In Our Name

In the context of my rereading the book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, by Sister Helen Prejean, the leading force in the American movement to abolish capital punishment; some polls shows support for capital punishment has dropped in California.

The abolitionist arguments are built on emotional stories of brutal childhoods, the court economics of capital cases and the horror of death row housing.

The capital punishment supporter arguments are built on the recognition of evil, the recognition that there are crimes that cry to heaven and it is only through taking the life of the evil doer, through proper judicial action and in our name, that evil is truly confronted and true justice rendered.

I wrote a book about capital punishment which is a defense of the scriptural and traditional Catholic position of support for capital punishment in response to calls for its abolition. Based on scripture and tradition, calls for abolition are premature, though, in a positive sense, the call has generated a renewed focus on not only the magisterial history of this most ancient of teachings, but also its theological resonance within the expression of that teaching by the Fathers of the Church-ancient and modern-who most deeply reflected on it. While Catholic social teaching has always supported capital punishment, it has been opposed by some in the Catholic hierarchy as an unnecessary criminal justice tool, with current criminal justice technology being presented as providing adequate protection of the innocent against the aggressor.

Socialism Destroys

As the Church taught for decades, and the current destruction is in Venezuela, as this story from Zero Hedge reports.

An excerpt.

  • The question of whether Socialism can be an effective economic system was famously raised when Margaret Thatcher said of the British Labor Party, “I think they’ve made the biggest financial mess that any government’s ever made in this country for a very long time, and Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money. It’s quite a characteristic of them. They then start to nationalise everything.”
  • There are dire reports of people waiting in supermarket lines all day, only to discover that expected food deliveries never arrived and the shelves are empty.
  • There are horrific tales of desperate people slaughtering zoo animals to provide their only meal of the day. Even household pets are targeted as a much-needed source for food.
  • President Maduro is doubling down on the proven failed policies and philosophies of “Bolivarian Socialism,” while diverting attention away from the crisis — pointing fingers at so-called “enemies” of Venezuela such as the United States, Saudi Arabia and others.
  • A dozen eggs was last reported to cost $150, and the International Monetary Fund “predicts that inflation in Venezuela will hit 720% this year.Severe shortages of food, clean water, electricity, medicines and hospital supplies punctuate a dire scenario of crime-ridden streets in the impoverished neighborhoods of this nearly failed OPEC state, which at one time claimed to be the most prosperous nation in Latin America.Darkness is falling on Hugo Chavez’s once-famous “Bolivarian revolution” that some policy experts, only a short time ago, thought would never end.“[a]t present it does not appear that the current economic expansion is about to end any time in the near future. The gains in poverty reduction, employment, education and health care that have occurred in the last few years are likely to continue along with the expansion.”The question of whether Socialism can be an effective economic system was famously raised when Margaret Thatcher said of the British Labor Party:In short: “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”” …markets expect Venezuela to default on its debt in the very near future. The country is basically bankrupt. It is not easy for a nation to go bankrupt with the largest oil reserves in the world, but Venezuela has managed it. How? Well, a combination of bad luck and worse policies. The first step was when Hugo Chávez’s socialist government started spending more money on the poor, with everything from two-cent gasoline to free housing. That may all seem like it’s a good idea in general — but only as long as there’s money to spend. And by 2005 or so, Venezuela didn’t have any.”Chavez had the good fortune to die just before the grim reaper showed up on Venezuela’s doorstep. According to policy specialist Jose Cardenas:Maduro is doubling down on the failed Chavismo economic and social policies that have contributed to an inflationary crisis not seen since the days of the 1920’s Weimar Republic in Germany, when the cost of a loaf of bread was a wheelbarrow full of cash.There are dire reports of people waiting in supermarket lines all day, only to discover that expected food deliveries never arrived and the shelves are empty.There are horrific tales of desperate people slaughtering zoo animals to provide their only meal of the day. Even household pets are targeted as a much-needed source for food. This is a desperate time for a desperate people.
  • In desperation, some middle class families have organized online barter clubs as helpless citizens seek to trade anything for diapers and baby food, powdered milk, medicines, toilet paper and other essentials missing from store shelves or available only on the black market for double and triple already impossibly inflated prices..
  • Demonstrations and public cries for food are the unpleasant evidence of a once-prosperous society being torn apart by the very largess that marked its utopian ideals less than a decade ago.
  • “What began as a war against the ‘squalid’ oligarchy in order to build what he called ’21st-century socialism’ — cheered on as he was by many leftists from abroad — has collapsed into an unprecedented heap of misery and conflict.”
  • When President Nicolas Maduro inherited the Venezuelan Socialist “dream”, in April of 2013, just one month after Chavez died, he was facing a mere 53% inflation rate. Today the Venezuelan bolivar is virtually worthless, and inflation is creeping to 500% with expectations of much more. A recent Washington Post report stated:
  • “I think they’ve made the biggest financial mess that any government’s ever made in this country for a very long time, and Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money. It’s quite a characteristic of them. They then start to nationalise everything, and people just do not like more and more nationalisation, and they’re now trying to control everything by other means.”
  • While it was not so long ago that many people heralded Venezuela as Latin America’s successful utopian Socialist experiment, something has gone dreadfully wrong as the revolution’s Marxist founder, Hugo Chavez, turned his Chavismo dream into an economic nightmare of unimaginable proportions.
  • In a 2007 study on the Chavez years for the Washington, DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval wrote:
  • Today, a once comfortable middle-class Venezuelan father is scrambling desperately to find his family’s next meal — sometimes hunting through garbage for salvageable food. The unfortunate 75% majority of Venezuelans already suffering extreme poverty are reportedly verging on starvation.
  • For many Venezuelans, by every economic, social and political measure, their nation is unravelling at breakneck speed.

