The consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic will be with us for a long time, yet our descent into mobocracy may be the most notable development of 2020. It is the subject of Angelo Codevilla’s essay “Millenarian mobs” in the just-published Summer issue of the Claremont Review of Books. He calls it “an old and dangerous story.”
Professor Codevilla brings a scholarly historical perspective that deepens the concerns of common sense. He concludes:
The logic of millennialist revolution is very much alive among us. History teaches that the names of the evils—of the supposedly oppressed and their oppressors, as well as their grievances—are interchangeable and irrelevant. Today, we need not imagine that the corporate magnates, the hard-bitten politicians, the FBI officials, who kneel draped in Kente cloth in penitence for “white racist America,” who declare solidarity with the mobs that deface statues—that any of them believe in anything other than their own power and advantage. Nor need we imagine that the majority of those mobs’ members are doing anything other than enjoying a holiday from the law. Protagonists and pawns are part of a revolutionary avalanche that must flow by its own logic.
Today, as in the Middle Ages, the mobs, the fires and desecrations, the ever-present focus on “the Jews!” have nothing to do with any truth or with the details of any particular event or accusation. What sense does it make for a mob in Brussels, Belgium, to tear down a statue of Julius Caesar in protest against four U.S. policemen’s killing of a black man whom they were arresting? Or for that matter, for a mob in Philadelphia to deface a monument to an unknown soldier of the Revolutionary War of 1776, or for Bostonians to organize the removal of a statue of Abraham Lincoln? Alas, the millennialists and their mob do not need specific grievances against specific targets. The civilization itself is the only real target; its existence and the mob’s lack of complete mastery over it are the only grievances that really matter. They need know only that the civilization they are attacking has become vulnerable, undefended, and may be safely treated with contempt. If we do not share that contempt, history shows we have no choice but to treat the millennialist mob as the enemies they are.
Professor Codevilla’s essay is the second of our previews from the new issue of the CRB. Read the whole thing here.