The message of the thoughtful and beautifully written articles in Chronicles (December 1990) on “good news” seems to be this: things are very bad and bound to get worse, but if you resign yourself to the inevitable and concentrate on family and friends you may, with God’s help, get through it. If this is “good news,” I wonder what my Chronicles friends would consider a disaster.

As a New Yorker born and bred, the Stoic route of quiet resignation is simply not for me. But neither is it quite the New Yorker’s way to rage, rage against the dying of the light, although that’s a lot more like it. The true New Yorker faces the situation with a quip, a wisecrack, with high wit; in short, he believes in his bones that it is better to laugh than to cry. And so I don’t resent Chilton Williamson (“Kick It As It Lays”) when he says that the good news is that everyone now recognizes that New York has become a zoo without bars, for every sane New Yorker agrees. He knows the problem as well as, and even more than, any outside observer.

But New York was not always thus. New York was once a wonderful, vibrant, exciting city; it was never a Melting Pot, but it was, in many ways, in Mayor Dinkins’ notorious phrase, a “gorgeous mosaic.” In the 1920’s and 1930’s, many families habitually slept in Central Park on hot summer nights, even at the Harlem end. In the 1940’s, I and many other whites used to go to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem to hear singers like Pearl Bailey and to watch vaudeville acts, and none of the whites ever felt a trace of fear. The streets, if not exactly clean, were not the garbage-strewn cesspools that they are today.

The streets, in fact, were friendly and colorful and not menacing; you could be a Walker in the City and remain hassle-free. There were plenty of eccentrics, but they were harmless and fun. Idealists on soapboxes were everywhere, and Columbus Circle was New York’s answer to Hyde Park. Ideologies ranged across the spectrum, from Marxist sects to village Hayekians, convinced that the problem was the “greed and grab” of politicians and special interest groups. There was a sweet innocence about them all. There were no “homeless” then, even in the midst of the Great Depression. There were a few bums and winos, and if friends from out-of-town were anxious to see them you could take them downtown to The Bowery, where the bums hung out amidst bars and flophouses. The Bowery was in essence a red-light district for the bum population.

How was the peace so well maintained? Simply that if the cops caught a bum outside the confines of The Bowery, he was unceremoniously picked up and hustled down there, the cops making it clear in no uncertain terms, free of the modern Problems of Communication, that they better not catch said bum outside The Bowery ever again. If anyone had raised the point’ that bums had a “constitutional right” to clutter the streets and hassle innocent citizens for money, he would have been dismissed as insane.

And how come there were no muggers? The crime theorists among Chicago School economists emphasize that to deter crime, punishment must be certain and severe. But they miss the key point. In Austrian School lingo, muggers have a very high “time preference,” that is, their range of foresight is about one half-hour, so they don’t really care about punishment after a couple of years of indictment and trial. To deter crime, punishment must be immediate, and the cops in those days, steeped in such wisdom and patrolling the beat, were ready to administer such condign punishment. It was well known that if the cops spotted a mugger, the mugger’s ride to the station and his sojourn in the station house would be extremely unpleasant. It was that prospect of immediate retribution that kept what New Yorkers these days refer to as “the animals” in severe check.

So New York is going down the drain fast. But the more interesting question is, what can be done about it? I know about the deeper causes, the cultural-ethnic problems and the breakdown of self-discipline and family values. But as a New Yorker, I’m looking for a quicker fix, and as a libertarian I’m trained to look to government as both the problem and the solution. Government as the problem is the welfare state, which creates massive dependency over the generations, and which has destroyed family discipline. But also government as the problem is its egregious failure to do the one thing for which organized violence is suitable: defending persons and property from assault. And since the government owns the streets, it has the responsibility to run those streets in a manner fit for human existence: in short, to restore the Bowery-only system, and to bring back not only the cop on the beat, but also his power to administer instant retribution, and to hell with the ACLU. And also to restore to New Yorkers the legal right to carry hatpins, mace, guns, or any other weapon necessary to defend themselves and other innocents against assault.

After only months in office, and amidst a summer of unprecedented violence in New York, Mayor Dinkins had the gall to exhort its citizens to abandon their fear of the streets, to get out from behind their quadruplelocked and bolted doors, and to surge forth, helpless and disarmed, to take the streets back from the criminals. When the New York establishment learns, or is made to learn by public outcry, that this is what cops are supposed to be for, perhaps the Big Apple can be redeemed at last.