The World & the Church

Very insightful article from Boston Review about the intersection, and the division.

An excerpt.

Over the last few decades many Western nations have become less religious, but countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East—even the United States itself, in fervor if not in numbers—have seen the rise of a religious revivalism that is dramatically reshaping politics. Societies in which religion appeared to have been overcome as a political force only half a century ago are witnessing what political philosopher Michael Walzer calls a “return of the negated.” Of course, as Freud says of the repressed, the negated does not return unaltered. Today’s religious revival is not a resurrection of the traditionalist opposition to secular nationalism but a new form of hyper-nationalism underwritten by religious eschatology.

Traditionalist revivalism tends to evoke three types of responses. One is fascination. Michel Foucault’s embarrassing embrace of Iran’s Islamic revolution is a prime example. Another, typical of revolutionary Marxists and scientistic atheists, is militant rejection of religion as such. A third is more nuanced, advocating neither reckless romanticism nor blanket rejection but critical engagement.

Walzer advances a powerful case for the third position, which has been gaining popularity among leading intellectuals. His latest book, The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions, studies the rise of religious revivalism as a political force in Israel, Algeria, and India, three countries created by movements of national liberation that were “committed . . . to an explicitly secular project.” Yet in the states these movements created, “a politics rooted in what we can loosely call fundamentalist religion is today very powerful.”

What explains this unexpected trajectory, according to Walzer, is a tension inherent to national liberation. Liberation requires not just removing the yoke of foreign oppression but also transforming the consciousness of the liberated—“a struggle against, rather than an ‘exaltation’ of, the existing nation.” Consequently, “the old ways must be repudiated and overcome—totally. But the old ways are cherished by many of the men and women whose ways they are. That is the paradox of liberation.”

But many among the liberated cling to traditions, rituals, symbols, and habits as wellsprings of meaning and identity. After the revolution subsides and its exhilarating heroism is replaced by the inglorious business of ordinary politics, the cherished old ways resurface, fuelled by resentment of the modernizing elites. In all three of his case studies, Walzer concludes that the secular nationalist revolution failed because “the culture of liberation was apparently too thin,” and it was too thin because it cut itself off from the tradition. Had the founders of these modern nations adopted a less hostile attitude toward tradition and “aimed at a critical engagement with the old culture rather than a total attack upon it . . . the story might have turned out differently.”

