses associated with poverty and mental health.”  Before you know it, crime skyrockets, and garbage,
rats, discarded needles, and human feces line the streets your children can no
longer safely walk down.  This actually helps no one at all, least of all the
homeless, drug-addicted, and mentally ill – now “warehoused” by the Leftist
state below freeway underpasses – or the minority communities whose stores are
looted and burned down and whose children are killed in gang crossfires.

But none of
that matters to the unmaskers of “power.” 
What matters is only ever to épater
la bourgeoisie
.

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