The Capitol, January 6, 2021.
I can’t say much about the current despicable unrest among Trump supporters in the U.S. Capitol other than condemning them and the actions and rhetoric of Trump himself that helped inspire them. Riots are wrong even when committed for a just cause, and this is especially true when, as here, the cause (false claims of electoral fraud) is manifestly unjust. The point may be obvious. But sometimes the obvious has to be said.
I would like to add that I also condemned the riots and looting last summer, although some of those involved had a just cause (against police abuse). Much of what I wrote then is relevant now:
Most of the damage caused by riots is done to innocent people. Violence and property rights violations reduce investment and economic development, which predictably exacerbates poverty in inner-city minority neighborhoods. The negative economic effects can last for many years.
It can be tempting to say that civil unrest and similar violence are warranted when you do so in the name of a just cause. But even people with legitimate complaints must adhere to the moral limits of the tactics with which they pursue them. Ignoring this principle is a recipe for disaster.
As I discovered in June, extreme circumstances can be imagined where civil unrest or similar acts are the only way to address an even greater evil. It is plausible to argue that they could be justified in such circumstances. Indeed, a sufficiently extreme situation can warrant a variety of otherwise unacceptable acts, including war, repression of civil liberties, and so on.
But anyone who defends riots on this basis has a heavy burden of proof that the riots really eliminate the evil in question and that they really are the only way to achieve that goal. That was not the case with the unrest last summer. And the same point is even clearer today when the rioters don’t even have a legitimate complaint to begin with.
In the June Post, I pointed out that riots have historically damaged the cause the rioters and their supporters want to promote because it is predictable to lead to political backlash. Martin Luther King Jr. warned in 1968: “Unrest is socially destructive and self-destructive.” It is entirely possible that history will repeat itself and that today’s events will further discredit President Trump and his supporters in the eyes of the majority of Americans.
I’m not a fan of Trump and his many cruel policies, to say the least, and I would be delighted if he and his allies were politically harmed. But even if today’s violence has some beneficial political ramifications that were not intended by the perpetrators, it is still wrong, and the potential gains are unlikely to be worth the dire cost.