This is the time for the leadership or practicality of the Founding Fathers or Lincoln, or that of Reagan, but there is little sign of it now

Awaiting America’s Camlann

By —— Bio and Archives--April 17, 2014

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In Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the legendary King Arthur had to confront the errant Mordred at Camlann.  The two entered tense negotiations while their uneasy armies stood by, ready for the least sign of aggression from the other.  One knight, however, was walking in the grass and came across an adder.  He pulled out his sword to kill the snake and two armies took that as a signal.  The resulting carnage was – literally – almost total.


One can get the sense that the United States is nearing its own Camlann these days.  On one side, a burgeoning law-enforcement culture that has become arrogant, militarized, and has lost its old sense of purpose.  On the other side is a heavily armed public which has lost its trust in America’s institutions.

There is good reason for that loss of trust.  There are some fundamental conflicts in American society that can go clear back to the Revolutionary War… if not earlier.  The Western World, not just the US, has also been drowned in a toxic intellectual environment since the 1960s and the resulting infection has not yet run its full course.

The American Declaration of Independence outlines the start of a great and noble experiment – that of a society predicated upon an individual’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  The experiment has not yet concluded.

A dream founded on the ideals of the 17th and 18th Century Enlightenment, the United States became a society in which anybody could reinvent themselves, earn their own way, and enjoy the fruits of their labours.  Nobody—with some exceptions that eventually got sorted out—was necessarily condemned by birth and class to a stagnant pre-ordained place.

The problem was that this ideal is a recipe for anarchy unless balanced against a strong civic spirit—which relied on education and shared belief—backed by sensible common laws.  The Americans started with a good legal foundation inherited from Britain (Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England from 1765-1769 remain required reading for students of the law throughout much of the world); and the story of American legalism is the history of their government and institutions.

When those first defences have failed, the Americans also have episodes in their history where a muscular approach to law enforcement proved necessary.  We have all seen the myths and legends that arise out history over of the likes of the Texas Rangers, Alan Pinkerton, or Elliot Ness.  The taint of vigilantism or bureaucratization arises fairly frequently too.

Human nature interferes with good myths and many famed American lawmen have checkered episodes:  The champion of law and order may have dabbled in crime, taken ‘considerations’, drunk too heavily, or perhaps have been photographed in a rather compromising situation.  It is always best to remember that a police officer cannot be an icon and it is unwise to leave him (or her) unsupervised.

Rise of the Warrior Cop:  The Militarization of America’s Police Forces

Worse, Radley Balko’s recent book Rise of the Warrior Cop:  The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (Public Affairs, New York, 2013) outlines an American policing gestalt which has wandered far from the ideal of Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry or Officer Friendly on his neighbourhood beat.  ‘No Knock’ warrants, armoured vehicles, machineguns and grenade launchers have become too common to comfort any who love civil liberties. 

In 2012, there were almost 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, including a bewildering array of new acronyms.  The US Federal Government must be the worst offender with the likes of such new police agencies as USFSLEI, DOCOIG, EDOIG, DOEHSS, HUPPSD, DOIOIG, RRBOIG… it must be hard to keep producing all the new raid jackets.

On the other side of the fence is the American citizen, who is often prickly in defence of his or her own rights and freedoms.  Notwithstanding modern revisionists seeking to ‘reinterpret’ the intentions behind the Second Amendment, Americans have always tended to be more heavily armed than the citizens of other nations.

It is an aspect of human nature that the Founders of the American experiment well understood:  The average man resents being governed but puts up with it as a necessary evil.  Each of us thinks laws in our own case are unnecessary but are needed to keep our fellows orderly.  The American experiment was to let every man have a role in government, and keep every component of government leashed in by the rest of it.  One component of the guarantee of liberty was to allow the citizens to be armed.

Americans are better armed than any others on Earth.  Notwithstanding many criticisms about their methodology (and intentions), the Small Arms Survey Project 2007 report is a widely held benchmark about rates of civilian firearms ownership around the world.  Not surprisingly, the United States came first with an estimate of 87 firearms per 100 residents.  The next top five were Serbia (58), Yemen (54… maybe), Switzerland (46) and Finland (45).  Canada came in 13th with 31 firearms per 100 residents.

If anything, the Americans might well be at 100 firearms per 100 residents right now.  Every time the Obama Administration talks aloud about gun control there was a rush to the shelves.

The growing split between elites and the commons in the Western World has become increasingly obvious since first described by the late Christopher Lasch in the early 1990s.  A professional class of management oriented persons – a self-selecting elite – has become manifest.  From the EU, the capitals of Western Europe, and rife in Washington as well as Wall Street, this management class has become estranged from the general public.  Worse still, they were raised in a Post-Modernist ethos.

Post-Modernist thought reckons history, custom and tradition to be of little account.  Honour and integrity are likewise concepts for old fuss-pots and cranky conservatives.  The essayist William Derersiewicz, a Yale Professor until 2008, has been saying much more about the dysfunctional education of America’s elites but it is clear that the US is in the hands of a governing class that has a sense of entitled privilege but not of responsibility.

The Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln both knew that the American public – no matter how cantankerous they might be sometimes – were ultimately no fools.  Even when people cannot articulate what disturbs them, they can still sense when things have gone wrong.  It is even easier when their financial security is in disarray, their children are unemployed, their taxes are rising, and heavily armed police are getting careless about what doors they kick down.

For the American elite, the unruly little people are getting restless and clearly do not understand what is in their best interests

Instinct supports the massive personal investment in firearms and ammunition stocks that so many Americans have made.  For the American elite, the unruly little people are getting restless and clearly do not understand what is in their best interests, therefore all these police agencies must be supported with more arms and more ammunition.  It is easy to see where this might go.

Gun control is an elite pre-occupation, especially nowadays.  American populism is supported by the ideal of an armed populace.  Attempts to control America’s firearms inventory are already being ignored and resisted.  Affairs such as the ongoing tensions between a Nevada rancher and the minions of the Federal Bureau of Land Management (possibly indirectly working to the benefit of the family business of a key Democratic Senator) are where these differences will come down to a sharp point… or a hair-trigger.

This is the time for the leadership or practicality of the Founding Fathers or Lincoln, or that of Reagan, but there is little sign of it now.  America may be edging closer to the Field of Camlann.


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