How Things Work

Their Majesties the Mob

The answer to any conundrum begins with a unified theory

The title is from a book published in 1960, while Eisenhower was still president, and the title, “Their Majesties the Mob”, was coined by a Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe, a Massachusetts reporter who wrote under the name “Dame Shirley” in the California gold fields in the 1850s, proving a simple natural law that if you’re going to observe and write about the (mis)conduct of people who carry guns freely, it’s wise to use a pen name. The book’s author, John Caughey, who almost no one has ever heard of today, was a UCLA professor from 1930 to 1970, and dean of California’s history, having written over 25 books, this book published as part of a series for the University of Chicago, a beacon of “classical liberalism” at the time.

It’s a really good book partly because it’s mostly a series of contemporary newspaper reports from the Gold Rush and Wagon Trains in the opening of the West days, (1849-1880) saddled with only a finger-wagging Introduction, as befit every liberal of that period.

Caughey’s commentaries are “classically liberal”, a philosophy to which, as a college student, I belonged. Because liberalism was so high-sounding in its themes, it was easy for the idealistic to accept it at face value; about race, poverty, crime and capital punishment, all the Christian virtues that denounce the sins of power and avarice advanced by Evil, especially since we had just entered the nuclear age and people suddenly believed we could blow the world to bits at any time due to high temper. Classical liberalism was also built on the notion that the fat, rich industrial world could afford to dig deep into its pockets to cure these accursed problems, so yes, classical liberalism believed “big government” could do everlasting Good if only given the authority and money to do it.

Show me the thoughtful 19-year old student who didn’t fall for this trope hook line and sinker. After all, the words fell straight out of the New Testament. In the perfect world it was indeed the perfect system, if, as the saying goes, “everyone was without sin.” But by age 30, a family of 4, a mortgage, a job, a clearer picture developed not of philosophy, but of the cunning nature of Man, political Man, to “get over”, as they used to call it, and to rake off, starting at 2% but now in the high 20 percentiles, all that tax money they gathered from the working people to design bureaucracies to administer to them…in perpetuity.

Very few men and women who still subscribe to those ideals today will call themselves a “Liberal” because of those who have prostituted it. Most honest conservatives also still adhere to those principles. In 1960 Liberalism’s home was the Democratic Party, to which I never belonged, and was itself an offshoot of the what many called socialist idealism, from FDR’s reign of power, 1933-to-1945. It’s a test of the quality of my true classical liberal education and the laws of inquiry, reason and logic I was taught that I abandoned ‘liberalism’ in 1976 when the Democratic Party abandoned it at the Democratic National Convention for what it called “Modern Liberalism” (ModLib) or “the New Left”, which morphed into exactly what it appears as today. I doubt if Prof Caughey, were he still alive, would any longer call himself a Democrat either.

But concerning Caughey’s book on vigilanteeism, one of those fundamental flaws in liberal thinking at the time JFK took the national stage, was that government was good because it was “official”. And therefore, any official thing government did was “good” on its face. If something went wrong it was a human failing, i.e, one of the mechanics, not the machine. The Machine Design was perfect, you see, at least until another elected body should decide to change it. In short, liberals never really understood how sausage was made in a free society.

So, in his commentaries in “Their Majesties the Mob”, Prof Caughey made no distinction between the acts of “committees” in mining camps or on the wagon trains taking miners to the gold fields being, which were formed to control and even punish the misconduct of men who acted out, versus that group of hooded men who would burn a cross in front of a person’s house, or rush into a shack to drag out a black man because he’d been seen kissing a white girl, or refused to doff his cap to a white lady who walked down the sidewalk. Depending on the offence, he might be whipped, or even hung. (I know of this hat-tipping incident because that lady was my father’s mother, who, incidentally, was not southern, but college-educated and from Indianapolis. She chewed out a black miner in front of that big building shown, because he had neglected to show the proper respect to her along that 50 yards of sidewalk that was the front of the Big Store in my town. My father told me this story when I was of the right age, and grandmother long gone, as a lesson about manners, noting the black miner was the victim.)


