The gun control debate has reignited with the recent Florida shooting. Despite the passionate commentaries on all sides, no one seems to be able to answer the question of when the shootings will stop.
As much as liberal media want to blame guns, police or government, this is a moral problem. It involves the acts of an individual who committed monstrous crimes for which he is responsible. As much as others might wish to blame a decadent culture, the nihilistic nature of these dark crimes signal a much deeper problem that strikes at the foundation of modern society.
The liberal order that has long dominated American society is falling apart. As it crumbles, it is creating monsters. The appearance of these shooter-monsters is an ominous harbinger of this disintegration.
The Triumph of Unfettered Autonomy and Freedom
Liberalism has always proclaimed the autonomy of the individual who is free from strong social ties. Shooters are now affirming an extreme autonomy that knows no authority nor respects any social bonds. Liberalism has promised unfettered freedom without external restraints. Shooters are now abusing that delusional liberty by acting out their fantasies. They see those around them as expendable characters that can be killed inside the bizarre scripts of their own making.
The tragedy of it all is that over the decades, liberalism has also eroded the values and institutions by which society would defend itself from such abuses. Today, the nation finds itself without the only effective means to stop the shooting.
Behavior that Raises Red Flags
Indeed, shooters are an extreme product of the liberal experiment. It is something easy to see in their personal lives. Ironically, in these times when police can profile no one, the media have made the shooters’ profiles familiar to everyone. No profiles could better reflect extreme autonomy and freedom.
Shooters have problems at school, family issues, violent behavior, and police encounters. They take medications, lack communication skills and show strange, unpredictable behavior. They indulge in violent video games and send disturbing messages through social media.
It is no wonder that the liberal media scream that “The red flags were all there.” The public demands that something be done. Police and the FBI are asked to take preventative measures. Government officials propose social programs for troubled youths. Data companies must look for red flags.
The problem with all such measures is that the shooter profile probably fits tens of thousands of young Americans born in broken homes, who exhibit anti-social behavior and have mental problems. As the numbers grow and the system crumbles, merely flagging social misfits and limiting their action will not be enough to stop the shootings.
Can Anything Be Legally Done?
Shooters hide within the liberal order. They game the system because in most cases, nothing can be legally done against them before they kill. It is not illegal to be aggressive, act strangely, or be anti-social. The fact that police visited the Florida shooter’s home 39 times only serves to prove that the system does not work. Police departments probably have countless similar cases nationwide of young disasters waiting to happen.
These young people cannot be locked up only because they fit this strange profile. Moreover, no prison or mental health system in the world is large enough to accommodate all the dangerous people who have committed no crime. The suspects cannot always be stopped before they act. No police force in the world is capable of continually monitoring every potential shooter, and arrest them just before they start to shoot.
Social workers cannot address the real problems deep inside these youths. Government social programs cannot replace the love and care of Christian parents that teach their children the difference between right and wrong at an early age. Alas, mighty Google’s algorithms cannot filter through the ocean of social media to find every potential threat.
This moral problem cannot be solved by big government and gigantic corporations. It has taken on a proportion that mocks their abilities.
Recognizing Liberalism’s Failure
What must be addressed is the crumbling liberal order that is creating monsters. The first step to stopping the shooting is to acknowledge liberalism’s inherent defects.
In his recent book, Why Liberalism Failed, Patrick Deneen says that “Liberalism has failed—not because it fell short but because it was true to itself.” As liberalism progressed, it has fallen victim to its own success. When it reaches the end of its internal contradictions, it creates monsters.
Indeed, liberalism has fabulously succeeded in eroding the societal bonds of family, community and faith that have normally shaped and governed moral behavior in society. In the words of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, society has been reduced to “nothing but a meeting place for individual wills” which individuals use as “an arena for the achievement of their own satisfaction.”
The later phases of liberalism now leave society defenseless against the ravages of the shooter-monsters.
The Greatest Mistake of Liberalism
However, the worst mistake of liberalism is that it deprives life of its meaning. Human nature is profoundly social. Deep social relationships give purpose to life. Individuals become frustrated when reduced to the shallow associations that fail to provide context and value to their existence.
Dr. Deneen claims that the political project of liberalism has turned individuals into increasingly “separate, autonomous, nonrelational selves replete with rights and defined by our liberty, but insecure, powerless, afraid and alone.”
Inside this God-forsaken moonscape, it is easy to understand why the shooters appear, as they fail to find meaning inside the loneliness of their existence. The shooters represent not the failure of the liberal order but rather an extreme and radical fruit of its principles.
Liberalism’s Worst Sin
Liberalism’s worst sin is to reduce God into a mere choice within the system. God has no official role in liberal society except perhaps that of some absent clockmaker who wound up the world and now leaves it alone to operate without him. The Church is effectively emptied of her functions inside its system.
Liberalism does not attempt to answer those existential questions which individuals have always asked about the purpose of life, the meaning of truth, the final destination of the soul, and the nature of God and true happiness. Individuals are led to believe there are no real answers to these essential questions. Individuals find they have no certainties to anchor their souls, despite craving them.
Nothing Makes Sense Without God
Like it or not, nothing makes sense without the one true God. There is no reason to do good or avoid evil when it has no final consequences in eternity. History has no meaning when God does not direct the course of events. Where there is no Providence that benevolently provides for needs, life takes on a brutal dog-eat-dog appearance. Where there is no Church to guide and teach, the worst passions dominate. When taken to its final consequences, liberalism presents a despairing worldview, in which man is the product of random causes inside an unintelligible universe.
Hence, one sees the dark, nihilistic side of the shooter-monsters who often desire their own annihilation in addition to that of others. That is why their motives are so mystifying since the shooters have long freed themselves from the moorings of a rightly formed conscience, rational behavior and the natural moral law.
Until these existential issues are addressed, the number of monsters will continue to increase, and society as a whole will continue to fragment and decay. Until Christ is enthroned as King, there will be no peace over the land, and the shooting will not stop.
This essay is republished by gracious permission of Crisis Magazine. The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.