Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Insurrectionist Idea

We may have discussed this before, but I liked it so much, here goes. On The Huffington Post a couple weeks ago Josh Horwitz wrote a wonderful article.

Two summers ago, I blogged with great concern about a statement made by Justice Scalia in the Supreme Court's landmark Second Amendment opinion, District of Columbia v. Heller. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Scalia found an individual right to keep and bear arms and opined that, "If...the Second Amendment right is no more than the right to keep and use weapons as a member of an organized militia ... If, that is, the organized militia is the sole institutional beneficiary of the Second Amendment's guarantee -- it does not assure the existence of a 'citizens' militia' as a safeguard against tyranny."

Regrettably, since the Heller decision, many gun rights commentators have used Scalia's construct to link the need for unfettered access to firearms with a right to engage in political violence against an administration that has been described as "a secular socialist machine [that] represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did." The past two years have seen several disturbing acts of politically-motivated violence and a dramatic increase in the number of threats against the president and Members of Congress. Equally troubling, gun rights activists have begun to openly carry firearms to political events and presidential speeches in a threatening manner.

I've read so much exaggerated nuttiness on the pro-gun blogs that I question whether it can all be traced back to what Scalia said. Nevertheless, it is nuttiness. On my own blog, we've had tedious arguments in which the gun lovers would insist they'd shoot it out rather than let their guns be taken away. The only problem is usually those remarks came in the middle of other discussions which had nothing to do with gun confiscation. Like adolescent school boys, they love to do this macho posturing.

In fact, resisting a perceived tyrant in the form of the Democratically elected government of the United States of America in the 21st century, that is in today's society, is not only unrealistic and impossible but actually contrary to what the proper relationship between the governed and the government should be. Please spare us the usual examples of the Redcoats and the Colonists and all the rest.

The German political economist [Max Weber] proffered in the early 20th century that a political entity is not a state unless it possesses a monopoly of force (i.e., the power to enforce the law). The concept of a monopoly of force is anathema to those who embrace the insurrectionist idea because it forecloses the use of political violence; which rhetorically -- and in some cases in action -- seems to be all the rage on the political right. Nonetheless, Roberts was correct. America's Founding Fathers recognized that a State does not -- and cannot -- exist unless it upholds its claim to the monopoly on force. As the author of the Second Amendment, James Madison, put it at the Virginia Ratifying Convention: "There never was a government without force. What is the meaning of government? An institution to make people do their duty. A government leaving it to a man to do his duty, or not, as he pleases, would be a new species of government, or rather no government at all."

What's your opinion? Maybe there's something to quoting the founders after all. What do you think?

Please leave a comment.


  1. not to hijack your thread, but im glad you are enjoying Lost.

    Also, i have to begrudgingly admit that Harry Potter is getting better. I still dont love it, but im about 70 percent thru and im not "hating" it anymore....

  2. Scalia's and the gunloons' position vis a vis insurrection is easily dismissed.

    First, such a position requires us to believe the Founders decided to place a 'self-destruct' clause into the Constitution. Basically we're being asked to believe the Founders created a framework for Government, democracy and society only to have some clause that says citizens can use mob violence to get the results they desire.

    Second, while the 2A is ambiguously worded--Artile III Section 3 isn't. Article III Section 3 is crystal clear--it declares treason as waging war against the US or in providing its enemies aid and comfort.

  3. Or, Jade Fool, it requires us to accept to ideas that run contrary to government control of everything and Statism.

    The Founding Fathers had just gone through a revolution against a better armed, better trained and better financed opponent. And they were able to accomplish that because they had personal arms, and were able to muster men to the defense of their new country.

    They also recongnized, as apparently MikeB does not, that the people were and remain the authority, and they consented to grant powers to the government, not the other way around.

    Jefferson himself was quite clear on the matter that he believed it necessary and proper that if a government became tyrannical, it was the duty of the people to rise against it, or they would suffer the chains of bondage.

    And there is no better tool in the tool box for an armed resistance than the 2A.

    But, you go on living in la-la land that the 2A doesn't mean what it says, or that it isn't clear as to what it means. I'm sure that five or six people in America agree with you.

  4. Anon: Your history is very, very poor.

    First, the fact we defeated the Brits wasn't due to the fact we had some guns. It was mostly due to the fact they were fighting a much more powerful and immediate adversary (France). Additionally, it was difficult to maintain/sustain the logistical effort of fighting a war across an ocean spanning over 4000 miles.

