Vital Signs

The Mark of the Beast

One aspect of America that most impressed Alexis de Tocqueville was how individuals could often accomplish what the most "energetic centralized administration" could not. This ability was well demonstrated, according to Tocqueville, in how efficiently America dealt with crime and criminals:

A state police does not exist, and passports are unknown. The criminal police of the United States cannot be compared with that of France; the magistrates and public agents are not numerous; they do not always initiate the measures for arresting the guilty; and the examinations of prisoners are rapid and oral. Yet I believe that in no country does crime more rarely elude punishment. The reason is that everyone conceives himself to be interested in furnishing evidence of the crime and in seizing the delinquent. During my stay in the United States I witnessed the spontaneous formation of committees in a county for a great crime. In Europe a criminal is an unhappy man who is struggling for his life against the agents of power, while the people are merely a spectator of the conflict; in America he is looked upon as an enemy of the human race, and the whole of mankind is against him.

We should pause to consider Tocqueville's observations in light of the "Europeanization" of America's policing function. Could we give the same report today after the centralization, professionalization, and bureaucratization...

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