Saturday, July 12, 2008

True Conservatives

One of the most surprising results of the "war on crime" has been to redefine conservatism in the US with support for maximum crime control at any cost to liberty. Many assume that governing through crime has been a political strategy of the right. I argue in the book Governing through Crime that the "war on crime" has been more of a competitive alliance of left and right, combining the right's support for traditional practices (like the death penalty) with the left's support for massive governmental intrusion in the name of social betterment (think prohibition).

In the United Kingdom, where the center-left "New Labour" party has embraced an American style "war on crime," some leaders in the center-right "Conservative" or "Tory" party have begun to rediscover their traditional role as protectors of liberty against government intrusion. In today's NYTimes John F. Burns reports on one Tory leader who took the unusual step of resigning and re-seeking his parliamentary seat in a special election in order to demonstrate public support for his campaign against over-reaching in the name of security (against both crime and terror).

Not long ago, Labor critics in the House of Commons had the habit of calling David Davis a “bruiser.” It was a sobriquet he earned as the Conservative Party’s unyielding point man on issues of law and order and as a proponent of bringing back the death penalty last used in Britain more than 40 years ago.

But as he campaigned around the villages and towns of the rolling Yorkshire countryside near here for a by-election he won Friday, Mr. Davis, 59, was embraced by many as an improbable standard-bearer for traditional British liberties.

In a one-issue campaign, he focused on what he called “the steady, insidious and relentless erosion” of individual freedoms by the Labor government. He denounced as especially threatening a six-week detention power the government plans to give the police to help combat the growing terrorist threat it says Britain faces from an underground network of Islamist extremists.

The bill of particulars Mr. Davis cited in his campaign included other measures adopted by the government in recent years to combat a deteriorating law-and-order situation.

If Senator Barack Obama, who often sounds like New Labour's Tony Blair, should lead the Democrats to a sweeping victory in November, defeated Republicans might want to examine Mr. Davis and his campaign for liberty.

1 comment:

Michael Zhou said...

Hi Professor Simon:

I'm a former Berkeley student who took your course on punishment and society in the legal studies department. I thought I would link you to this Bruce Western piece in the Boston Review on American mass incarceration and its social costs.