Crime and Police / Government Watch / Keeping America Safe / Politics

Liberal Self-Doubt and Moral Bankruptcy at Heart of Violent Crime Surge

AMAC Exclusive – By David Lewis Schaefer


Thanks to the election of soft-on-crime legislators, governors, and prosecutors in states like New York and California, recent years have witnessed an astonishing cutback in the arrest, detention, and punishment of perpetrators of both violent and nonviolent crimes, even as crime rates keep rising. But while far-left laws and officials receive most of the media attention for contributing to this crisis, the root cause of rising crime in liberal cities runs much deeper than public policy. America’s crime crisis reflects the moral failings at the heart of progressive liberalism itself – something which political philosophers past and present have warned about.

New York City provides a useful case study in how bad the crime problem has gotten. Practically every issue of the New York Post runs multiple stories signifying incidents of lawlessness from the previous day or two, which often go unpunished even when the perps are caught. The August 17 issue, for instance, featured outraged letters responding to the brutal murder of a cab driver – a 52-year-old married father of four and immigrant from Ghana – by a group of passengers he had pursued for attempting to rob him four days earlier. In a not untypical occurrence, six other city residents were shot around the same time. (Three of the cabbie’s attackers, including a 16-year-old girl, turned themselves in later that week; two other teenage girls were still being sought in the attack.)

In yet another mid-August attack, a 55-year-old convicted sex offender randomly assaulted a 52-year-old man on a city street and left him in a coma with severe brain injuries. Although the assailant was initially charged with attempted murder, he had his charges reduced by the Bronx District Attorney’s office to “assault and harassment,” both misdemeanors, enabling him to be set free without bail. Only in response to widespread public outcry did New York Governor Kathy Hochul intervene to order the attacker rearrested. But as the Post editorialized on the outcome, in view of the numerous violent accused criminals who are set loose under the state’s “bail reform” and its parallel “Raise the Age” law, which orders violent offenders under age 18 to be released immediately upon arrest, “One Arrest’s Not Enough.”

But perhaps more striking for its display of sheer chutzpah, at least to non-New Yorkers, might have been the Post’s August 17 cover story headed “Re-Beat Offender.” The story concerned an obviously mentally ill man who had been charged with a hate crime in 2021 for punching an Asian woman, just one month after he was arrested for tossing scalding coffee at a pair of traffic patrolmen. Most recently, he attacked a heroic subway-station worker who had been trying to defend passengers against his harassment, leaving the municipal worker with a broken collarbone and dislocated nose. The 49-year-old perpetrator of these attacks had been arrested a total of 41 times previously for offenses that included second-degree assault, harassment, and felony criminal mischief. Upon his latest arrest, a judge set bail at $5,000, half the amount prosecutors had requested. Although he had been previously sent for psychiatric evaluation, there is little evidence that the offender has spent much, if any, time off the street.

When it comes to scofflaws going free, however, an even more striking Post cover story two weeks prior to the subway attacker story featured a just-arrested, self-described “professional lifter” (as in shoplifter), who already had compiled a record of 100 different arrests for her larcenies – without having served a day in jail. Her mistake this time was to assault two police officers who were trying to interfere with her “professional” practice. She, too, needed to post only $5,000 in bail (the cost of which she might easily “earn” back within a week or two).

The most obvious reason why so many criminals escape punishment in New York City – leaving aside the City’s reluctance to restrain mentally-ill offenders – is New York State’s “No Bail Law,” enacted by a large majority of the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic legislature in 2019. The law prohibits judges from holding any but the most violent offenders whom police arrest on charges, instead ordering their immediate release without charging any bail at all. (Not many of those released, needless to say, are likely to return for their scheduled court date.)  A recent Manhattan Institute report titled “New York’s Bail Reform Disaster” documents the vast increase in crime ever since the enactment of this law.