Walzer’s recipe for combating religious revivalism is critical engagement. “Alongside the ongoing work of negation,” he writes, “the tradition has to be acknowledged and its different parts ingathered” so they can “become the subject of ongoing argument and negotiation.” This is primarily an intellectual endeavor, focused on textual and cultural interpretation. As Walzer has written elsewhere, “The texts of our tradition are important, not holy. Every generation must read them again, and must debate them, to choose some and reject others,” with the aim of developing democratic, egalitarian versions of traditional texts and customs. Some years ago Kwame Anthony Appiah advanced a similar plea with respect to Africa, arguing that “ideological decolonization is bound to fail if it neglects either endogenous ‘tradition’ or exogenous ‘Western’ ideas, and that many African (and African American) intellectuals have failed to find a negotiated middle way.” Others advance such an approach with respect to Hinduism and to Islam.

Criminal World Values

I wrote extensively about this in my book.

They are gruesomely and accurately captured in this book review from The New Yorker.

An excerpt.

Child soldiers often rely on drugs to inure themselves to horror. Ishmael Beah became addicted to “brown-brown,” a mixture of gunpowder and cocaine. Cardona favored a cocktail of heavy tranquillizers and Red Bull, administered at regular intervals throughout the day, which rendered him alert but insensate. Miguel Treviño, though, required no drugs to kill. If the role he plays in “Wolf Boys” is an archetypal one—the psychopath father proxy, the charismatic comandante—the details have a chilling specificity. When Treviño is driving and sees a dog sleeping by the side of the road, he swerves to hit it. After stealing a tiger from the circus, he starves it, then feeds it human victims. At one point, Treviño tells Cardona that he has killed “more than eight hundred people.” Among the Zetas, this counts as a boast. It is not merely the act of killing but a real or feigned emotional indifference to the taking of human life that consolidates status in the cartel. Armed groups that use child soldiers often truck in mystical elements—one reason that Joseph Kony found kids so easy to manipulate is their readiness to believe in magic—and the Zetas betray some elements of a death cult. Cardona was not an especially spiritual kid, but like his colleagues he offered lip service to Santa Muerte, the Mexican folk saint of the dead.

In the Zetas, Dan Slater tells us, the highest praise you could offer someone was to say that he was frío—coldhearted. The first time Rosalio Reta kills someone, his comrades rally around to celebrate. “Your first job!” they exclaim. “You’re going to have nightmares!” He was sixteen. Slater charts Cardona’s evolution into an efficient and reliable killer, “a heat-seeking missile of black-market capitalism to be deployed against anyone who ran afoul of the Company.” At one point, Treviño touches Cardona’s chest and tells him, “You’re just as cold as me.”

Church & Capital Punishment, Support Teaching

As this article from Crisis Magazine makes clear, the Church cannot reverse its teaching on capital punishment, exactly the case I made in my book on the subject.

An excerpt from the Crisis article.

Pope St. John Paul II was well-known for his vigorous opposition to capital punishment. Yet in 2004, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—the pope’s own chief doctrinal officer, later to become Pope Benedict XVI—stated unambiguously that:

[I]f a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment … he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities … to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible … to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about … applying the death penalty … (Emphasis added)

How could it be “legitimate” for a Catholic to be “at odds with” the pope on such a matter? The answer is that the pope’s opposition to capital punishment was not a matter of binding doctrine, but merely an opinion which a Catholic must respectfully consider but not necessarily agree with. Cardinal Ratzinger could not possibly have said what he did otherwise. If it were mortally sinful for a Catholic to disagree with the pope about capital punishment, then he could not “present himself to receive Holy Communion.” If it were even venially sinful to disagree, then there could not be “a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics.”

The fact is that it is the irreformable teaching of the Church that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate, not merely to ensure the physical safety of others when an offender poses an immediate danger (a case where even John Paul II was willing to allow for the death penalty), but even for purposes such as securing retributive justice and deterring serious crime. What is open to debate is merely whether recourse to the death penalty is in practice the best option given particular historical and cultural circumstances. That is a “prudential” matter about which popes have no special expertise.

