No doubt each of these unnatural figures has personal blame for what they did and for which they must be held accountable. We can explore the beliefs and ideologies which motivated their actions. However, this does not explain why killers of such diverse backgrounds keep appearing. There is a social factor that must be taken into account since it facilitates the appearance of these monstrous characters and destroys our only real line of defense against them. This factor is individualism.
For a long time, we have lived in a “golden age” of modern individualism. Our whole society was organized around the idea that each person was the sole architect of his own freedom and destiny. Each claimed the inebriating freedom to define a concept of existence, meaning and way of life. In theory, these individualists lived isolated, like atoms, in their own private worlds, pursuing their own self-interest.
However, in practice, this freedom could only work when people’s dreams did not collide. When working with others in modern society, we engaged in a “social contract” or partnership where each agreed to abide by certain rules so that each could seek one’s own advantage, fun or pleasure. Even the State was seen as a mere mechanism to facilitate or enforce these contracts in the pursuit of self-interest.
What happened in Boston is a signal that this “golden age” of modern individualism is now ending. Some people are no longer abiding by the rules. A new class of individualists has appeared which shares the same fascination with unlimited freedom, but with one major difference: they no longer feel restrained by the terms of any contract.
Classic individualists enshrined self-interest as the supreme “right” and instituted the rules by which they exercised their freedom to pursue it. Postmodern individualists make the “right” of self-gratification the only absolute right, and accept no restraints to freedom, even when such behavior is destructive of self and society. He absconds to virtual worlds of his own making where fantasy rules.
Free of all restraint, the postmodern individualist believes he can be whatever he wants to be — mass murderer, terrorist, jihadist or the Joker in Batman. He constructs his own fantasy and acts it out with terrifying deliberation. If individualism turned individuals into isolated atoms, its postmodern mutant split the atom, starting a chain reaction of devastating destructive power.
Some say that the solution is to return to the days of classic individualism where each looked after his own self-interest and fun, abiding by a minimal set of rules. The problem is that once large numbers of people have become postmodern individualists (as they have), there can be no return to this classic individualist normality. Our killers are already among us. There is no government or army in the world that can protect us from the multiple possibilities for disaster. There is no way to keep all potential threats under observation.
The only way for society to defend itself is to return to an order that re-establishes conditions for true freedom, not fantasy. Ironically, this order is not found in individualism. It is an illusion to think that individualism of any sort can be the source of our freedom and order in society. Modern society merely lived off the social capital accumulated in times past.
America enjoyed so much freedom not because we let everyone do whatever they wanted, but because we accepted the moral limits and values found in family, community and Faith. We were free because our law still reflected the natural moral law — valid for all peoples and all times — and which makes free people and markets possible. Our freedom lay in our virtue, not in our whims or vices.
When morality informs society, we have a social fabric that strengthens and supports the individual and prevents monster killers from appearing. Just as individual threads are woven together in a cloth, the individual inside the social fabric is gently held in place and finds true meaning and purpose in life. He is not a loose, dangling, purposeless thread, enslaved to whims and fancies that harm and weaken the whole fabric.
That is why we must return to an order which by its institutions and principles anchors its members in reality. Inside the social fabric, the individual is protected from his own fantasies that lead him astray. Society is able to quickly identify and help those who need charity and aid. What we need is what I call “an organic Christian Society,” in my book Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go. Such a society is our only real defense against the monster killers now in our midst.