In the American TV nightmare, the police are the protagonists. Or the antagonists. It depends on the program and the point of view. We love the idea of the tough cop—Clint Eastwood, Dennis Farina, Dennis Franz—who breaks the rules and busts a few heads in a good cause. But change channels, and when the hero is a private eye or a civilian, the police are rogues, on the take, out of control, and worse than the criminals who do not carry a badge. They are Gary Sinese in Ransom or the thousand bad cops in shows like The Equalizer, The A-Team, and The Rockford Files.

The good cop/bad cop dichotomy is more than a dramatic device or interrogation technique, and the same police officer can switch roles, alternately finding lost children and beating the bejesus out of speeders who give him lip. The godfather of the modern policeman was Jonathan Wilde, the London thief taker who turned out to be the city’s criminal mastermind. Wilde unionized the cutpurses, footpads, and burglars until, when they turned against him, he ended up on the same gallows to which he had consigned his unruly confederates. Many (probably most) policemen resist the temptation to misuse their authority, but it must be hard on a man’s humility to be given a badge and a gun, along with the mandate to protect the lives and property of innocent and largely defenseless strangers.

Traditionally, the left has always hated the police, not simply because they are called in to arrest agitators. For radicals, the police are the embodiment of the social order, and while the bad cop is easier to criticize, it is the good cop who is the real enemy, the gun-for-hire who, as Yeats put it, “defends the sum of things for pay.” To the extent that a real left exists today, they continue to hate the police even though, for all practical purposes, the boys in blue are working for a socialist regime. But cops and radicals are like cats and dogs: even when they are on the same side, they do not like each other’s smell.

Conservatives instinctively support the police, and many of them have been bewildered by the daily occurrence of outrages and brutality committed by the forces of public order. Waco and Ruby Ridge have become code words for a Middle American paranoia that sees the eyes of Lon Horiuchi behind the horn-rimmed glasses of every IRS agent and FBI clerk. Most conservatives, however, still regard the police as their allies and think more prisons and longer sentences are the only solution to the criminal insurrection that has America in its grip. In one sense, they are right: keeping criminals off the street does, in fact, lower the incidence of crimes in cities like New York, where Mayor Giuliani’s “kick ass and take names” approach to law enforcement has made the city more nearly habitable.

Crackdowns, however, have a limited effectiveness. Crime, as liberals are fond of saying, is a symptom rather than a disease. Reversing St. Paul’s dictum that the ruler’s sword is a threat to the wicked, not to the good, we have created a criminal justice system that is kind to the criminal classes but a terror to any small-time embezzler or petty infractor who is made the sex slave of the raping-murdering thugs whose TV and workout rooms are provided by the taxpayer.

A little personal story (which I have told before) illustrates the problem. I once worked in a hotel with a two-bit hoodlum who called himself Mike. One day the hood (who reached for his knife when he was asked to clear a table) confessed to me that his real name was Tom —Mike was his brother. “This way,” he explained, “When I get caught, it goes on my brother’s record.” Mike—or Tom—was not too bright, so I explained that he still had to do his own time. Eyeing me with contempt, he said: “I don’t mind doing time: you meet a lot of great guys on the inside.”

In refusing to punish crime, we create, at the very least, incentives for criminal behavior. By not executing murderers, armed robbers, kidnappers, arsonists, rapists, and child-molesters, we are sending a clear message that society is only irritated, not outraged, by these crimes. Perhaps the ultimate expression of our indifference is the kindness we lavish on the evil degenerates who rape and murder children. These are not cases of rednecks who form liaisons with willing Lolitas, but of savage and ruthless men who destroy the lives of innocent kids. We say they are “sick,” but it is a disease for which there is no cure short of exorcism. Many child-molesters, as soon as they are released from the comfort of the state hospital, begin looking for the next victim. In case after case, the paroled sex-offender goes on to rape and murder a child within months of his release. As a belated tribute to one such victim of liberal justice (a seven-year-old New Jersey girl), Congress passed “Megan’s Law,” authorizing the release of information to the neighbors and potential victims of paroled rapists/killers.

In California, for decades the social avant-garde of America, legislators failed to pass a law posting such information on the Internet. Taking the law into his own (and his fellow-citizens’) hands. Ken LaCorte of Los Angeles County set up his own web page, posting information on about 100 of L.A.’s 300 high-risk sex offenders. Predictably, the rapists have their defenders who complain that Megan’s Law (and LaCorte’s publicity) have provoked violence: a van was firebombed in Corvina, fires have broken out in houses and apartments. Even in California, apparently, the old spirit of American know-how has not been entirely extinguished.

Last May in San Bernardino County, sheriffs deputies arrested repeat child-molester James Lee Crummel on evidence he had molested three teenagers nine years earlier. According to the Los Angeles Times (which does a superb job of covering cases of private justice), Crummel had been living in Newport Beach until neighborhood outcry resulted in a new round of charges. In his long career as a sexual predator, Crummel had done time for sex crimes in four states. In Arizona, he had also been convicted of murdering a nine-year-old boy, but a compassionate judge had ruled the trial invalid on the grounds of ineffective representation.