    As for your Jeffersonian nonsense, you are badly mangling Jefferson's words. First, Jefferson wrote in 1806: "In a country whose constitution is derived from the will of the people directly expressed by their free suffrages, where the principal executive functionaries and those of the legislature are renewed by them at short periods, where under the character of jurors they exercise in person the greatest portion of the judiciary powers, where the laws are consequently so formed and administered as to bear with equal weight and favor on all, restraining no man in the pursuits of honest industry and securing to every one the property which that acquires, it would not be supposed that any safeguards could be needed against insurrection or enterprise on the public peace or authority.”

  5. One problem, if the insurrectionist theory is correct, then the 9/11 terrorists were only exercising their Second Amendment rights to fly airplanes into buildings as a protest against US tyranny.

    In fact, the question arises as to how one defines tyranny.

    The founding fathers defined it as unelected officials from afar making decisions that contradict those of local legislatures.

    He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

    Using that definition, the Heller-McDonald cases are acts of tyranny which use the Second Amendment as justification.

    Also, anon, you neglect the text of Articvle III, Section iii:
    Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

    How do you reconcile your interpretation of the Second Amendment, which also mentions "the security of the free state" and the Constitutional role of the militia "to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions" with this provision?


  6. Great, Jade Fool, great. You find one statement wherein Jefferson laid out a specific set of circumstances under which he believed it would not be necessary for armed revolt, nor would those safeguards against revolution be needed, and you use that as your argument to show that Jefferson was against armed insurrection. Brilliant.

    You didn't happen to read ANYTHING else he ever wrote on the subject of government, tyranny and arms, did you?

    As to your first point, France's involvement is well known, thank you. I never said the Founding Fathers succeeded only because they had personal arms. I was saying that it would have been impossible without those arms, regardless of whether the British were 4000 miles away, or if France had gotten involved. Without personal arms, the revolution cannot succeed.

    You stated that you believed the Founding Fathers wouldn't have included a self-destruct button on their new government. I was pointing out that having just been through a violent overthrow of the British authorities, they were all too aware of the necessity of arms, and included the option for revolution.

    You can ignore that, if you wish.

  7. Anon: You're still wrong even after I sagely corrected you.

    " I was saying that it would have been impossible without those arms, regardless of whether the British were 4000 miles away, or if France had gotten involved. Without personal arms, the revolution cannot succeed."

    And what guns did India use to achieve independence?

  8. "In fact, the question arises as to how one defines tyranny.

    The founding fathers defined it as unelected officials from afar making decisions that contradict those of local legislatures."

    Using that definition, fighting tyranny is treason and fighting treason is tyranny.

    Being that an insurrection can be resistance against tyranny ("unelected officials from afar making decisions that contradict those of local legislatures."), suppressing an insurrection is an act of furthering of tyranny.

    Basically you are arguing that the government has the right to use force against those who don't agree with it and forcefully resist.

    That would make your interpretation of the Second Amendment, "the government's right to commit an act of tyranny." as opposed to the insurrectionist interpretation of "a citizens right to commit an act of treason."

    Basically, you're as much of a nutjob as any anti-government militiaman only in the opposite direction.

  9. Slyde, Thanks for the update on Harry Potter. Don't worry it would take more than that to hijack this thread, over here we're all about the guns, man.

    About this insurrection business, while reading the comments I remembered what a wonderful and exciting thing American History was in grammar school. Those first-time images of revolutionaries fighting off the dirty Red Coats, the hardships endured by Washington crossing the Deleware and all the rest of it.

    The modern-day 2nd Amendment advocate, adult in years, seems to have gotten stuck in that pre-adolescent mindset.

  10. Yes, Sage Fool, you're so sage, as you continually try to remind everyone. And yet you continue to be so damned obtuse.

    Now you're going to try and compare India to America? Seriously?

    The political climate in the late1940s was drastically different than the one in the 1770s. Are you so intellectually vapid as to try to compare a successful revolution against a monarchy that established the world's first constitutional republic to one that used the political climate of the day to cause the British Empire to drop their claim to India rather possibly fight to keep it?

    After having just been through a two world wars, and after having seen Ireland attempt to declare independence, plus numerous other small skirmishes in territories around the world, and after a widespread and bloody mutiny that festered into a revolt 90 years earlier, the British simply weren't willing to keep the "Empire" together. The political climate in 1947 was ripe for India to do what they had done, peacefully. To compare the two is utter nonsense.

    I expect as much from you, though.

  11. Anon: Actually, the American colonies in the 1700's were vastly different than India in the 1900's.

    But not in the way that supports your argument.

    In India, most every Indian citizen wanted independence from GB. That wasn't the case in the American colonies. Only a minority (~40%) wanted independence. About 20% wanted to remain British subjects and the rest were neutral.

    You really need a better grasp of history.

  12. My grasp of history is certainly better than yours if this is the best you can do.

    The amount of people wanting to be free of British rule has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion. Nothing at all.

    Care to find a relevant point, oh sage one?