If you close your eyes and actually try to imagine a town being born from scratch, it will make sense that “government” was among the last things those towns produced. As a generation raised on western films and television, “horse operas” they were called, we saw these collisions between good and bad men while the in-betweens sat to the fence and watched. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” was about a tough rancher with a gun (John Wayne) who loved a pretty girl, and a gunslinger-robber with his gang and a gun (Lee Marvin), and a bookish lawyer with a law book and no gun, (Jimmy Stewart) who got the girl, and became the territory’s first senator when it became a state. There was even a sheriff in that town who stood to the side when serious gunplay was about to occur, which was also an honest look at rough towns. Most sheriffs kept the drunks off the streets, but at $10 a month, weren’t about to take on gangs with guns and a mean look in their eye. (Makes sense, when you stop and think about it.)

Mark Twain visited the mining town of Virginia City in 1863, during the Civil War, heading West with his brother. Virginia City was the home of the Comstock Lode, the largest silver deposit ever, and the town grew to 25,000 by 1870, a true boom town, then spiraled down by 1878 when the ore ran out, and is now a sleepy burg of around 400. This has always been how mining towns roll.

When Twain visited he wrote:

Money was as plenty as dust; every individual considered himself wealthy, and a melancholy countenance was nowhere to be seen. There were military companies, fire companies, brass bands, banks, hotels, theaters, “hurdy-gurdy houses,” wide-open gambling palaces, political powwows, civic processions, street fights, murders, inquests, riots, a whiskey mill every fifteen steps, a board of alderman, a mayor… a dozen breweries and half a dozen jails and station houses in full operation…

…and some talk of building a church.

In terms of human priorities when families were not part of the founding picture, the church came even after the military unit (to guard the payrolls), the town government, the sheriff and jails. The offices of government, which modern liberals in 1960 felt were necessary, came last, after the needs of unaccompanied men were first taken care of.

This was a natural process, and every town in America, until we started building planned communities and suburbs in the 1950s, was created by the same process beginning with a period of lawlessness limited only by the moral sensibilities of its founders. Not every town had criminal gangs, but every town had to deal with bad behavior before a town government or even territorial government could be organized. Most towns were built when humanity and morality outranked inhumanity and immorality at the rate of 20 to 1 or better. Gold and silver rushes were the exception, not the rule.

Liberal history has treated Jim Crow in the South differently because it had an intimate relationship with the Democratic Party. Caughey’s book was published just as de-segregation of public schools was beginning in the South and it was the closing focus on his classical liberal thinking on vigitanteeism.

I visited a yarn mill in the cotton belt of central Alabama in the 1980s, and had lunch with the management staff at the only restaurant in town. Along the walls of the dining room were team photos of the county high school football champions, going back to the 1930s. Of course, they were all white. But around 1969, those photos changed their names, from Shagnasty County High School to Shagnasty Academy. All the finer folk, white of course, had shuttled their sons and daughters off to a private school, while the blacks and poorer whites attended the county school…which was where all the college scouts came to watch, including Bear Bryant I suppose, who I met at the airport on my way back to Charlotte.

The unspoken event in Jim Crow was the destruction of the old Confederacy’s entire society, top-to-bottom, in the aftermath of the Civil War. A generation. Unlike the industrious North, the plantation South was created more along the lines of French aristocracy, many towns and entire counties run by the landed gentry who owned 80% or more of the slaves and land, and most of the wealth. Household slaves were also found in the cities (Atlanta, Birmingham, New Orleans) and county seats, i.e., where middle class businesses made their living catering to the plantation aristocracy. In their business and social dealings, which were numerous over the years before the Civil War, much like the English who passionately disliked the French but still loved being invited to their social functions around Paris, American Yankee businessmen were enthralled, even a bit jealous of the life styles of these Southern aristocrats who entertained them.

Mark Twain commented that people might want to “go to Heaven for the climate”, but would choose Hell for society”.

The antebellum South ended in 1860 and died at Appomattox in 1865.  What followed was Reconstruction, where for 12 years the South was force-fed law and public institutions not of their own making, for which much resentment still exists. It was not Puritan Yankeedom’s finest hours. And it would be around 1890 before the small town South would fall back into the hands of indigenous southerners, only with no tradition of governing, local or county, or state, since before the Wahr that had all been the sole province of the aristocrats, who were mostly dead, and Yankee occupiers and their carpetbaggers. Like those miners who spent weeks on the trail to to get to California, they knew little of rebuilding towns or law, or local governments.

