Sounds good, doesn’t work

Victor Davis Hanson writes that “The dream of a therapeutic utopia without punishment for wrongdoing fails in practice.”

Deterrence is the strategy of persuading someone in advance not to do something, often by raising the likelihood of punishment.

But in the 21st century, we apparently think deterrence is Neanderthal and appeals to the worst aspects of our natures. The alternative view insists that innately nice people respond better to discussion and outreach.

History is largely the story of the tensions between, and the combination of, these two very different views of human nature — one tragic and one therapeutic.

He cites a handful of examples to illustrate his point, and then closes with:

There is no clear-cut divide between deterrence and therapy. Each at times has its place in warning or wooing people and nations. But in general, anytime a government errs on the side of therapy and communicates to individuals and foreign powers that laws are flexible, that punishment is iffy, and that consequences are negotiable, it gets less of what it wants.

It is unfortunate but true that North Korea is deterred more by U.S. military strength than by United Nations resolutions.

In much the same way, radical campus lawbreakers probably respect (and fear) the local district attorney a lot more than the college president.

In other words, the more we feel we have entered a 21st-century therapeutic utopia, the more tragic that human nature seems not to have changed all that much from the Stone Age.

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