“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” 

—H.L. Mencken

Today is Election Day in Montgomery, and the capital city is in dire need of getting back to basics. But no matter how basic, the people will only get what they know, want and deserve.

Local elections have a way of reminding us that good jobs, good schools and clean streets – under the peaceful protection of law and order – are necessities most people want, no matter their lot in life. Such basics will always be with us and are never fully solved in any given political moment. They require eternal maintenance against the entropic march of time. 

That said, every candidate running for Montgomery municipal office this cycle seems to have the same top issue: CRIME. From a dearth of police recruitment, to a lack of highway traffic enforcement, to the common experience of falling asleep to the “Montgomery lullaby” of gunshots in the distance, the people of this city seem to agree that the protective umbrella of law and order currently has too many holes in it – and it’s starting to rain. 

Despite a pervasive distrust of the police in much of the community, many of Montgomery’s municipal candidates want more law enforcement. Montgomery mayoral candidate Victorrus Felder recently summed up this sentiment:

“Increasing police presence in high crime areas, does not mean road blocks and harassment. It means decreasing illegal activity, it means giving the residents a sense of peace and feeling safe. There has to be a different mindset and a different standard. My question would be, why would anyone want you to continue to live in an area of shootings, killings or an unsafe environment? Is that person really for you who pushes against this?”

I agree with Felder. That said, he and other candidates calling for more police should recognize that “law and order” requires more than just law enforcement. Though the police may be the face of law and order, behind their blue eyes rests the marching orders of politicians riddled with the presumption that the law is the best tool for bringing order to a society facing complex problems. 

The law only gets you so far. Ordered liberty requires deeper roots than surface-level appeals to law and politics. Too often, the people and their leaders in Montgomery and beyond are missing the mark by relying too much on politics to solve our problems. 

Every societal failure, real or merely perceived, is expected to be remedied by some new law or political program. Whether on the issue of drugs, health, education, broken families, or broken windows, the American people seem unwilling to voluntarily solve such societal problems themselves, even when they are more than capable of taking up such responsibilities. 

I suspect if we, the people, continue to drift in this direction – becoming increasingly obsessed with finding systematic, bureaucratic, legal and political solutions to our deep loss of social values – the less and less moral, prosperous and free our society will be.

When we regard serving our fellow man as a personal responsibility, we posit a society of born-free individuals, equal under the law, who must help one another through voluntary aid and association. On the contrary, when we see our obligation to serve our fellow man as coercive state duty, we posit a society of rulers and subjects – rulers who need to instill in their subjects a "sense of virtue" by violently imposing whatever duties the state, as demanded by the people, deems desirable. But virtue, prosperity and liberty cannot be fostered at the point of a gun draped in noble demands. Nor can a popularity contest do the trick. Such things can only come from within the hearts and minds of real, flesh-and-blood individuals on the ground. 

Positive and progressive change will not come solely and simply from the ballot box, nor will it come from raucous stomping to the sound of political demagogues’ marching orders and laments. Change must come from within, person to person, day by day, helping to build the beautiful mosaic of community piece by piece. Liberty and virtue must precede politics to defend against the alluring false promises and corrupt nature of political power.

Montgomery, like many other cities across this nation, must get back to basics, including tackling crime while upholding law and order. A fine sentiment, sure, but no matter who wins this election, Montgomerians should remember that most of their problems are for them to solve together as free individuals. If not, expect the people of this dear city to get the democracy they deserve good and hard.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email newsandviews931@gmail.com.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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