We defend these claims in detail and at length in our book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of the Death Penalty, forthcoming from Ignatius Press. What follows is a brief summary of some key points.

Sacred Scripture The Church holds that scripture is infallible, particularly when it teaches on matters of faith and morals. The First Vatican Council teaches that scripture must always be interpreted in the sense in which the Church has traditionally understood it, and in particular that it can never be interpreted in a sense contrary to the unanimous understanding of the Fathers of the Church.

Both the Old and New Testaments teach that capital punishment can be legitimate, and the Church has always interpreted them this way. For example, Genesis 9:6 famously states: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” The Church has always understood this as a sanction of the death penalty. Even Christian Brugger, a prominent Catholic opponent of capital punishment, admits that attempts to reinterpret this passage are dubious and that the passage is a “problem” for views like his own.

Papal Errors?

If all true, another devastating account from Remnant News.

An excerpt.

It seems that not a week goes by without some twisting of Sacred Scripture by a Pope who, as the past three-and-a-half years have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt, has the singular distinction among all his predecessors of being nothing short of a font of error. This unparalleled development has prompted the emergence of a group of diocesan priests who have compiled a vast assortment of Francis’s errors under the title Denzinger-Bergoglio, declaring as their motivation “We all have responsibility for the Church of the Lord.”

Indeed we do. Which is why this newspaper is obliged to follow the example of these priests by reporting and refuting as many of Francis’s errors as possible. For compared to the innumerable errors of Francis, the infamous errant sermons of John XXII, which provoked furious public opposition from orthodox theologians at the time, leading to the wayward Pope’s deathbed retraction, are trivial in comparison. The faithful have a duty to respond to this situation in keeping with their natural right as baptized members of the Church Militant to communicate with the sacred pastors and with each other regarding ecclesial concerns. (Cfr. Canon 212 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law) Hence this new feature: the Font of Error Update, which mirrors the intent of the Denzinger-Bergoglio website. Where Sacred Scripture in particular is concerned, we have learned from bitter experience that practically nothing Francis says by way of interpretation can be trusted; every “interpretation” must be checked. And, far too often, one will find that the Bible says the opposite, or very nearly the opposite, of what Francis claims, particularly where the teaching and mission of Christ are concerned. (A particularly egregious example, discussed here, is the twisting of Matthew 19:3-9 from Our Lord’s condemnation of the Pharisees’ toleration of divorce into a condemnation of present-day Catholic as Pharisees for defending Christ’s teaching against divorce!) The latest example is the Audience Address of September 7, 2016, a discussion of the eleventh Chapter of Matthew wherein John the Baptist, in prison, sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the promised Messiah. John, says Francis, “was anxiously awaiting the Messiah and in his preaching had described him [sic] in bold colors, as a judge who would finally install the reign of God and purify his people, rewarding the good and punishing the wicked.” But, according to Francis, Jesus had “launched his public mission with a different style” and “John suffers… because he does not understand this style of Jesus and wants to know if he really is the Messiah or should we wait for another.” That is, Francis suggests that John the Baptist was disappointed with the “style” of Jesus and therefore dubious about His Messianic pedigree. Francis begins his twisting of the Gospel by noting that earlier in Matthew’s account (Matthew 3:10), Jesus had indeed preached: “For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.” But, according to Francis, when John’s disciples inquire of Jesus whether he is the Messiah:

“the reply of Jesus seems at first sight not to correspond to the request of the Baptist. Jesus, in fact, says: “Go and related to John what you have seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are purified, the deaf heard, the dead rise gain, the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who shall not be scandalized in me (Matt 4-6).” Here the intention of the Lord Jesus becomes clear: He responds that he is the concrete instrument of the mercy of God, who encounters everyone, bringing the consolation of salvation, and in this way manifests the judgment of God.

