Since the revolution in policing that began in the early 1990s, we have had a generation of peace and prosperity. Without the rule of law — i.e., without order, without the presumption that the laws will be enforced — that kind of societal flourishing is not possible.
We are seeing now what happens when the rule of law breaks down. It is frightening, but it is hardly unprecedented, even in modern history.
Bryan Burrough’s spellbinding history "Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence," which I reviewed for National Review about five years ago, reminds us that in 1972 alone, there were 1,900 bombings in the United States, carried out, for the most part, by domestic terrorist groups and enraged individual American citizens.
Regrettably, the radical “small-c communists” were not ultimately regarded as the sociopaths that they were. They eroded public support for our war effort in Vietnam, wrote the history in which they were lionized as social-justice icons against racist America, and triumphantly marched into academe, where they have taught and influenced the sociopaths who are making mayhem today.
Throughout our 30 years of domestic tranquility, which seems to be in its twilight, we have had debates that are relevant to the rioting and looting now underway in American cities. Specifically, we have argued over the War on Terror, so-called.
It wasn’t really a war. That is, the nation was not on a wartime footing. Our enemies did not present as traditional armed forces, but melded into the civilian populations that they attacked. While there were domestic attacks, the most catastrophic one on 9/11, the courts always remained open and functioning. There was no cessation of domestic law enforcement.
Yet it wasn’t truly peacetime, either. Our enemies were projecting force on the scale of a nation-state and were backed by hostile foreign regimes. Congress authorized combat operations, and our military was dispatched. The laws of war were invoked to justify detaining enemy combatants and even trying them by military commission — though few such trials actually took place.