So yes, the Ku Klux Klan, formed right after the Wahr by some surviving Confederate officers, would supply the arm of intimidation new all-white governments would need to insure their hold on power, up to and including, eventually, the Congress and the White House, as Woodrow Wilson, a notable racist as well as formidable college professor (Bryn Mawr, women’s college), college president (Princeton) and governor of New Jersey, all noted racist institutions, used the KKK as the Democrats’ private army in keeping the South in the Democratic Party’s camp, just as FDR did for his 12 years in the White House.

Which brings us to today and the question: How do a free people fix it? From the top, or from the bottom?

This is a “How Can Things Work?” or “How Should Things Work” (both questions) exercise built upon the body of evidence of How Things Work on the Ground in reality. Much like any military battle plan, there is a stated objective to be attained, with a detailed plan on how to achieve it, but which every battle-tested commander knows will begin to unravel as soon as the first shot is fired and the winner will be the one who was quickest to recognize the change and adapt.

Go to the internet and enlist a cadre of people to show up to protest at just about any place; a statue of Columbus, a county government building or a Food Mart, or of late, at any site where a criminal fugitive was shot while trying to escape arrest (especially if “of color”). It only requires two or three people of influence, often college professors a decade ago, with networks of followers, to draw a crowd of around 100, then, either from among that group, or plants sent to insert themselves, to turn that protest into a riot.

And that riot having the same effect as a cross burning in front of the mayor’s house.

Few riots are spontaneous simply because few protests are actually spontaneous anymore. The vast majority are staged. And funded. And logistics? Even when the villagers stormed Baron Frankenstein’s castle, armed with torches, it required quite awhile to go around knocking on doors to gather those men and their torches. And of course, the principal trigger was a little girl being found dead down by the creek, which stirred the wrath of that mob…all because of the strange goings-on inside that castle. Even Mary Shelley knew how this had to work in order to be believable.

In the end, the castle was burned to the ground…with all hands…including the baron, his hunchbacked assistant, and the Monster. (At least in the 1931 film. The scary Frau Blucher was in a later edition.)

Today organizers don’t knock on doors but bring the moving parts of the mob to town in buses from 20 to 200 miles away, after email alerts them to gather in a mall parking lot somewhere to be ferried to the riot-site. I suppose some inquiring university pinheads have actually studied what the triggers might be that turns young people into such compliant on-call protesters, but even protesters with homemade signs and a high-minded cause, which once indicated a degree of spontaneity, can still easily go from a flash crowd to a violent riot. We know for instance that alcohol or drugs can assist any trigger-words such as “Hang him!” It was a common incendiary even in the 1850s.

We also have known for over 50 years that this is especially effective with the young, from both ends of the economic and educational spectrum, rich and poor, master’s degrees in Underwater Basket Weaving and 8th grade drop-outs. Coming at their violence from two entirely different frames of reference, the pinhead might even note they are sometimes remarkably in synch, even found working hand-in-glove from time to time, one giving themselves merit badges for slumming with the great unwashed, while the other pat themselves on the back for “getting over” on the spoiled bratlings. Self-congratulations all around.

I suppose there are even university pinheads who think they can sit back and look at these events with an analytical unbiased eye. The philosophical criteria have been out there since Hegel, only I doubt modern pinheads have much regard for philosophers prior to the 20th Century, except maybe to diminish them, since that is probably the only way they can get published.

But trained medical examiners at hospital Emergency Room have a check-list of known criteria plus a trained observational mind without benefit of catch-phrases or alcohol. Modern training regimens for PhD’s in Pinheadery are not quite the same as they were 50 years ago, just as training in private sector CEO’ery has changed, almost removing Adam Smith entirely from their precepts. But in basic diagnostics and treatment, Emergency Room talent have remained remarkably the same.

There are two ways to “look for clues”. In the emergency room a nurse or doctor are trained in the instant memorization to identify as much causation as possible by clues they’d been taught and required to memorize are associated with the observable symptoms or injuries…in some cases so rigidly they are unable to look beyond the four corners of that training to see other possible symptoms or causes.

This standard works very well in an emergency room or for EMS-responders first on the scene of an accident, but when a patient comes into a specialist with a generalized “doesn’t feel right” concern, or for a routine examination or X-ray, the specialist must look at the evidence differently, and use different analytical skills to be able to say to him/herself “Something’s just not right here.”

