Streetwise Professor

April 24, 2008

Guns and Personal Independence

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:18 am

The inimitable Mark Steyn riffs on the connection between personal independence and firearms ownership:

As for “gun-totin’,” large numbers of Americans tote guns because they’re assertive, self-reliant citizens, not docile subjects of a permanent governing class. The Second Amendment is philosophically consistent with the First Amendment, for which I’ve become more grateful since the Canadian Islamic Congress decided to sue me for “hate speech” up north. Both amendments embody the American view that liberty is not the gift of the state, and its defense cannot be outsourced exclusively to the government.

I think a healthy society needs both God and guns: it benefits from a belief in some kind of higher purpose to life on earth, and it requires a self-reliant citizenry. If you lack either of those twin props, you wind up with today’s Europe — a present-tense Eutopia mired in fatalism. A while back, I was struck by the words of Oscar van den Boogaard, a Dutch gay humanist (which is pretty much the trifecta of Eurocool). Reflecting on the Continent’s accelerating Islamification, he concluded that the jig was up for the Europe he loved, but what could he do? “I am not a warrior, but who is?” he shrugged. “I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it.”

Sorry, it doesn’t work like that. If you don’t understand that there are times when you’ll have to fight for it, you won’t enjoy it for long. That’s what a lot of Keith Reade’s laundry list — “gun-totin’,” “military-lovin'” — boils down to. As for “gay-loathin,'” it’s Oscar van den Boogaard’s famously tolerant Amsterdam where gay-bashing is resurgent: the editor of the American gay paper the Washington Blade got beaten up in the streets on his last visit to the Netherlands.

God and guns. Maybe one day a viable society will find a magic cure-all that can do without both, but Big Government isn’t it. And even complacent liberal Democrats ought to be able to cast an eye across the ocean and see that. But then he did give the speech in San Francisco, a city demographically declining at a rate that qualifies it for EU membership. When it comes to parochial simpletons, you don’t need to go to Kansas.

In fact, the connection is quite an old one. In The Military Revolution and Political Change, Brian Downing (no not the former Angels and White Sox catcher) wrote:

A second military impetus to constitutional form came from militias. . . . Prevalent throughout England and Sweden, village levies demonstrate a close link between citizenship rights and military service. The village hundreds, themselves important in constitutional development in Scandinavia, levied infantry formations from the male population, who, in return, were given voice in popular assemblies. As if to underscore the relationship between military service and participation in local government, members of the assembly arrived with their weapons and indicated assent to a motion by raising their spears. Furthermore, contracts were made in a ritual during which each party demonstrated free status by bearing arms.

Read that, and you should have a better understanding of the real meaning of the phrase “a well organized militia” in the Second Amendment. There is a clear link between a self-reliant and independent citizenry and its ability to bear arms. Free and responsible people can carry arms. Societies in which this right is denied or sharply circumscribed are less free in many ways.

Nor is Downing alone. Max Weber wrote:

The basis of democratization is everywhere purely military in character; it lies in the rise of disciplined infantry, the hoplites of antiquity, the guild army of the middle ages. . . . Military discipline meant the triumph of democracy because the community wished and was compelled to secure the cooperation of the non-aristocratic masses and hence put arms, and along with arms, political power, into their hands.

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