Economist Walter Williams blames school violence on secularism and moral relativism

Economist Walter Williams
Economist Walter Williams

My two favorite economists are Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell. Both are conservative or libertarian. Both of them happen to be black. But neither is especially outspoken about religion. But imagine my surprise when I read this CNS News column on gun violence in schools by Walter Williams, who I always thought was the more libertarian of the two.


When I attended primary and secondary school — during the 1940s and ’50s — one didn’t hear of the kind of shooting mayhem that’s become routine today. Why? It surely wasn’t because of strict firearm laws. My replica of the 1902 Sears mail-order catalog shows 35 pages of firearm advertisements. People just sent in their money, and a firearm was shipped.

Dr. John Lott, author of “More Guns, Less Crime,” reports that until the 1960s, some New York City public high schools had shooting clubs where students competed in citywide shooting contests for university scholarships. They carried their rifles to school on the subways and, upon arrival, turned them over to their homeroom teacher or the gym coach and retrieved their rifles after school for target practice. Virginia’s rural areas had a long tradition of high-school students going hunting in the morning before school and sometimes storing their rifles in the trunks of their cars that were parked on school grounds. Often a youngster’s 12th or 14th birthday present was a shiny new .22-caliber rifle, given to him by his father.

Fathers? Children don’t grow up with fathers any more, 42% of the time. And why not? The feminists told us that men are evil, and that marriage is sexist. And the socialists told us that rewarding single motherhood was a good idea, because it makes women who don’t bother to get married before having sex more equal to those who do bother to get married first. But fatherlessness is a huge factor in criminal behavior, as I showed before.

Dr. Williams continues:

What explains today’s behavior versus yesteryear’s? For well over a half-century, the nation’s liberals and progressives — along with the education establishment, pseudo-intellectuals and the courts — have waged war on traditions, customs and moral values. These people taught their vision, that there are no moral absolutes, to our young people. To them, what’s moral or immoral is a matter of convenience, personal opinion or a consensus.

During the ’50s and ’60s, the education establishment launched its agenda to undermine lessons children learned from their parents and the church with fads such as “values clarification.” So-called sex education classes are simply indoctrination that sought to undermine family and church strictures against premarital sex.
Lessons of abstinence were ridiculed and considered passé and replaced with lessons about condoms, birth control pills and abortions. Further undermining of parental authority came with legal and extralegal measures to assist teenage abortions with neither parental knowledge nor consent.

Customs, traditions, moral values and rules of etiquette, not laws and government regulations, are what make for a civilized society. These behavioral norms — transmitted by example, word of mouth and religious teachings — represent a body of wisdom distilled through ages of experience, trial and error, and looking at what works.

The importance of customs, traditions and moral values as a means of regulating behavior is that people behave themselves even if nobody’s watching. Police and laws can never replace these restraints on personal conduct so as to produce a civilized society. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. The more uncivilized we become the more laws that are needed to regulate behavior.

Many customs, traditions and moral values have been discarded without an appreciation for the role they played in creating a civilized society, and now we’re paying the price. What’s worse is that instead of a return to what worked, people want to replace what worked with what sounds good, such as zero-tolerance policies in which bringing a water pistol, drawing a picture of a pistol, or pointing a finger and shouting “bang-bang” produces a school suspension or arrest.

See, now that’s a smart libertarian. Smart libertarians understand that liberty depends on people being aware of the design of the universe, and the objective moral obligations imposed by that design. If we don’t promote institutions and people that help us to explore the design of the universe, then we are going to have to rely on big government to regulate us instead of regulating ourselves. What we’ve done instead is make impossible to speak about the reality of God and the reality of objective morality in schools, or in any other public place, for that matter. Hearing about God and morality is just too offensive to people who want to put their own selfishness above the moral law.

Similarly, libertarians should not be pushing for promiscuity, abortion and same-sex marriage, either. Intact families are necessary for raising the next generation of citizens to be well-adjusted, law-abiding and productive. Marriages are more stable when the participants are chaste and/or abstinent for a period of time early in the relationship. And children do better when raised by a mother and a father, and less well in other arrangements. Either we feel an obligation to control our own desires and make a plan for marriage success, so that we can provide children with a stable nurturing environment, or the government will have to control the anti-social behavior of fatherless children.

Thomas Sowell has posted a more traditional argument against gun control, in the extremist left-wing UK Guardian, of all places.

8 thoughts on “Economist Walter Williams blames school violence on secularism and moral relativism”

  1. I have never heard of Walter Williams to my shame, thanks for sharing this; this year I decided to read at least one work by Thomas Sowell and it turned out to be really good!


  2. I’ve just scrolled through a Word doc looking for something on the negative effects of secularist (“values free”?) education, came across this blog of yours that I’d copied, so I used the linked article (rather than your blog) in my comment on an event post advertising a seminar on “How religion harms education”.
    It is being hosted by Atheist Ireland and will be held at the O’Callaghan Davenport Hotel, Merrion sq 2, Dublin, Ireland, on 21 April.
    On the FB thread for the event, I see that Peter Hinchcliff will be attending and will “set up a tent” outside!
    The FB link (if anyone can access it – it’s not a public post, but for friends of friends of Ashling O’Brien) is:
    This is the info given for the event:
    Aron Ra will be speaking to Atheist Ireland on “How Religion Harms Education”.
    Aron Ra makes videos promoting science education in an area where creationism is often promoted even in public schools. As Texas State Director of American Atheists, he is an activist for secular politics in a heavily religious environment. He was a regular co-host of the Magic Sandwich Show, and Dogma Debate, and he currently hosts the Ra-Men podcast promoting a progressive perspective. He will be arriving at QED fresh from his tour of Australia as part of the ‘Unholy Trinity’.


  3. P.S. I posted a comment when the event was first posted asking, ” How about how atheism harms education? :/ ”
    Ashling O’Brien responded: “Eleanor have you any examples of atheism harming education?”
    This is why I was looking for info. This is the comment I posted today, in response:
    My life has been on hold for the past month due to a family medical crisis.
    I have several hundred pages of news items about anti-theists and secularists marginalising, hounding and generally interfering in the religious freedom of (especially) Christian students in schools and colleges, mostly in the USA and Canada. This is the manifestation of anti-theism’s intolerant fascism and part of a socialist agenda whereby the state usurps individual and parental freedom and rights. The values often espoused by secularists are actually detrimental to the well-being of children and society.
    In my country, too many children are growing up without any moral training, so they follow bad role models in their community and turn into feral youth, since humankind actually has an innate proclivity to depravity, something denied by humanists.
    (I distinguish between atheists and activist anti-theists, because I am married to an atheist who espouses tolerance).
    This is one article which mentions some of the negative effects of children growing up without sound moral values and boundaries:


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