In Steven Pinker's new book The Better Angels of Our Nature, the Big Idea is that states are essential to the decline of human violence over the millennia.
If you live in a non-state society, like a hunter-gatherer band, you will likely experience a violent death rate of at least 500 per 100,000 per year. That's two orders of magnitude bigger than the current murder rate of less than 5 per 100,000 per year in developed societies. And that includes so-called pacific tribes, like the !Kung in the Kalahari Desert and the "gentle" Tasaday in the Philippines.
The reason for this remarkable decline in violence is that modern states take over the defense of the borders and the defense of the streets from the people. Ordinary people are not involved in war, and they do not settle their disputes with force. They leave all that to the state.
In this view, of course, the "frontier justice" of the old West and the gun culture of the Jacksonians in the South are a threat to social peace. Also, Pinker points out, the modern state tends not to police the inner-city ghetto, leaving it "stateless." Police "seem to vacillate between indifference and hostility... reluctant to become involved,,, but heavy handed when they do so." They are inclined to let the "neighborhood knuckleheads" and their families fight out their differences, because otherwise the combatants will all end up in jail "for BS behavior" and would never show up in court to press charges over violence anyway. So why bother?
That's the liberal line. The conservative line is that in America, "more guns means less crime," in that when the citizens are disarmed the only people with guns are criminals. And conservatives rail against liberals that make it almost impossible to police the inner cities because any police action that liberals dislike is anathematized as police "racial profiling" or police brutality.
And then there is the lament of Victor Davis Hanson, that the rural areas of California have been abandoned by the law enforcers to vandals and looters--who are, of course, young Hispanic gang members.
It's clear that state policing, along with the rise of commerce, is the major cause of the decline in violence. But something has gone wrong if the police don't bother to police the cities and don't bother to police the countryside.
The "problem" is that every new immigrant group that comes to the US from the countryside still has a culture that deals with violence by feud, and it takes a generation or two to change the culture from "frontier justice" to state policing and legal procedure.
But liberals don't help when they encourage racial and cultural separatism, and delay the integration of immigrant groups into the great American mainstream. It's true that assimilated Americans aren't as patient as they might be with new immigrants, and the new immigrants don't trust the police. But liberals seem to concentrate their efforts on disarming white gun-nuts rather than immigrant gang-bangers. They make the police out as monsters, and thus discourage them from doing their job, which is to make life difficult for single young immigrant men with a taste for violence.
When you listen to your liberal friends you get the feeling that they have no clue what is going on in America. It's frustrating, but that is what you expect from the ruling class in an ageing dynasty. And liberal power depends on the faithful votes of the latest immigrants to the city. In the 19th century it was the Irish. In the 20th century the white working class. Now it is the blacks (immigrants from the rural South) and Hispanics.
One day, of course, the black and the Hispanic gang-bangers will all be rock-ribbed Republicans; they will be the despair of liberals much as the bitter clingers of the white working class are today.
But it sure would be nice if liberals would actually help immigrants assimilate to the city and its commerce instead of encouraging pre-industrial behavior. Why don't they read and learn from the books their liberal pals churn out: chaps like Steven Pinker?