Another major contributing factor to the rise in crime in New York City has been the hostility of the city’s prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, to the notion of punishing criminals. Like the recently-recalled soft-on-crime San Francisco prosecutor Chesa Boudin, Bragg owed his election in large measure to heavy financial support for his campaign from far-left billionaire George Soros, who in a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal implausibly denied any connection between the policies he’d promoted and recent increases in urban crime, even going so far as to deny the very existence of such increases.

But just what is it that is driving Bragg, Boudin, and the rest of the criminal justice “reform” advocates to offer sympathy for violent criminals at the expense of achieving justice for victims? In his devastating critique of the moral decay that he maintains is the inevitable tendency of modern liberal and socialist societies, Beyond Good and Evil, the nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche provides an answer:

“There is a point in the history of society when it becomes so pathologically soft and tender that among other things it sides even with those who harm it, and does this quite seriously and honestly. Punishing somehow seems unfair to it, and it is certain that imagining “punishment” and “being supposed to punish” hurts it, arouses fear in it. “Is it not enough to render him [the criminal] undangerous? Why still punish? Punishing itself is terrible.” With this question herd morality, the morality of timidity, draws its ultimate consequence.”

This, then, is the spirit of decadence, signifying that the inhabitants of a liberal society no longer believe in the rightness of the legal and moral order that protects them and their country from assault and destruction. This phenomenon was also exemplified in a 1966 book by the prominent psychiatrist Karl Menninger, The Crime of Punishment, which included the remarkable statement, “I suspect that all the crimes committed by all the jailed criminals do not equal in total social damage that of the crimes committed against them.”  Societies in which these sentiments thrive cannot long survive, or even merit surviving.

But is that the inevitable fate of America’spolitical order? Earlier in the nineteenth century, a more sober analyst who nonetheless shared some of Nietzsche’s concerns, Alexis de Tocqueville, observed the contrast that then existed between the attitudes of Americans and Frenchmen toward criminals. In France, Tocqueville observed, the people tended to identify withthe criminal, seeing him as they saw themselves – the victim of an all-powerful, centralized, remote “state.” (Readers of Victor Hugo might term this the “Les Miserables” complex.) By contrast, Americans regarded criminal actions (regardless of who their immediate victims were) as offenses against themselves, and if an escaped trespasser were reported in their midst, Americans immediately formed a posse to track him down. Put another way, in America the attitude was captured by King Louis XIV’s famous line “l’état c’est moi” (I am the state) but in the American context, the “I” referred not to a king or president, but to the people themselves.

There is a striking cinematic illustration of the attitude Tocqueville is describing in the 1972 film “The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid” which portrays the event that ultimately brought about the demise of the notorious Jesse James gang. In their farthest foray North in 1876, the gang attempted to rob a bank in the small town of Northfield. Rather than succumb to the robbers, a teller refused to open the safe. They shot him dead. But as the gang emerged with their loot, they were surprised to find a group of armed citizens awaiting them. The injuries and deaths that the gang suffered that day led to their breakup or breakdown not long thereafter. (Unfortunately, as I recall it, the filmmakers portrayed the James brothers a bit more sympathetically than I am doing here, but so much the worse for them. Should you find yourself anywhere in the vicinity of Northfield, some 45 minutes from the Twin Cities, I recommend visiting the former bank, now a historic monument.)

As a 79-year-old lifelong American, the grateful offspring of Jewish immigrants from Russia, I believe that the spirit of Northfield still survives in this country, but it needs to be reawakened. It is threatened today by media that celebrate sports “heroes” who disparage our flag and the country it represents; by journalists, educators, and college professors who teach the public, beginning in their childhood, that the “story” of America is best summed up by the 1619 Project, and by politicians who seek always to increase the realm of governmental regulation of our lives, promoting the “democratic despotism” of which Tocqueville, in the last section of his book, expressed his greatest fear. Slowly but surely, Americans are waking up and realizing that they have nothing to lose but the chains that thoughtless politicians, ambitious bureaucrats, poorly educated academics, and trendy billionaires would impose on them.

