Irving Kristol famously said that a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality. Tom Wolfe neatly inverted this ugly sentiment by observing that “a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested.” We can see the wisdom of Wolfe’s statement when we consider the case of Conrad Black, a very conservative tycoon who now finds himself in prison. The experience is starting to turn Black into not just a liberal but something of a radical. In an essay reprinted in the Times of London, Black eloquently critiques America as a “carceral state” where the legal system is stacked against defendants leading to an amazingly high percentage of the population being jailed.
It would have been nice if Black could have taken up the cause of prison reform before becoming a convicted felon, but better late than never. (As a Flannery O’Connor character said in a comparable situation: “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”) I wish I had his address so I can send him a “Free Mumia” tee-shirt.
Here’s the relevant portion of Black’s essay:
The US is now a carceral state that imprisons eight to 12 times more people (2.5m) per capita than the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany or Japan. US justice has become a command economy based on the avarice of private prison companies, a gigantic prison service industry and politically influential correctional officers’ unions that agitate for an unlimited increase in the number of prosecutions and the length of sentences. The entire “war on drugs”, by contrast, is a classic illustration of supply-side economics: a trillion taxpayers’ dollars squandered and 1m small fry imprisoned at a cost of $50 billion a year; as supply of and demand for illegal drugs have increased, prices have fallen and product quality has improved.
I wish to advise Lord Hurd that when I return to the UK I would like to take up more energetically than I did initially his request for assistance in his custodial system reform activities.
Obviously, the bloom is off my long-notorious affection for America