Don Quixote was not a vigilante in the literal sense of the term. His self-appointed mission was essentially to revive the romantic qualities of medieval chivalry as a knight errant wandering in search of adventures. An ideal knight represented a combination of qualities including courage, honor, courtesy, and a readiness to assist the weak, infused with justice..
Clad in an antique suit of armor with a metal washbasin for a helmet, Senor Quixote sets out to accomplish his goals. Sadly, on a number of occasions, the knight errant is physically beaten by a group of merchants and, later, by some monks. Imagining threats in unlikely places, Quixote engages in battle with windmills and a herd of sheep. He is, however, successful in freeing a group of convicted criminals. Ultimately, the errant adventure ends with Quixote renouncing chivalry as fiction.
The saga of Kyle Rittenhouse’s foray in August 2020 into defense of life, limb, and private property in Kenosha, Wisconsin, carried some notes from the work by Miguel de Cervantes but the comparison ends in light of the deaths of two individuals in the Badger State. Neither Quixote nor Sancho Panza, his servile sidekick, engaged in mortal combat, even in a joust with windmills.
In recent years, the United States has witnessed a number of occasions at which individuals, armed and armored, sought to inject a protective character on behalf of an ideal or perceived threat. While most of these incidents were focused on local concerns, the January 6th assault upon the nation’s Congress was of an entirely different order, involving individuals from virtually every state in the union. Whether Rittenhouse and the January 6th combatants represent a kind of acceptable chivalrous ideal remains a question.
Here, violence and deaths vitiated any sense of higher purpose. The voices of neither Quixote nor the January 6th crowd had been silenced or oppressed.
Despite the frustration of his bumbling itinerary about the Spanish landscape and the failure of the mob to prevent the vote for president, some who would argue that individuals can be right while society is wrong and disaffecting noble goals. That observation ignores the difference between Quixote and events in the United States. Here, violence and deaths vitiated any sense of higher purpose. The voices of neither Quixote nor the January 6th crowd had been silenced or oppressed. That reality is not subject to an alternative set of facts, even as the former president attempts to label the November 2020 election an insurrection.
The full title of Cervantes novel includes the term ingenioso, meaning quick with inventiveness, an appellation much in use among defenders of aggressive behavior to challenge civil order. Chivalry abhorred such conduct. The moral of Don Quixote remains a vibrant example of the potential for an individual to challenge a majority view. At the same time, Don Quixote’s regalia did not include an automatic weapon with steel-jacketed ammunition. Nor did he fabricate elements of his mission to convince others that his was a mission of mercy to provide medical assistance.
Although Quixote may have been physically beaten for his poor choices in intersecting himself into situations, he was fully prepared to accept those consequences. Mr. Rittenhouse, on the other hand, chose to involve himself in dangerous circumstances and, then, claim a right to mortal self-defense. Whatever the subtleties of Wisconsin law on the matter of self-preservation, the moral of the Rittenhouse fable contravenes common sense.
Mr. Rittenhouse’s itinerant vigilantism, no matter the announced rationale or purpose, cuts at the fabric of a civilized society, subjugating law and order and the rule of law, to that of the automatic weapon. His acquittal under the law does not equate to a general or moral acceptance of his means or method of crusading for self-appointed causes.
Mr. Rittenhouse’s itinerant vigilantism, no matter the announced rationale or purpose, cuts at the fabric of a civilized society, subjugating law and order and the rule of law, to that of the automatic weapon. His acquittal under the law does not equate to a general or moral acceptance of his means or method of crusading for self-appointed causes. The 15-mile distance between his home and Kenosha was sufficient for his own safety and that of his immediate family from the chaos and rioting to which he responded. No evidence was introduced of an invitation by anyone in Kenosha to his assistance.
A generally accepted definition of the term “vigilante” is an individual member of a self-appointed group that undertakes law enforcement without legal authority. When coupled with itinerant, the phrase embodies a concept that surely Cervantes eschewed in depicting his hero. Sadly, those who portray Rittenhouse as a chivalrous knight or hero are themselves delusional.
Almost 60 years ago, Bob Dylan penned Blown’ in the Wind, urging us to consider how many deaths will it take till we know too many people have died. The answer was recorded in Kenosha and Washington, DC – this time.