This is what kindles the banner proposition above, The answer to any conundrum begins with a unified theory.

Like Twain’s metaphor on Heaven and Hell, a similar comparison might often be found between members of the medical profession and legal profession, in assaying perceptions of the same bare naked facts as they are presented to each.

The sort of memorization plus analytical diagnostic skill required of medical professionals; in anatomy, physiology, diagnosis, is not generally found among lawyers, historians or what are called the “soft sciences”, where skills for abstract thinking are scored at a higher premium. Different analytical paths entirely. Actually, being a lawyer myself, I’m being generous here, for most lawyers would rather poke a stick in their eye than have to memorize every bone, organ and muscle in the human body and I for one can attest that this is a simple act of laziness, labor vs reward. Prospective lawyers were (are) simply pursuing something different than people who choose medicine. Law school was easier in the memorization department, and no one to my knowledge can BS their way through an Anatomy final.) In a society where doctors are (or were) perceived as gods, but could never get ultra-rich or powerful by Gilded Age standards, the aspiring lawyer who would rather “baffle them with BS if he couldn’t beat them with brilliance” chose to pursue greater wealth, even in small towns, even while knowing he/she would assume a lower place in the social pecking order, somewhere below the rank of “god” held by doctors. (Remember, decisions to pursue medicine or law, even the vaunted field of PhD pinheadery were all made at ages between 19 and 21, where even a career in music, as a drummer…was a fleeting consideration.) Also, the prospects for even greater wealth came from lawyers’ easy promotion into politics, thus widening their wealth-and-power opportunities, only alas, watching their public respect gap lower them down there near aluminum-siding salesmen, used-car dealers and Albanian pimps. (The modern political solution to this unfair disparity, of course, has been to corporatize and bureaucratize medicine, as in law…look at the wonders it has produced in England and Canada, just to name a few…where “State Medicine” carries almost none of the prestige of a “Herr Doktor” which once even outranked a Baron in 1930s Germany, before the Nazis reduced them to state bureaucrats whose signatures were required to send millions to the camps.)

Still, there are inquiring lawyers and historians who have this extra dimension to look for and find an anomaly, that something just doesn’t add up or make sense and arrive a unified theory.

The methodologies aren’t quite the same, no more than 2 + 2 is the same as 2 + 2 + 2 + 2, etc, where, as the bold banner (above) suggests, with more variables, a unified theory becomes necessary.

There is an element of 3-dimensional chess involved at arriving at both a cause and a treatment for the Mob or prescribing a treatment in an ever-changing political world.

Trying to analyze this event in the 1960’s, fighting Jim Crow and KKK, only without torches or any intent to burn anything down, yet still, to bring down the baron and smite the Monster…

…to this 60 years later, trying to bring down “what” exactly?…and your guess is as good a mine…


…is a function of many changed assumptions by the acting parties who play it out, the haters, as well as their unseen appeasers, manipulators, profiteers, and  the people who witness it and support or disagree with it, as well as those who purport to study it.


As the title suggests, the people who knew the most about “how these things worked” in 1962, versus how things work now in 2021, other than the people who actually organized these events, is the State, “the government” at some level, thus injecting “law ” and some times “order”, acting as either the emergency room team trained to handle the crisis (react), or the principal nemesis that caused the situation in the first place by its affirmative actions.

One of the principal definitions of classical liberalism of the 50s and 60s was that man could use government to affirmatively do good things. Having been one for many years, I submit that government cannot, in the end, do good things so the maxim that “government works best which governs least” is the best antidote available, requiring constant fine-tuning, which in turn, requires the People to tithe more of their time to the problem.

And knowledge is the first requisite.

