Special Report

The Two Months War

Occupy Wall Street's failed reversal of American society.

By 11.17.11

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In the last few weeks it's seemed as though one could learn more about the Occupy Wall Street movement from the police blotter than from anywhere else. As the arrests piled up, many protesters who found themselves on the business end of a baton or a set of plastic handcuffs ranted about the perils of living in a "police state," which is beautifully ironic. A group organized for the very purpose of demanding that the government assume greater control over our lives shook itself apart in violent spasms of rebellion against the government's effort to enforce the most basic rules of society.

The intellectual incoherence of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been well documented. It has no clear objective, no unifying principles, merely lists of grievances and passionate expressions of disgust with the wealthy and powerful. The unsustainable weight of its incoherence, though, was realized only after local police officers stormed the parks to protect innocent protesters, neighbors and passers-by.

If there was any big point to OWS, it was that the powerless had to be protected from the powerful, and government was the means of doing so. Wall Street, the signs and chants told us two months ago, was a cleptocracy unchecked. Unless it was restrained by the state, it would consume the country. And so the protesters demanded massive intervention in the economy by Washington. Among the acts the state would take: the forgiveness of student loans, the redistribution of wealth, the negating of contracts, and the general dismantling of capitalism.

While the protesters were demanding this unprecedented reordering of the U.S. economy by the state, they were gathering themselves together in little collectives, which they sought to isolate as completely as possible from -- the state.

The Occupy Wall Street encampments were, by design, enclaves separated from the civil society in which they were erected. The protesters sought to create their own communities in which the pre-existing government was not allowed to extend its reach. They made their own rules, if they had rules at all. The police and over civil authorities were kept out or thwarted when they tried to apply the laws of the surrounding society.

Of course, the predictable happened. Civil society collapsed in the little tent cities. Peace and sanitation, hallmarks of modern civilization, were no longer guaranteed, as there was no one to provide them. When assaults, sexual or otherwise, happened, they went unreported to outside authorities, so profound was the movement's mistrust of local governments. The protesters so disliked authority in general that they often refused to elect leaders, preferring instead to seek consensus literally: insisting that every, single person agree on every point.

Here you had a movement demanding that the state dismantle and reorder the nation's economic order by force, and yet so frightened of authority that it could not even elect leaders or allow police officers into its confines. That is incoherence so profound as to defy explanation.

It was not just a reversal of conservative doctrine, which holds that accountability is increased when power is concentrated where it is closest to the people. Occupy Wall Street did want to do the reverse -- concentrate power in Washington, where it is farthest from the people -- but it was not motivated by any philosophy. That was just the reflex. Where do liberals go to redress their grievances? To Washington.

Occupy Wall Street wanted to weaken local governing authority, but not for the sake of handing more power to D.C. The protesters simply wanted to avoid being held to account for their lawlessness.

In its haphazard attempt to achieve some redistributionist-libertine Utopia in which no power exists locally, but immense power is held far away, Occupy Wall Street merely reinforced the wisdom of the Founders' design. Seeing what happened when this mob was given charge of a few city parks, America is not only dead-set (as the polls show) against giving it control of anything bigger, but is taking back its parks, too. That's a complete repudiation. And it took only two months.

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.