David Lewis Schaefer is a Professor of Political Science at College of the Holy Cross.

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4 months ago

Any conservative with a brain can see what is happening in our country. How can we remove the blinders from the eyes of the liberals that can’t see or don’t understand? It really boils down to good vs. evil. When we no longer respect God’s laws (like the ten commandments) anything goes. That is a recipe for disaster.

Jon Evans
4 months ago

Evil hearts fear proper punishment, yet We The People have become victims of unreasonable lieniency for criminals while showing sparce mercy for our own unborn.

4 months ago

One of the biggest problems is that when the police arrest one of these people & have to beat them up to comply , then they are branded as police brutality. This country is divided & the death of one of these thugs receives much more media attention than the death of a police officer on duty. This country needs to start backing our law enforcement & look at the crime & not the race of the thugs.

Michael J
4 months ago

Dems logic: Disarm their victims so they can’t defend themselves, but punish them if they do.

4 months ago

if you remain polite about their communism THEY are leading YOU! speak out and LEAD! they ARE COMMUNISTS!

A Voter
4 months ago

What the average denocrat voter can’t understand, because they were brainwashed from day 1 by an education system infected by political hacks who do not want anyone to think for themselves and only do what they are told, is that if they, through their actions give the democrat politicians what they want, which is total unyielding control of the United States, then what use to the politicians are the voters at that point.? Once thay have the ultimate control, then we all become the ultimate chattel.

4 months ago

If New Yorkers are STUPID ENOUGH to keep Re-electing COMMUNIST JACKASSES like CHUCKY SCHLMIEL they’re just getting what they DESERVE!!. . . . And if Republicans don’t or won’t point out that EVERY SO-CALLED DEMOCRAT IS PROMOTING COMMUNISM, then We the People are DOOMED TO GOVERNMENT SERVITUDE!

4 months ago
Reply to  Rik


legally present
4 months ago

AND YET New York will re-elect Chucky Cheese Schumer to another term in the Senate where he can wear his half-a$$ed glass and bounce up and down on his feet while he READS what is written for him. Guess he can’t think for himself without someone putting it down in writing. NOW just in time for the election Joey and his ilk want to hire more police officers, crack down on crime, and go back to the same ole crap AFTER the election. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Vote for Chucky, and get more of the SAME BS. Where are the people with brains in NY???

joe mchugh
4 months ago

legally present, I reside in Syracuse, NY and I vote against Democrat Charles Schumer every six-years when he seeks reelection. I also vote against his little shadow, the foul-mouthed Dem. Senator Kristen Gillibrand.

New York State, and several others, such as California, have large populations in all of their bigger cities, populations that exist at the sufferance of the wage earners who actually pay taxes. These taxsuckers always vote for the candidates who run on the Democrat ticket.

The non-liberals of New York State, like me, are called mean-spirited and
cold-hearted but we still take the time to vote because to not register our votes would only further encourage the liberals.

To put it simply, the taxsuckers outnumber “…the people with brains…” in New York State.

4 months ago
Reply to  joe mchugh

Thank you for your common sense.

4 months ago

Maybe the people did not re-elect him, maybe it was false voting machines.

4 months ago

The problem with not removing politicians like Schumer from their office is that registered voters don’t come out to vote as often as they should. Voter turnout should be high, especially judging by the comments here, BUT those who complain the most on these sites fail to show up in person to vote. Voting days should never be considered an inconvenience that is suddenly affecting your personal life activities because you failed to plan to do your civic duty and come out to vote. Only 7% of the voters came out in my area to vote in the Primary elections, yet there are a whole lot of complainers about who won. My answer to your complaints get out and vote in person and stop using lazy excuses. Whining on social media sites does nothing. You don’t need a gold star or a sticker or a lollypop for voting.

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