Note, first of all, the conflation of God’s mercy with His judgment, as if His mercy simply is His judgment and there is no judgment or condemnation. Note also the subversive implication that John, not expecting this merciful Messiah, suffered with doubt because Jesus was healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching the Gospel to the poor as opposed to simply rewarding the good and punishing the wicked as John had prophesied. Francis thus sets up a false opposition between John’s prophesy of the coming Messiah and Jesus’s works of mercy, when in fact there is no opposition at all. He twists Christ’s miracles into a “style” that John supposedly could not comprehend: the beneficiaries of the miracles “recover their dignity and are no longer excluded, the dead return to life, while to the poor is announced the Good News”—as if John somehow objected to this!

Catholic Bishops & Government Money

A devastating article from Remnant Newspaper lays out the money trail, and the political payoff.

An excerpt.


The silence about Hillary Clinton is deafening. One hears nothing but crickets from the U.S. Bishops and Cardinals about the democratic presidential candidate’s radical pro-abortion stance, but for the banished Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Why are they sitting mute on the sidelines? How could they be conflicted between an abortion laden democratic platform and the most prolife republican platform ever? Seems like an obvious choice for Catholics. After all, St. John Paul II described life as “the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights.” What’s going on?

When in doubt, follow the money. This ecclesial trail is flush with cash.

Could it be that the bishops don’t want to anger their federal piggy bank by squealing about that rabid abortion loving democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton?

Could it be that the USCCB enjoys and wants to continue to be awash in Obama cash?

Did the democratic Obama Administration buy the election silence of the Catholic episcopacy by bestowing millions of federal dollars into the coffers of Catholic institutions?

Do the Bishops believe that a President Hillary Clinton is preferred because she will continue to fund their plentiful federal grants for Muslim refugee resettlement?

Oh, the irony! This is the same Obama Administration that has forced lawsuits by the Little Sisters of the Poor, Catholic schools, Catholic businesses and Catholic lay organizations for mandating compliance with Obamacare rules in violation of Catholic doctrine. Yet, the Bishops stand ready, willing, and able with their hand in the federal cookie jar to implement the Muslim refugee resettlement agenda.

While the Little Sisters of the Poor battled Uncle Sam, the U.S. Bishops and Cardinals were lining the Church coffers with blood money from Uncle Sam.

This isn’t about conscience, folks. It’s about their checkbook.

Take a look at the jaw dropping beneficence from the federal fairy godmother government deposited into the bank accounts of the Catholic hierarchal institutions. It’s all on display at

During the most anti-Catholic administration in the history of the U.S., the Catholic bishops have enjoyed enormous financial benefits carrying out the mission of the Obama administration.

Here’s the Church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the federal dollars.

This is only a partial list of federal government grants to Catholic groups, but the USCCB, Catholic Charities, CRS and the International Catholic Migration Commission received jaw dropping grants to carry out the Obama agenda in FY16.

These grants cover fiscal year 2016 only:

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

During FY16, the USCCB received federal grants totaling a whopping $91,132,305.

A Horrible Statistic

That government workers so far outnumber those in manufacturing, as reported by CNS News, is not good news, by any criteria.

An excerpt.

( – Government employees in the United States outnumber manufacturing employees by 9,932,000, according to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Federal, state and local government employed 22,213,000 people in August, while the manufacturing sector employed 12,281,000.

The BLS has published seasonally-adjusted month-by-month employment data for both government and manufacturing going back to 1939. For half a century—from January 1939 through July 1989—manufacturing employment always exceeded government employment in the United States, according to these numbers.

Then, in August 1989, the seasonally-adjusted employment numbers for government exceeded the employment numbers for manufacturing for the first time. That month, manufacturing employed 17,964,000 and government employed 17,989,000.

Manufacturing employment in the United States had peaked a decade before that in June 1979 at 19,553,000

From August 2015 to August 2016 seasonally-adjusted manufacturing employment declined by 37,000–dropping from 12,318,000 last August to 12,281,000 this August.

The 22,213,000 government employees in August, according to the BLS, included 2,790,000 federal employees, 5,120,000 state government employees, and 14,303,000 local government employees.