In 1995, Crummel moved into the Newport Crest condominiums with his 79-year-old psychiatrist. Under Megan’s Law, his criminal record was plastered throughout the neighborhood. When local residents realized whom they had as a neighbor, they launched a picketing campaign to force him out. Crummel’s neighbors responded jubilantly to his arrest. According to the Times, one self-styled “vigilante mom” said that Crummel had invited her 12-year-old son to come over to his apartment to watch biking videos.

Crummel’s neighbors, however unkind, were normal human beings, unlike the psychiatrist who not only adopted him as his right-hand man but also took him along on his regular visits to Orange County youth homes that housed the victims of abuse and molestation. The psychopath was given unrestricted access to both the children and their files, and on at least two occasions, according to the California State Medical Board, he “entered the private rooms of boys and talked with them.” Crummel was also present at a Christmas party held for some of the boys on the nice psychiatrist’s yacht.

Despite a string of successes that includes the Crummel case, Megan’s Law has come under fire. Some of the criticism is legitimate: men convicted of lewd conduct in the 1940’s and 50’s can now be branded as dangerous sex offenders, even though they have been respectably married for decades. Most of the proposed remedies, however, are drawn up to protect the “civil rights” of homosexuals at the expense of the future victims of molestation.

In New York City, the Bar Association says that “any legislation must balance the need for community’ protection against offenders . . . with a careful examination of possible harms,” and they want to restrict access to complete information only to “officials or individuals who are in a position to use the information to protect themselves and others meaningfully.” Translation: judges and public officials will decide if you have a right to know the full story of the child-rapist who has just moved next door to you. It is the AIDS story all over again. To protect the rights of homosexuals, the public does not have a right to know if their doctor or dentist is carrying a fatal disease or if the confirmed bachelor down the street has ruined the lives of a dozen children. Given the choice between trusting a responsible judge or trusting the irresponsible people, most of us will trust the people, no matter how reckless and uninformed, to be the guardians of their own interest.

Despite the FBI’s cheerful news about declining crime rates, most of us know that crime has reached plague proportions in the United States. Even the law-abiding middle classes talk openly of cheating on their taxes and ridicule the suckers who return wallets stuffed with cash. Many children reared in such an atmosphere are almost inevitably contemptuous of law and order—except where it can be invoked to protect them from demanding parents or strict teachers. It is all that any normal person can do, upon seeing one of these underwear-exposing punks walking down the street or loitering in the mall, to keep from teaching him a few sharp lessons in deportment. This is the real purpose for carrying cane.

If civilization rests upon the hangman, as Joseph de Maistre said, then civilization is long gone. In his recent novel Sept cavaliers, Jean Raspail describes an “alternate” world with a history parallel (but often divergent) to our own. Young people become addicted to a fatal drug that destroys all inhibitions. Embracing anarchy and savagery, they are joined by representatives of every class. As the mobs sweep through the land, even civilized people seize the opportunity of taking revenge against their neighbors for slights and injuries suffered years before. Civilization is in ruins, the land depopulated, when seven horsemen set off on a journey to locate the heiress to the throne. Coming across a group of punks, the youngest of the seven (a teenage military cadet) kills every one of them, provoking the wrath of his senior officer. The young man, refusing to apologize, points out that he understands his own generation better than his seniors, who were reared in an honorable world.

By the end of Raspail’s novel, we realize that it is (like his earlier Camp of the Saints) a daydream about everyday reality in the modern world. Civilization is in collapse, and a large number of the people we live with are feral beasts—animals that have been bred to a social life they have been denied, deficient in all the ritualized controls that check the violence of wolves and primitive men. The social order was destroyed by the same class of men and women—educationists, therapists, judges—who adamantly refuse to protect the public from the predators they have inflicted upon us.

In reacting to the collapse of civilized life, many of us will sink to the level of the predators themselves—like Raspail’s civilized men who made the general anarchy an occasion for settling scores. So-called “road rage” incidents may be early indications of the Mad Max society our children will live in. The Internet offers a good cross section. You can find information on child-molesters, but you may also run into a revenge web page giving instructions on how to destroy a CD-ROM (smear Vaseline with ground glass on a CD), or ruin the life of a conservative (sign him up with NAMBLA). There is even a “Bitches Marquee” where unhappy men post lewd pictures of their ex-wives. In descending to the dregs, we add to the general slime that makes modern life disgusting. But all over the United States, responsible citizens are taking a more disciplined course of action. Confronted by child-molesters, drug dealers, and neighborhood tyrants, Americans are striking back. They are videotaping the dealers and organizing neighborhood patrols. They are posting information on the Internet: the Guardian Angels have taken off into cyberspace. Above all, they are taking direct action against the killers and rapists who prey upon the innocent.

In San Diego, not too long ago, a retired naval officer emptied two clips of ammunition into a punk who had been terrorizing the neighborhood and had threatened to kill the officer’s family. In Northern California, a single mother went to the courtroom where the pervert who had molested her son was about to undergo another mock trial. Seeing his confident smirk, she made up her mind to carry out her plan of getting justice—not vengeance, mind you, but justice—and shot the youth counselor. She was taking the law back into her own hands, picking up the sword of justice which the state had cast aside. As Ellie Nessler said in her statement: “I played God . . . but I don’t think I’ll lose any sleep over it.”