True, but not basically anybody’s fault. The “genocide” was accomplished by accidentally-imported disease germs, and has been more than countervailed by improved living conditions since. There are way more people of primarily Amerind stock alive in North America today than there are estimated to have been in its peak pre-contact population. Thus, in the long run contact and its consequences were a good deal for the native populations genetically speaking, and arguably a good deal culturally — flush toilets count for a lot.
Good guess. The dominent influences in Wiccan symbolism remain Greco-Roman and Celtic, but there’s a strong sense among us that what we’re actually groping for is a form of shamanism appropriate to our cultural context. Thus there have been continued and conscious efforts to stir Native American shamanism into the mix. Sioux mysticism has been expecially influential because there are good primary sources on it, notably .
In a new book, “Locked In” (Basic), John F. Pfaff, a professor of law at Fordham, calls this choired voice (in which this writer has been a participant) “the Standard Story.” The standard story, as he sees it, insists that, first, the root cause of incarceration is the racist persecution of young black men for drug crimes, which overpopulates the prisons with nonviolent offenders. Then mandatory-sentencing laws leave offenders serving long prison sentences for relatively minor crimes. This hugely expanded prison population, one that tracks in reverse the decline of actual crime, has led to a commerce in caged men—private-prison contractors, and a specialized lobby in favor of prison construction, which in turn demands men to feed into the system. (This exploitation is further supported by local communities in which a new prison can replace a closing factory, providing one of the few reliable sources of decent incomes for working-class, mostly white men.)
Pfaff takes on the elements of the standard story one by one, mostly concentrating on statistics involving state prisons, where the majority of inmates are housed. (American prisons operate in such a complicated patchwork of federal, state, and local jurisdictions that, as Pfaff points out, it is hard to get a good handle on the numbers.) First, he inspects the claim that it is predominantly nonviolent drug offenders, imprisoned against all moral logic, who populate our prisons. It’s a claim that President Obama endorsed as recently as 2015: “Over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before, and that is the real reason our prison population is so high.”
So what makes for the madness of American incarceration? If it isn’t crazy drug laws or outrageous sentences or profit-seeking prison keepers, what is it? Pfaff has a simple explanation: it’s prosecutors. They are political creatures, who get political rewards for locking people up and almost unlimited power to do it.
The fight against mass incarceration in the United States is no exception to this rule. In recent years, the horror of what Americans have done to other Americans—and particularly white Americans to black Americans—has led to a steady, engaged anti-prison polemic, one with many authors singing more or less in unison. The numbers make their own case: 6.7 million people, mostly men, were under correctional supervision during the year 2015—more than were enslaved in antebellum America and more than resided in the Gulag Archipelago at the height of Stalin’s misrule.
Academic histories of the Revolution, though, have been peeping over the parapets, joining scholarly scruples to contemporary polemic. One new take insists that we misunderstand the Revolution if we make what was an intramural and fratricidal battle of ideas in the English-speaking Empire look like a modern colonial rebellion. Another insists that the Revolution was a piece of great-power politics, fought in unimaginably brutal terms, and no more connected to ideas or principles than any other piece of great-power politics: America was essentially a Third World country that became the battlefield for two First World powers. Stirred into the larger pot of recent revisionism, these arguments leave us with a big question: was it really worth it, and are we better off for its having happened? In plain American, is Donald Trump a bug or a feature of the American heritage?
The radical Whigs, though they, too, were implanted within establishment circles—grouped around William Pitt and the pro-American Marquess of Rockingham, with the devilish John Wilkes representing their most radical popular presence—were sympathetic to Enlightenment ideas, out of both principle and self-protection, as analgesics to mollify “the mob.” They represented, albeit episodically, the first stirrings of a party of the merchant class. They thought that colonists should be seen as potential consumers. Alexander Hamilton, back in New York, was a model radical Whig—trusting in bank credit and national debt as a prod toward prosperity, while the authoritarian reformers were convinced, as their successors are to this day, that debt was toxic (in part because they feared that it created chaos; in part because easy credit undermined hierarchy).
Meanwhile, all the rewards for the prosecutor, at any level, are for making more prisoners. Since most prosecutors are elected, they might seem responsive to democratic discipline. In truth, they are so easily reëlected that a common path for a successful prosecutor is toward higher office. And the one thing that can cripple a prosecutor’s political ascent is a reputation, even if based on only a single case, for being too lenient. In short, our system has huge incentives for brutality, and no incentives at all for mercy.
Some of the force of du Rivage’s account of the Revolution lies in his dogged insistence that the great political quarrel of the time really was a quarrel of principles. His book, he tells us in the introduction, is ultimately about “how ideas and politics shape social and economic experience.” This is a more radically Whiggish proposition than it sounds. For a long time, under the influence of the formidable Lewis Namier, the historian of Britain’s eighteenth-century Parliament, the pervasive ideas in the political life of the period were held to depend on clans and clan relations, not systems of thought. Even Edmund Burke, we were told, was no more drawn to Rockingham by ideology than Tom Hagen was drawn to the Corleone family because he shared Vito’s views on urban governance.
Kindred issues arise with mass incarceration. Even if private prisons account for a relatively small proportion of the prison population, that they are allowed to exist at all is an indictment of our system. Dickens, in writing about the injustice of debtors’ prisons, was unaffected by the fact that those institutions were largely in decline by the time he wrote. “Sanity is not statistical,” Winston says, in “1984,” and morality is not numerical. When we are talking about such immense numbers, the fact that anyone would be imprisoned for a long term for a nonviolent drug offense is a scandal. That anyone would be housed in a prison kept for profit by an entrepreneurial concern is an evil.