Doing Their Job

The job of the criminal justice system, the front end, is to control crime and these folks are doing that, though this article in the New York Times feels otherwise. 

An excerpt.

LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. — Donnie Gaddis picked the wrong county to sell 15 oxycodone pills to an undercover officer. 

If Mr. Gaddis had been caught 20 miles to the east, in Cincinnati, he would have received a maximum of six months in prison, court records show. In San Francisco or Brooklyn, he would probably have received drug treatment or probation, lawyers say. 

But Mr. Gaddis lived in Dearborn County, Ind., which sends more people to prison per capita than nearly any other county in the United States. After agreeing to a plea deal, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. 

“Years? Holy Toledo — I’ve settled murders for a lot less than that,” said Philip Stephens, a public defender in Cincinnati.

Dearborn County represents the new boom in American prisons: mostly white, rural and politically conservative.

A bipartisan campaign to reduce mass incarceration has led to enormous declines in new inmates from big cities, cutting America’s prison population for the first time since the 1970s. From 2006 to 2014, annual prison admissions dropped 36 percent in Indianapolis; 37 percent in Brooklyn; 69 percent in Los Angeles County; and 93 percent in San Francisco.

But large parts of rural and suburban America — overwhelmed by the heroin epidemic and concerned about the safety of diverting people from prison — have gone the opposite direction. Prison admissions in counties with fewer than 100,000 people have risen even as crime has fallen, according to a New York Times analysis, which offers a newly detailed look at the geography of American incarceration.

Just a decade ago, people in rural, suburban and urban areas were all about equally likely to go to prison. But now people in small counties are about 50 percent more likely to go to prison than people in populous counties.

The stark disparities in how counties punish crime show the limits of recent state and federal changes to reduce the number of inmates. Far from Washington and state capitals, county prosecutors and judges continue to wield great power over who goes to prison and for how long. And many of them have no interest in reducing the prison population.

“I am proud of the fact that we send more people to jail than other counties,” Aaron Negangard, the elected prosecutor in Dearborn County, said last year. “That’s how we keep it safe here.”

He added in an interview: “My constituents are the people who decide whether I keep doing my job. The governor can’t make me. The legislature can’t make me.”


Crime Spike or Crime Wave?

An expert, in this article from City Journal, examines the evidence.

An excerpt.

The Major Cities Chiefs Association recently issued its crime figures for the first half of 2016, and some of the numbers are scary. In four out of five violent crime categories, including murder, the most trustworthy measure, this year is starting off worse than last—and 2015 was more violent than the preceding year. Six out of the ten biggest American cities have seen double-digit increases in 2016; overall, crime is up 14.8 percent. The good news is that murder declined 6.4 percent in New York City and Houston saw a 51.4 percent drop.

Only a pollyanna would pooh-pooh the chiefs’ negative figures and dismiss talk of a new crime rise. Clearly, crime is up, but there’s a big difference between a crime spike or surge, which lasts a year or two, and a true crime boom or wave, which could run for decades. I define a crime wave as a period of sustained high crime, manifested by homicide victimization rates of eight or more per 100,000. Rates over the past few years have been hovering around 5 per 100,000. The last wave, which began at the end of the 1960s and ended in the middle 1990s, ran for two-and-a-half decades, as did the earlier twentieth-century crime boom, which dragged on from 1910 to 1936.

What we really want to know is whether we’re headed for another crime wave, like the devastating crime tsunami of late memory. No one can be sure of the answer, of course, since the future is the greatest crime mystery of all, but if we look at the factors associated with previous booms and apply them to our current situation, we may get a better idea.

Over the course of U.S. history, four factors have been especially significant in explaining crime booms. The first is migrations within or to the United States of groups with so-called “honor cultures.” Previous crime escalations were spurred by immigrations and migrations to major urban areas or to discrete rural locales of groups that engage in a disproportionate use of violence to resolve interpersonal conflicts. Examples are the famine Irish of the mid-nineteenth century, southern Italian immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century, the Mexican migration of the 1920s, and the great black migrations of the 1920s and the post-World War II era. Each of these migrations increased crime at their destinations and raised total rates nationwide.

