Published May 11, 2022
With events surrounding the leaked Dobbs v. Jackson opinion (which may or may not be the Supreme Court‘s final decision), we are witnessing left-wing mobs protest outside the homes of conservative members of the Court. It is rumored that Justice Samuel Alito has been moved to an undisclosed location to protect him and his family. A left-wing organization creepily dubbed “Ruth Sent Us” is behind the unrest, publishing the home addresses of Supreme Court Justices. Cruel chants and vile placards surround the Justices’ homes. It is a gross display of ghoulish barbarism.
Compounding the travesty of the mobs themselves is the abdication of moral authority occasioned by the Biden administration’s late-to-the-game condemnation of these protests. It is all the more ironic after the breathless calls by Democrats from 2016 to 2020 for the restoration of civility and decorum to our nation. What a farce. We are seeing in real time how a feckless administration can turn a blind eye to mob action when conducted by its political allies.
Mob-like behavior, whether of the left or the right varieties, must stop. A bipartisan rebuke is necessary. The events of January 6, 2021, will forever be a national embarrassment. Threats of violence and actual violence ensued that day. Reasoned calm must not give way to unbridled zeal. Mob action is unjustifiable. Such thuggish activity is incompatible with the experiment of American constitutionalism—a project predicated upon restraint, deliberative democracy and the rule of law.
Some may reply that mobs are a response to inaction or scandal. Or that mobs are the echos of the dispossessed. Still, it does not matter. What matters in our nation is the rule of law, which avails all persons the chance to reform their government using non-violent means. We need not descend into crazed, wide-eyed behavior to have our voice heard. I understand that pro-abortion voices may not like the current make-up of the Supreme Court. So what? Nothing unconstitutional occurred. If pro-abortion voices don’t like how the Constitution apportions the Supreme Court, there’s a method for changing it. Do the work. But tantrums are acts of force, not reason.
God ordains government for the sake of executing justice. Mobs make sound government impossible. When the staid proceduralism of the Constitution takes a backseat to violence, we are on the cusp of experiencing what we hear about in third-world countries—perpetual instability, corruption, government overthrows and political violence. Where masses can descend on government figures and government offices, law gives way to intimidation.
Mobs are born of passion, which is at odds with reason and deliberative democracy. In our system, the rule of law creates norms and procedures, which are preconditions to the most necessary ingredient to democracy: trust. Trust collapses when lawmaking or judicial opinions are accompanied by images of nooses and coat-hangers. Mobs by nature cannot control themselves, due to the vortex of human nature they let loose. Chaos can quickly envelop them. Few participating in mob-like behavior intend to do violence. They end up doing so because disorder invites malevolence.
Mobs are not peaceful protests, which we ought to welcome. Our Constitution gives ample space for the freedom to assemble and to petition for a redress of grievances. It is a blessing of liberty that our Constitution etches such freedoms into our laws. We can all look back upon history to the many peaceful and necessary protests that pricked our nation’s conscience. Such protests are an antidote to deranged behavior of mobs.
As an ethicist, I teach against “consequentialism”—the mode of moral reasoning which suggests that the ends or goals justify the means of any action necessary to accomplish them. It is a school of thought which can license all form of moral anarchy, such as torture or indiscriminate killing. Mobs embody this mode of thinking: insofar as the cause is righteous, do whatever is necessary to get the result you want. That might sound alright, but it creates disorder. The ends do not justify the mobs. It simply guts democracy of the reasoned sobriety necessary for sound judgment.
Supreme Court Justices are to be respected, not intimidated. We can only hope that they are being given the necessary security to protect themselves and their families. It is a sad testament to our times that such a sentence would ever need to be written.
Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a Fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Managing Editor of WORLD Opinions.