In his request to Congress to authorize American entry into World War I, Woodrow Wilson cast the war as a crusade "to make the world safe for democracy." A century later, this sort of rationale is an old standby for Presidents seeking to justify muscular calls for "law and order" both abroad and at home (tellingly, Wilson also called D.W. Griffith's paeans to the Ku Klux Klan as champions of law and order "history writ with lightning"). Some might argue that we’ve come a long way since Nixon’s (or Reagan’s) Southern Strategy, though cloaked racial appeals live on in talk of "real Americans" and have played a role in popular perceptions of the ongoing catastrophe in
Any time that the problems of urban marginality are publicly exhibited, calls for self-critique and aid are soon drowned out by a clamor for “law and order” and ruthless crackdowns on miscreants (typically portrayed as poor, hostile, and dark-skinned) perceived to threaten order. When massive earthquakes struck
What is the theoretical apex of such "humanitarian" discourses and efforts? Now, neoliberal paragons, appealing to trickle-down economics and gated community logic, have begun to call on the U.S. and its economic peers to create enclaves of wealth and privilege in Haiti, imploring the country to grant special rights to foreign investors akin to deals that drove "development" in Hong Kong and Guantanamo Bay. The connection between crime and neoliberal economic success (which, for all but a few, is no success at all) is explicit: "[Poor countries'] leaders cannot make credible commitments to would-be investors. Rich nations use well-functioning systems of courts, police and jails, developed over centuries, to solve such problems." This call jells troublingly well with critiques of efforts to make over cities as playgrounds for the rich, driven by an increasingly barricaded, crime-obsessed "middle class." Paper over poverty or drive it out of the city and into the prisons.
More persuasive than this hollow, Wilsonian call for advancing prosperity, given what’s happened in New Orleans and what some hope to happen in Haiti, is sociologist Thorsten Veblen’s skewering of Gilded Age economic principles (principles which have enjoyed a great resurgence in the supply-side systems built over the past three decades, and which loom large in debates over what to do about poverty and violence). Only a few years later, while a roaring America bathed in the afterglow of