In the 1960s, for example, over 800,000 blacks left the South for urban settings in the North and West. In the succeeding decade, another 1.5 million relocated—the biggest decadal migration of African-Americans in American history. The black population in the Northeast nearly doubled, rising 93 percent between 1950 and 1970. Chicago, for example, went from 23 percent African American in 1960 to 40 percent in 1980.

Over a 20-year span, from 1976 through 1995, African Americans committed a majority of the criminal homicides in the United States—53.2 percent, to be precise. This is quite extraordinary, given that during this period, blacks comprised around 12 percent of the U.S. population. But this excessive black murder rate was not a new development. African-American homicide had been exceptionally high at least since the late 1880s. In the 1920s, black homicide rates were, on average, seven times those of whites. From 1976 through 1995, they were eight times the white rate. Although racists attributed these rates to biological factors, the real explanation is the honor culture developed in Dixie and first found among Southern whites.

The second key factor is demographic change that creates an outsize youth population. Young people, especially males, are responsible for the overwhelming majority of violence. A sudden and major increase in the size of this population, such as occurred in the late 1960s, is a big risk factor for violent crime.

The young male population jumped 29 percent in the 1960s and 43 percent in the fol­lowing decade. One study found that between 1958 and 1969, age composition alone accounted for 45 percent of the increase in all crime and 11 percent of the growth in violent crime. Economist Steven Levitt, examining the years between 1960 and 1980, attributed 22 percent of the rise in violent-crime rates to changes in age structure.

The increased youth population also produced “contagions,” in which behaviors multiply rapidly as a consequence of the tendency of young people to copy one another. These behaviors may be socially positive (enrolling in college), neutral (getting tattoos), or negative (engaging in crime). If the behavior reaches a critical stage or “tipping point,” it increases explosively. This is precisely what happened with crime in the late sixties.

Significant weaknesses in the machinery of law enforcement, especially in the destinations of the honor cultures, are another contributing factor. When police, courts, and jails/prisons are unable to cope with crime, their failures serve as an incentive to increased lawbreaking. This occurred in the Wild West and in the rural South in the nineteenth century, in the big Northeast cities in the mid-nineteenth century (leading to the creation of urban police departments), and again in the late 1960s.

When the great crime tsunami engulfed the country, the criminal justice system buckled under the strain. Police couldn’t cope with the sudden increase in offenders, courts couldn’t con­vict or imprison as many defendants as they had earlier, and people who were convicted spent less time behind bars. Police clearance rates (roughly, the ratio of arrests to reported crimes) tumbled in the late sixties. In 1950 and 1960, around four in ten reported robberies were cleared by police. That declined to under three in ten by 1970. And by 1980 and 1990, only one in four robberies was solved.

And not only were fewer criminals incarcerated; they also served less time once committed. For every 1,000 arrests for serious crimes, 299 offenders went to prison in 1960. One decade later, only 170 were imprisoned—a drop of 43 percent. The time served in prison tumbled, too. Murderers had been locked up for a median 52 months in 1960, but only 42 months in 1970, a 19 percent decline.

Finally, the presence of male gangs, especially those engaged in distribution of illegal substances—whether alcohol in the 1920s and 1930s or cocaine in the late 1980s and early 1990s—has also played a key role. Gangs normally fight one another, of course. But gang rivalries may also serve acquisitive motives, such as when they compete for territory to control the profit from distributing proscribed substances, as occurred with alcohol during Prohibition and cocaine in the late 1980s. These rivalries were more intense than the usual gang fights. They also were more lethal because of the use of firearms, which put even innocent bystanders at risk.

Three of the factors described above were present in the late 1960s crime wave. The fourth factor, drug gangs, was responsible for restarting the crime tsunami after it had begun to abate in the early eighties.

Do these four factors suggest that we’re on the cusp of a new crime wave? Crime booms of the past have been cyclical and lasted about 25 years, which would mean that we’re due for one to start some time between 2015 and 2020. So perhaps the current surge is the start of a new boom. But the key factors point in a different direction.