The protective embrace of the State

The protective embrace of the State

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety.” - Benjamin Franklin

Diogenes hears the hue and cry for Nanny government to wrap us in her protective embrace in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings and bemoans that we have become so Europeanized over the past fifty years, seeing no problem with increasing state control over our lives and the curtailment of personal liberty.

The clearest statement I have ever read of the American theory of government came from Ronald Reagan, speaking on Soviet television before his 1988 summit meeting with Gorbachev. I presume the formulation originated from his speechwriters or prep crew. At any rate, it came out in response to an interviewer’s objection that Reagan seemed to have forgotten that the Soviet Union had a constitution too.

    “You have a constitution; we have a constitution. The difference between our two constitutions is very simple. Your constitution says these are the privileges, rights, that the government provides for the people. Our constitution says: we the people will allow the government to do the following things.”

Why did the Founding Fathers believe that the right to keep and bear arms should be enshrined in the Second Amendment to the Constitution? They certainly weren’t looking to protect our ability to hunt and it wasn’t just a matter of preserving their own right to revolt against the government.

“We the people will allow the government to do the following things…” If all coercive power in a given nation belongs exclusively to government agencies, the notion of government “by the people” becomes vacuous. The Second Amendment reflects the ratifers’ understanding of this grim truth; and the guarantee that “the right to bear arms shall not be infringed” was intended, in part, to diffuse coercive power among as broad a spectrum of the citizenry as possible.

It makes a difference. When the state is the only armed party in the state-citizen encounter, it tends to consult its own convenience at the expense of other human goods. As anyone who has lived abroad can attest, the police and other agents of the state who come onto one’s property have one attitude when they know there’s no lethal weapon on the premises, and another attitude entirely when they don’t. It’s true of friendly visits, and true of not-so-friendly visits.

Would the ratifiers have approved the right to bear arms had they foreseen massacres staged by madmen? Almost certainly. Any liberty will be abused. All liberties come at a cost of life. Those who prefer life to freedom are traditionally given the name slaves.

The aristocratic nobility of a Nebraska farmer

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