In 1944, many years before the Civil Rights Movement was born, Gunnar Myrdal wrote his 2-vol epic An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, almost 1500 pages, describing the situation we see in the 1962 photo almost perfectly, only when Martin Luther King, Jr was only 15 years old. As academic pinheads go, Myrdal was among the higher ranks, for he understood the general nature of racism, but only as a southern condition. He missed the northern dimension and maybe even didn’t know to enquire. But in the 1960s a black comedian-turned-activist (and “northern advisor” to Dr King about race conditions north of the Mason-Dixon line, places like Chicago) Dick Gregory, said both both North and South were racist, only by different measurements, summing them up in only 38 words:

“In the South they don’t care how close you get, just so long as you don’t get too big, while

in the North they don’t care how big you get just so long as don’t get too close”

But while there were voting restrictions in the North that escaped the reach of the Voting Rights Act, which originally only applied to the original Confederate states, and they had no organized KKK, the North still had its lynching’s and organized mob violence against minorities.

The national political and media establishment missed this entirely (probably intentionally in recent years), by the time this 1962 photo of Dr King was made. In fact, Dr King became friends with Dick Gregory so he could see firsthand race problems in the North, (and which caused him to weep, according to Mr Gregory, since it was a kind of racism Dr King had not seen in the South). MLK had no history with whites “not caring how big they got just so long as don’t get too close”.

In  the 1962 South, streets were turned over to police and dogs protecting their ranking system in maintaining a social order by the government class and its principal benefactors. And the night was turned over to the Klan.  So what most of the people brought to the local ER were injuries from dog bites and bruises and bleeding from police batons. All treatable. That was then. By the 2000’s it has largely been more serious injuries administered, only not to protesters or rioter so much as to on-lookers, or private businesses, even a few deaths…all on common ground, the public parts of a city, its sidewalks and its rights of passage, turned over to the physical presence and power of “their majesty the mob”, haters driven by whatever cause de jour their manipulators wished to send them out to protest, and how much property they decided should be destroyed.

Has the role of local government changed, or has it simply abetted the same power-that-be as it did in the 1930s?

And what can be done to mitigate it? And by whom? And for how long?

As pointed out in the Frankenstein castle firing, and church burnings and lynchings in the Jim Crow South, violence occurred where there was little or no law or police that could match the combined power of local KKK dens, or were de facto members, sort of like a local lodge. Still there was plenty of Christian moral opposition in the segregated south, especially among wives who shared all sorts of things with their Negro friends and neighbors, as I pointed out in my own young years in a segregated coal town in the 1950s. My mother shucked many an ear of corn on the back stoop with black ladies while discussing various interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount. But those friendships largely remained away from public places.

We see the same dynamic today, where disturbed Portland or Minneapolis suburbs, mostly with a remote simpatico with the anti-establishment conduct of the rioters shown simply by their silence. With one defense witness in the Chauvin- George Floyd murder trial having had his doorstep in California graced with the severed head of a pig, and noticed to the un-sequestered jury, it bore all the signals of a burning cross in 1930 in Alabama.

In the “minding other peoples’ business” concept of federalism, we look to the federal government to fix everything today. In 1958 we supported a Republican president to send in troops to escort 9 black students at Little Rock, then supported his successor, JFK, to use troops to insure universities were open in Mississippi and Alabama. All based on Supreme Court orders. What was gained there was a speeded-up process of perhaps 3 or 4 years, because those schools were going to be desegregated no matter what. This Little Rock climax took over three years to play out, most of Arkansas already desegregated.

But this also marked the concession by the People their state power over this process to the Federal, which, while in able hands with Ike and JFK, quickly wasn’t, as we know only too well with just about anything federal. Prof Caughey’s ideal of classical liberalism at the federal level was a grand failure, for in the years following JFK’s assassination, the federal power to direct (manage) black peoples’ lives was sealed…only not in the south where black and white folk had always been able to live closer alongside one another, but in the north, where whites, while wanting only the best for the blacks, from education to jobs, wanted it just so long as they didn’t “get too close”. And it was those urban liberals who planned and executed the new plantation system that has produced almost all the generational crime since, and the social attitudes it has created.

So, yes, the State can both encourage and discourage premeditated Programmed Violence.

I can only conclude that if the People wish things to be fixed, they need to stop minding other people’s business in other states, get out of their chairs and march, just like Baron Frankenstein’s castle, to their local seats of government and threaten those politicians there, something the KKK prevented them from doing in Alabama. If there are two mobs destined to meet, this is where they should meet. And if the fundamental humanity that once sat at the heart of classical liberalism is still to be found in the majority (it is no longer 90%) the right and Good will prevail.

But under no circumstances can this fix occur from the federal government.


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