So much has already been said about the response to the Gulf Coast disaster that I doubt there is much important to be added. Even as I wanted instinctively to agree with those who attributed the extent of the disaster and the failed government response to Mr. Bush’s past decisions, I have found that many of these criticisms make little sense. Much of the failure to evacuate New Orleans plainly falls on the local and state governments, which is where the responsibility for such responses ought to belong in the first place. Many constitutionalists and libertarians whom I respect seem so keen on highlighting the admitted incompetence of the federal government apparently without considering the reality that, were our admonitions about government heeded, there would be no federal response, incompetent or otherwise. We might quibble about whether there might be some pragmatic reason to have a coordinated, federal relief agency, but we would all have to admit that we would normally just as soon see FEMA and all its associate agencies disappear from the face of the earth. We would live in a country that was much more free, but there would be attendant risks and dangers. There may well be some considerable commentary to this effect, but I regret to say that it is not very prominent.
Most of the complaining I have seen in the press and online is borne of a mentality that yearns for ever more vigorous and intrusive government, or it unwittingly vindicates that mentality by focusing on government incompetence rather than the fact that the federal government has no role here. We should therefore ridicule and belittle this mentality as the root of servile dependency that it is. Then there was the violence and looting in New Orleans–that is often enough what will happen in cities when authority breaks down. There were good reasons why Jefferson regarded cities as dens of iniquity and degeneracy, and it was not all because of Bolingbroke and agrarian idealism.
By and large we manage to mask or contain the corrosive effects that city life has on people, but urban deracinement, taken to an extreme in our contemporary megalopoleis, has stripped away most of the attachments to place and neighbour that might serve to fill some of the void of a breakdown of coercive external power. Of course, the rest must be made up for by self-restraint and the practice of virtue, two things no one would probably confuse with New Orleans, at least not by reputation. That violent disorder flourishes among servile and undisciplined people is no surprise to anyone familiar with classical political theory, as the tendency to disorder and servility are fundamentally linked.
The governor of Louisiana evidently did not use the remaining National Guard units she had available with anything like the alacrity or decisiveness that would be routinely expected of a governor in any other Gulf state in hurricane season. A telling criticism of the federal effort has come from the observation that FEMA was far more effective in the tremendous hurricane season of last year and manifestly ineffective as a branch of Homeland Security this year. It was entirely foreseeable that a larger, less accountable super-department would result in greater inefficiencies and incompetence, as larger bureaucracies always will. Something that can be clearly laid at Mr. Bush’s feet is that the preparation for this disaster, like the preparation for the Iraq invasion and its aftermath, was done rather shabbily and carelessly, and this is a recurring theme in the practice of this administration. There is simply no capacity for foresight or imagining the worst–Mr. Bush’s idiotic perennial optimism is a perpetual blinder to many dangers. We can conclude that Mr. Bush routinely favours incompetents, and not only in the foreign policy sphere.