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Localism and the Police Power

Appendix from The Nature of the American System. Words, more than anything else, are easily subverted. Anyone can appropriate a word and apply it, ignorantly or willfully, in a context where a false sense is slipped in under the connotation of a standard meaning. No subverter of any calibre has ever neglected the ready tool of linguistics and semantics.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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Words, more than anything else, are easily subverted. Anyone can appropriate a word and apply it, ignorantly or willfully, in a context where a false sense is slipped in under the connotation of a standard meaning. No subverter of any calibre has ever neglected the ready tool of linguistics and semantics. A ready instance of the misuse of words is the word “republic.” Its meaning is important to many American conservatives; it is the designation of the U.S. which appears, for example, in the Pledge of Allegiance. But the word “republic” has also been appropriated for a radically different meaning by the U.S.S.R. The various districts of the Soviet State are called “republics.”

No less an instance of perversion is the word “police.” In the strict sense of the word, many countries lack a true police, and the U.S.S.R. is one of them. Americans, accustomed to regarding the police as the agencies of law and order, automatically apply that word to foreign orders. Thus, Charles Foltz, Jr., in U.S. News & World Report, speaks of Soviet “policemen.”[i] Properly speaking, there are no police in the Soviet Union, only political agents and the military power. The arms of Soviet power are, first, the Communist Party, which, by its network of informants, controls, and powers, is important in the execution of Soviet decrees. Second, there are the so-called secret police, a state controlled, centralized body of political agents, whose purpose is not police work but the maintenance of political power. Third, there is the military power. The army, in barracks across the country, patrols the cities with little or no knowledge of police work. These are “Bolshevism’s three pillars of strength.”[ii] A fourth arm, even more important, and even more unrelated to police work, is the Communist Security System, “the system of the invisible government” of the U.S.S.R.[iii] The police as such do not exist in the U.S.S.R., and are an object of hatred by Communists, and a target for abolition. The Communist goal is to supplant the local police with national body of political agents.

It is important, therefore, to understand what the police are, and the nature of their functions. The principles of police operation are often formulated.

These are: (1) the first duty of the police is the prevention of crime; (2) efficiency is to be judged by the absence of crime rather than by the number of arrests; (3) police duties must be carried out impartially; (4) punishment is not part of the police function but belongs to the courts and correctional institutions; and (5) the effort to save lives must be made even in the face of personal danger.[iv]

In this day and age, many are content to define things in terms of existing function rather than nature and meaning. To define the meaning of the police, let us examine their origin, purpose, and nature.

The word “police” comes from the Greek word polis, and the polis was the Greek city-state. In size, it varied from a single city or port, to a city and its environs, so that it is best comparable to a modern city or country. Police, in the true sense, are:

  1. A locally controlled and hence decentralized agency which is unrelated to other police bodies of other cities or counties and lacking in any national federation or union.[v] The police, properly, are city and county law enforcement men.
  2. The police are not a military body, even if in uniform. They are civilians in every sense of the word, and their authority is a civilian authority.
  3. The police are supported by the local property owners, whose agency they are, by means of a tax on property. The entire support of the police is local, and it is the property tax.
  4. Their orientation is accordingly local, and the protection of life and property is their essential task. They are thus essentially a non-political body.
  5. The local orientation of the police means also no national responsibility. Federal law is outside the jurisdiction of the police.
  6. The police are not only supported by the local citizenry through a property tax, but also their source of power and authority is by delegation without surrender from the local citizenry. Men can elect a councilman or congressman and delegate to him the right to vote on their behalf; they do not possess and do not maintain a right to vote in those bodies for themselves; it is a privilege held as a member of the electorate in the person of the representative officer. But the citizenry (originally the propertied citizenry) does not surrender its police power to the police. It is delegation without surrender. The citizenry retains the right to exercise, as needed, its police power, the right of citizen arrest. This right, of course, is under law, as is the official police arrest, in each case subject to legal fences designed to protect the rights of the innocent and the orderly processes of law. True police power is thus in the citizenry and not in the state; it is delegated, not surrendered. This is the identifying mark of a true police, and the source of its offense to a totalitarian order.
  7. The police are an aspect of the local citizenry’s self-government and of their right of self-defense. Attempts to destroy the police by destroying their purely local nature are thus veiled attacks on the right of self-defense.

Totalitarian orders thus have no true police, and the United States represents the finest development of the police concept. In the U.S.S.R., there is no truly criminal law in the American sense, for law is not oriented to the defense of the citizenry from criminal activity, nor is it legal in orientation. Criminal offenses are properly offenses against the state in the U.S.S.R., for all power and all “rights” are concentrated in the hands of the state. In England, although the police are under some local control, they are nationally paid and all under the British Home Office. There is thus no true police in England. Criminal offenses, moreover, are not against persons but “against the peace of our Sovereign Lady the Queen, her crown and dignity.” Ancient Rome had no police and virtually no criminal law during much of its history; crimes were committed primarily by slaves, and masters enforced their own discipline on their slaves.[vi] Later, bread and circuses were, among other things, a substitute for the enforcement of law and order.