And, besides, Chronicles editors are mainly backcountry Southern Borderers (as they are called by historian David Hackett Fischer), hailing originally from the troubled borders of England and Scotland. And Borderers, embodied in such great American leaders as Patrick Henry, Andrew Jackson, and John C. Calhoun, have long been noted for their spunk. Quiet resignation, bless them, has never been one of their virtues.

        —Murray N. Rothbard
Las Vegas, NV

The December issue contained the following statements: the Quebecois are “absolutely right to be concerned about the threat to their culture from the surrounding Anglophone world” (John Shelton Reed, “What I Did on My Vacation”); “as we have seen most recently in the flare-up over Quebec and its relations to Canada, it makes a big difference to everyone which language is used in courts, schools, and street signs . . . Sowell’s blind spot on the language question . . . ” (Murray N. Rothbard, “Affirmative Scholarship”).

Thomas Sowell, however, went to the heart of the matter: Quebec is an example of affirmative action. In fact, the French Language Board (its inspectors are nicknamed “Tongue Troopers”) copies its “persuasion” procedures from affirmative action manuals obtained from U.S. Federal agencies. Montreal’s English hospitals, which came under the hegemony of the provincial government when Canada adopted its national health system, are supported by the English-speaking population. When French became the sole official language of Quebec, the hospitals learned that it would no longer be acceptable to communicate with the government in English and that it would be advisable to phase out the English-speaking employees and replace them with persons “sufficiently fluent” in French.

The inspectors peruse the list of employees and nod agreeably when they see a French-Canadian name, a tricky business sometimes as many French Canadians have Anglo surnames, and the first name may be, for example, Robert, which is the same in both languages. By now, virtually all the administrative jobs in the English hospitals are occupied by French Canadians. Only the medical work is carried on, sometimes uneasily, in English. The English banks kill two affirmative action birds with one stone by employing French-Canadian women as branch managers.

Further evidence against Rothbard’s and Reed’s contention that the Quebec authorities are only protecting their local majority culture is the ruthless scrapping of traditional French-Canadian institutions: instead we have a civil marriage, legalized divorce, atheism and Marxism in the schools, and a phasing out of the handling of family legal and property matters by a peculiarly French profession known as notaires. Imminent legal changes favor instead the Anglo-Saxon adversarial settlement of civil disputes, handled by attorneys.

If there were genuine concern for the preservation of the French language, there would be no separatism, since the boundaries of Quebec have not the slightest bearing on the subject. The only culture shock crossing from Quebec into either of its neighboring provinces is the change of license plates.

But the borders of Canada have everything to do with preservation of French, as recently reiterated by Jean Chretien, leader of the Federal Liberty Party. The language survives and even grows in parts of Canada hundreds of miles from Quebec, but it is dead just over the nearby U.S. border, even where people watch Montreal television, fly to U.S. destinations from Montreal’s airport, dine out in Montreal’s fine French restaurants (Reed did manage to get one thing right), and reside in towns, like Winooski, Vermont, that are ethnically French Canadian. The parish church of St. Pierre, in Plattsburgh, New York, seventy miles south of here, was renamed “St. Peter” some years ago.

I don’t wish it on you, but you will understand better when certain cities and even regions of the United States are declared “African-American” amid suitable changes of name (it has already been proposed that New York become “Martin Luther King City”) with undreamt-of changes to follow. Montreal is a French city only in the same way that Detroit or Atlanta are African-American cities. Lincoln (Avenue or whatever)—yes, Lincoln—would become Jesse Jackson Avenue just as Dorchester Boulevard in Montreal became Boul. René-Lévesque.

Rothbard has apparently never been to Montreal; John Shelton Reed’s account of his visit, however, repeats every standard left-wing media myth about the place. He quotes “an Anglo reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,” which is like visiting North Carolina and quoting a reporter for the Charlotte Observer.

The CBC reporter wouldn’t know, and I wonder if Reed would even want to know, that Jefferson Davis sojourned in Montreal (his daughter attended Sacred Heart College, still going strong). Apparently two plaques were put up by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to mark the site, ironically on Union Avenue, where Davis lodged with one of Montreal’s leading citizens, John Lovell. White leftists and black activists have demanded that the plaques be removed. Only a French plaque remains.

        —Lionel Albert
Montreal, Canada