Published May 19, 2023
What if the Good Samaritan had arrived a bit earlier? Would he have fought to protect the man who was being robbed and beaten nearly to death, or would he have worried that this would make him a “vigilante” with “bloodlust”?
Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times argues for the latter. Bouie is upset that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called Daniel Penny a Good Samaritan for defending his fellow subway passengers, and so he attempts an exegesis of Jesus’ famous parable in an effort to prove DeSantis wrong. As Bouie expounds, “[D]o we think that a modern-day good Samaritan would use lethal force or act as a vigilante in defense of order? Probably not. But the idea that he would — and that this is what it means to act either ethically or responsibly — is evidence enough of a sickness that festers in too many American hearts.”
Really? Jesus’ parable is not about when or if violence is morally justified. But unless one is prepared to argue for total pacifism, it is ludicrous to say that the Samaritan would have been obligated to do nothing if he had happened to walk by during the attack that ended with a man being left for dead by the side of the road. Bouie quotes Scripture not to argue that Penny acted precipitously or excessively in restraining Jordan Neely, a mentally ill drug user with a history of random violence who was acting like, well, a mentally ill drug user with a history of random violence. Rather, Bouie is suggesting it is wrong for citizens to defend themselves or others at all, and wrong to support them for doing so.
In this Bouie is, once again, not only wrong, but also self-defeating. Law and order are prerequisites for any positive vision, conservative or liberal, for America. An ideology that disdains order disdains the good of the citizens it aspires to rule, and will constantly sabotage its own stated goals.
Public transportation provides a clear example, exemplified in the Penny-Neely confrontation. The American left loves public transportation, at least in theory. But in practice, they often allow it to become dirty, dangerous, and unreliable. This, in turn, makes people less likely to use public transportation and more likely to be harmed or menaced when they do. Inevitably, there will be violence, and otherwise law-abiding citizens will feel backed into a corner in which they have to forcefully defend themselves and others from the violent, drugged, and deranged men who have been allowed to terrorize passengers.
Destroying the Public Trust
It might seem compassionate to allow the mentally ill to use public places and transit as a free-range homeless shelter, but it is destructive of public trust and well-being, most of all for those unable to afford alternatives. This sort of disorder and menace in subway stations, trains, and bus shelters is experienced as oppression and injustice by the rest of the populace. The same is true of larger questions of public order, such as the Black Lives Matter riots of 2020, or the catch-and-release policies pursued by left-wing prosecutors.
It is oppressive and unjust when George Soros-funded district attorneys refuse to prosecute crimes. It is a violation of social justice when those in power allow rioters to run free and destroy homes and businesses. It is wicked of government officials to permit violent men to threaten, harass, and assault innocent citizens. Yes, governmental efforts to enforce order will always be flawed, as government employees are imperfect. We should keep a close eye on police and other agents of the state and strive for accountability. But civilization cannot exist without order, so of course people will cheer those private citizens who step up to try to protect order when the legal authorities have abdicated their responsibilities to maintain it.
People have a right, and sometimes even a duty, to defend themselves and others, and they do not always have the luxury of carefully calibrating their response to the sensibilities of New York Times writers. Trying to restrain a violent, mentally ill man, or protect oneself against an armed mob, is necessarily risky and imprecise. Self-defense isn’t a video game.
Loving our neighbors means protecting them against violence. And we should even seek the good of those who threaten or commit violence due to drug abuse and mental illness, which means treating their addictions and illnesses when possible and keeping them away from those whom they might harm. Thus, it was no kindness to allow Neely to degenerate into a violent man who randomly threatened and attacked people. Likewise, there is no kindness in the tent cities of addicts that dot the West Coast from Los Angeles to Seattle, and that now blight even the small-town life in between the big cities. Respecting these people’s dignity means trying to save them from self-destruction. It means accountability for crimes and treatment (involuntary, if needed) for addiction and mental illness.
Letting the mentally ill roam free while they decline into violent menaces to everyone else is unjust both to their victims and to them. Put simply, law and order are social justice, and so a left-liberalism that refuses to maintain order will rightly be rejected by voters, and its projects will be ruined.
Jesus did not tell the parable of the Good Samaritan to teach us to stand by and do nothing while others are threatened and attacked.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.