Charleston, South Carolina, is one of my favorite cities. I spent some time there in February of this year, fleeing the Cleveland winter. The history, the architecture, and the food combine to make it everything a city should be. Not surprisingly, it is a model for the New Urbanism, a movement I have been involved in almost from its beginnings. No city or large town could go far wrong by patterning itself after Charleston.
Another nice thing about Charleston, perhaps in part a product of its beauty, is that race relations seem good. During my several visits there, I have never felt endangered by crime, nor encountered any hostility from blacks. Quite the opposite: black Charlestonians have been just as friendly and welcoming as whites.
The murder of nine black citizens of Charleston in their church during Bible study by a young white male is thus especially hard to take. Of all the places where something like this should not have happened, Charleston heads the list. Unless, of course, the killer was motivated to hit Charleston because black-white relations there are good. If so, that makes the act all the more appalling.
As Thomas Hobbes perpetually reminds us, life’s first and most basic social requirement is order. Order is what the state arose to provide, and it remains the state’s most important function. Conservatism, too, has order and safety of persons and property as its most important goal, something Russell Kirk made clear over and over again.
Any strike against order is therefore something conservatives deplore. When it comes in the form of a massacre of innocent people, whether in Charleston or in Colorado or in Norway, conservatives do more than sorrow. They rightly raise the question of why the state did not do a better job of providing order. That includes preventing nut cases from getting a hold of guns. The Founding Fathers did not intend the right to keep and bear arms to apply to the inhabitants of Bedlam.
The fact that the target in Charleston was a black church and its members added another dimension to the assault on order. The best hope the black urban community has of replacing the culture of instant gratification now prevalent among many young urban blacks with a functional culture, a culture that promotes rather than undermines order, is the black church. That means whites should be just as interested in the health and well-being of black Christianity as should blacks. The lack of safety of persons and property in the black inner city hurts all Americans, regardless of color. It imposes massive costs on our society.
All these considerations come together to raise the question of whether the Charleston massacre was an act of Fourth Generation war. As we have seen elsewhere in the world Fourth Generation elements fighting the state often use mass murder as a tool, because the murder of a lot of innocent people shows the state as impotent and thus undermines its legitimacy. In the Charleston case, the facts that the violence was interracial, and apparently racially motivated, and that the target was a church, a source and symbol of order, makes the question all the more acute.
We do not yet know enough to answer it. It may be that the killer is simply nuts. He fits a pattern we have seen in other such mass shootings, of a nerdy, isolated kid who loses touch with reality and becomes a monster. It would not be surprising to find he was addicted to violent video games, as was Breivik in Norway and a number of other shooters. Conservatives should be in the lead in asking whether such games should be banned.
But if Roof had thought out his crime in Fourth Generation terms, then it is a warning sign that matters are moving in a wrong and dangerous direction. The U.S. government’s top national security goal must be preventing 4GW on our own soil. As we are seeing in Charleston, it may be that the church rather than the state is the institution best able to damp down the emotions that feed 4GW and, more broadly, disorder. So, fervently, should we pray.