A slave state has no true criminal law, and no police. The slave population has no rights to be defended, and no police power, or right of self-defense, to delegate. If all are slaves of the state, there is no police power but only state power. In a free society, the citizenry can establish a local police force, exercise their own police rights, and also create private police, patrol, or detective agencies to further their right of self-defense. In the United States, in origin and development a Protestant feudal restoration, criminal and civil law are local, county law, and a true police exists, i.e., a local force to enforce laws in defense of the citizenry. Moreover, the citizenry have a further right, written into the U.S. Constitution in the Second Amendment: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Attempts to infringe this right and other rights are linked also to the assault on the police power.

And with reason, for the local police, rural and urban, constitute a vast and competent civilian army in the United States, each unit responsible only to its locality and without central control. The menace of Civil Defense is that it seeks in every area to destroy local orientations in the name of “emergency.” The local police pose a problem and a threat to a Communist takeover, in that they constitute armies that are beyond the reach of the central statist powers, in the states and in Washington. Communist infiltration of the police has proved to be a failure on the whole for two main reasons. First, there is a radical conflict of perspective. The police have a local, decentralized perspective, while Communists have a collectivistic and international outlook. It is difficult for them to adjust to the purely local orientation. Second, police work is hard work, and Communists want to indoctrinate and to control, not to work.

The strategy, hence, is the abolition and destruction of the local police power in its every aspect. This is being done in several ways.

First, it is being done by insisting that we have a vast problem of crime which the police cannot cope with. This myth of the fearfulness of American criminality is unfortunately believed even by police “experts.” Thus, Vollmer writes that “nowhere in the civilized world will there be found a major-crime condition as staggering in its proportions as that found in the United States.”7 Statistics, here as elsewhere, are excellent liars. The United States, with its Puritan background, has major and minor crimes on the statute books which do not exist elsewhere; it has better law enforcement, and it has better records, so that statistically its efficiency makes it look worse. Moreover, except for certain major cities, most of the country has a good record of law enforcement and of a law-abiding citizenry. Regrettably, too, there is a high record of criminality on the part of certain minority groups who now are seeking advancement, not through Christian faith and character, but through legal impositions and privileges. Very real problems of law enforcement do exist in every sector of the population, but the problem is not a technical one, calling for a substitute to local law enforcement, but a moral one, calling for a Christian renewal on the part of all the citizenry, including courts and police. The subversive strategy here is to assert that there is a problem of vast dimensions, that the local police are not competent to cope with it, and that new, centralized agencies must be created.

Second, the subversion of the police is sought by agencies which, in the name of efficiency, would establish regional tie-ins for local civil government and for the police. The city and county managers are basically hostile to the local self-sufficiency and independence of the police. The managerial system is basically collectivist, elitist, and hostile to localism. Civil Defense measures seek, in the name of emergency, to create a national control over the police; the desired controls would hamper local efficiency, but they would further totalitarian control and power.

Third, the subversion of the police is sought through attacks on police integrity. Certainly, corrupt police are a problem, but corruption is a potential threat to every area of life and is a general moral problem, not an occupational disease of the local police. A good case could be made for lower moral standards among the clergy. No group is without its moral dilemmas. Newspaper and television writers, often leftist in orientation, have done no small injustice to the police by a systematic impugning of the police forces and systems as a whole. Collectivist psychologists and psychiatrists have added to the slander, so that the opinion is often bandied about that police mentality and criminal mentality are analogous. Such vicious slanders have in some quarters become axioms of political faith.

Fourth, to the insult of attacks on the reputation of policemen is added the injury of attacks on the police by means of provocative activity. Lawless demonstrations today are an increasing instrument of social revolution, indicating a contempt of law and of the police. Such actions may be aimed against the House Committee on Un-American Activities, or against segregation, but they are also aimed against the police, in attempts to discredit them and to make them a hated agency. The conduct of the demonstrators, whatever the professed cause, is more often an anti-police action, and the continuing use made of the demonstration, after it is history, is as an ostensible record of “police brutality.” All this is simply revolutionary action, and, whatever its broader goals, the immediate goal is the discrediting of the local police. Federal, and, in some areas, state authorities, have cooperated in the attack on police authority. Thus, the occupation by federal marshals of the campus of the University of Mississippi on September 30, 1962, was a revolutionary act on the part of the U.S. Department of Justice against a local community and its police.[vii] A similar federal action occurred after the Kennedy assassination. Oswald was caught, not by federal agents, who were ostensibly in charge of security and controlled the entrances and exits to the various buildings, but by the local police. Further investigation was taken out of local hands and placed in the questionable hands of a federal commission, headed by Earl Warren. There were complaints that neither Oswald nor Jack Ruby could be tried in federal courts but had to face a local court. There were complaints also against the right of the citizenry to bear arms. Thus, an assassination by a foreign agent was used by the federal government for an assault on the only effective agencies, the local police and the local court!

Fifth, various impediments are used to hamper police efficiency. Police Review Boards are created to establish a new authority over the police and to break the police-citizenry relationship. The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, has been steadily curtailing the police power, a local, citizen’s power, while vastly augmenting federal, collectivist power and control. This is not an accidental development. An infamous example of this was the Mallory case. Arrested for a brutal rape, Mallory confessed to the crime when questioned prior to his arraignment. No force or pressure had been applied. The conviction was nonetheless thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court (in Mallory v. U.S.) by a unanimous decision on the ground that the police had no right to question him before arraignment. Since it was now impossible to re-try him with any hope of conviction, a professedly guilty man went free. The Court showed tenderness towards the rapist, but none towards the raped woman, and, by this decision and many, many others, the Court circumscribed police work with such limitations as to make their work almost impossible.[viii] Such impediments to police work are also to be found on the state level, to a lesser degree. Both federal and state governments are seeking to usurp the police powers of the citizenry, of the city, and of the county.

Sixth, a low pay scale is used to demoralize the police. A city or county government which underpays and understaffs its police is usually knowingly trying to corrupt them and to control them. Politicians are ready to increase bureau and agency personnel and pay, because this means an extension of their own power, but they balk, in the name of economy, at increasing the police force and pay, because a strong and independent force is a threat to corrupt politics. In some instances, police pay is kept so low that policemen must hold extra jobs after work, have their wives work, or accept graft, which means a surrender and subservience to the politicians and their cohorts. Police pay should be high, in relationship to other local officials, so that police become what they should be, the “aristocracy” of civil employees. The issue with respect to police pay is a central one. By making the police an area of economy and limiting their force and effectiveness, corrupt politicians thereby weaken not only the police, but also the citizenry and subsidize themselves in corruption and criminals in criminality.

Seventh, a major assault on the police comes, by indirection, from the mental health program. The prevailing psychiatric theory is that crime is a sickness, not a sin. The answer is not in law enforcement on the social level by the police, and conversion on the personal level through religious faith, but the answer is rather medical and psychological. The police, in this perspective, must give way to social workers and psychiatrists. An uncompromising attack on this perspective has been made by a psychiatrist, Thomas S. Szasz (Law, Liberty and Psychiatry), who denies the validity, among other things, the validity of the “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea. The mental health program, however, is gaining ground, and a prison laboratory is currently demanded by University of California criminology, psychology, education, and sociology professors.[ix]

From all of this, it is apparent that the local police power is an extension of the citizen's right of self-defense, and attacks on the police come from the same quarters as attacks on national military preparedness, on the right to bear arms (note the double demand, national and personal disarmament), on the liberties of the citizenry, and on the processes of criminal prosecution. Those who call for a non-local law enforcement agency and “larger territorial organization” also call for the registration of all inhabitants and a legal requirement that all carry registration cards in the name of efficiency.[x] University departments of criminology are on the whole infected with such thinking and are statist and anti-police.

An attack on the local police is an attack on the right of self-defense. When the local police are destroyed, the totalitarian state will have arrived in full force. That great civilian army of local police, and a citizenry with police powers and the right to bear arms, is thus a major target of subversive activity, assault, legislation, and propaganda.

As against this, it is good to note that the police are strengthening their local roots in many areas, instructing the citizenry in police powers, creating auxiliary police and sheriff’s posses, all to further the efficacy and integrity of local law and order. More needs to be done, for the alienation of people and police from one another is disastrous to both.

[i] “Crime and Punishment in the Soviet Union Today,” U. S. News & World Report, 2 March 1964.

[ii] Arnold Reifer, Design for Terror (New York: Exposition, 1962), 54.

[iii] See U.S. Congress, Congressional Record (5 August 1957): 13, 681-83, 685. Remarks of Congressman Timothy P. Sheehan, Illinois, and the Sudeten- deutche “Landsmannschaft” document.

[iv] David A. Booth, “Foreword,” to Samuel G. Chapman and Col. T. Eric St. Johnston, The Police Heritage in England and America (East Lansing, Michigan:, Michigan State University, 1962), 9.

[v] See Chapman and Johnston, 29f.

[vi] Richard R. Cherry, Lectures on the Growth of Criminal Law in Ancient Communities (London: Macmillan, 1890), 56-77; 93.

[vii] See A Report by the General Legislative Investigating Committee to the Mississippi State Legislature Concerning the Occupation of the Campus of the University of Mississippi, September 30, 1962, by the Department of Justice of the United States (The Committee: Jackson, Mississippi: General Legislative Investigating Committee). See also Earl Lively, Jr., The Invasion of Mississippi (Belmont, Massachusetts.: American Opinion, 1963).

[viii] Rosalie M. Gordon, Nine Men Against America, The Supreme Court and Its Attack on American Liberties (New York: Devin-Adair, 1958), 139f.

[ix] Carl Irving, “Profs Seek ‘Lab’ Prison Near U.C.,” Oakland (California), Tribune, 8 March 1964, 1.

[x] Edwin H. Sutherland, Principles of Criminology, third edition (Chicago: Lippincott, 1939), 253.


R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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