Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Second Amendment is as statist as you can get.

The Americans inherited the concept of Civic republicanism from seventeenth century English "Commonwealthmen". This concept was a primary ideological value driving the American Revolution and the framing of the Constitution. Historian Gordon Wood writes that "[r]epublicanism meant more for Americans than simply the elimination of a king and the institution of an elective system. This concept added a moral dimension and utopian aspect to the political separation from England--an aspect that involved the very character of their society."

The classical liberal tradition gave the independence movement its values and concepts with which we have grown familiar. The most important of which was a civic and patriot ideal in which the personality was founded in property, perfected in citizenship but perpetually threatened by corruption; government figuring paradoxically as the principle source of corruption and operating through such means as patronage,faction, standing armies (as opposed to the ideal of the militia), established churches (opposed to the Puritan and deist modes of American religion) and the promotion of a monied interest .

The founders believed in the Republic and that was how they wanted the newly formed United States to function. Republicanism made high moral demands on its citizens, in addition to entrusting them with the defense of their communities. For example, a citizen of a republic was expected to subordinate self-interest to the overarching good of the community.

The public good was, in fact, the lodestar for a republican government. Citizen participation in civic affairs was absolutely essential to a republican government. It was understood that there was a moral obligation obligation for citizen participation in government. This moral obligation was described in the literature of the times as public or civic virtue.

One of the extreme dislikes of civic republican theorists was the professional standing army. A professional standing army was seen as another instrument that could be used by a tyrannical government to subjugate its citizens. The institution of the militia served to eliminate the possibility of a coup by ambitious military leaders (e.g., Julius Caesar). The presence of an armed citizenry also served as a visible reminder to the executive of the ability of the people to remove the magistrate by force if necessary.

Most importantly, the militia served as an organ through which republican virtues could be transmitted to generations of new citizens. Because its membership was universal, there was little danger the militia itself could be employed in the service of tyranny, since its interests were considered identical to those of the community from which the militia drew its members. Furthermore, the local nature of the militia assured that its uses would be defensive. A professional army, on the other hand, tied geographically to no one place, might constantly agitate for a policy of expansion and military adventurism.

The North American colonists relied on the militia to provide essential policing and defensive functions, and most colonies required its free citizens to be enrolled in county militias and to assemble and drill regularly. Don Higginbotham noted that the "very nature [of] the militia system reinforced the provincialism that was a salient characteristic of the colonial period."However, the militia's relative lack of social stratification, especially when compared with the rather severe class demarcations existing at that time in Europe, inspired spirited rhetoric among both Americans and European intellectuals. Even then, it seems, the militia system was seen as an important civic institution, serving political, and not just military, ends.

The problem was that the Militia system was not adequate for a proper long term national defence. Given that Adam Smith had written that the militia was not a proper defence force for a developed economy in Wealth of Nations in addition to Washington's (Von Steuben's?) turning the Continental Forces into a standing army, one could argue that the militia system was outdated at the time of the Revolution, let alone the drafting of the Constitution. On the other hand, republican values admired the militia system not just for defence, but the instilling of civic virtues.

The Constitution tried to compromise between the two systems. There was the fear that the Federal Standing Army would eventually replace the militia system--this is what led to the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of a well regulated militia. Unfortunately, the importance of the militia to the interpretation of the Second Amendment has been subjected to revisionist history which tries to remove the citizen's military duty, but that is a highly important aspect to understanding the concept of what a well regulated militia implied to the founders.

  • Tom W. Bell, The Third Amendment: Forgotten but Not Gone, 2 William & Mary Bill of Rights J. 117 (1993).
  • Willaim S. Fields and David T. Hardy, The Third Amendment and the Issue of the Maintenance of Standing Armies: A Legal History, 35 Am. J. Legal Hist. 393 (1991).
  • Western, J.R.: English Militia in the Eighteenth Century: The Story of a Political Issue, 1660-1802 (ISBN: 978-0751201406)
  • Beckett, Ian: Britain's Part-Time Soldiers: The Amateur Military Tradition 1558-1945 (ISBN: 978-1848843950)
  • Cress, Lawrence Delbert Cress. Citizens in Arms: The Army and the Militia in American Society to the War of 1812
  • Cunliffe, Marcus, Soldiers and Civilians: The Martial Spirit in America, 1775-1865
  • Denning, Brannon P., Palladium of Liberty? Causes and Consequences of the Federalization of State Militias in the Twentieth Century, 21 Okla. City U. L. Rev. 191-245 (1996)
  • Mahon, John K, The History of the Militia and the National Guard
  • Millett, Allan R. & Maslowski, Peter, For The Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America: Revised Edition
  • Riker, William H, Soldiers of the States
  • One of the few Law Review articles discussing the historical militia is "The Militia Clause of the Constitution" by Frederick Wiener 54 Harvard Law Review 181(1940).
  • See also Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chapter I (Of the Expences of the Sovereign or Commonwealth), PART I: 16-27 (Of the Expence of Defence) for a critique of the miltia system from 1775.
  • Also, David Chandler & Ian Beckett, The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army (ISBN: 978-0198691785) has a section on the Amateur Military Tradition (I.E., the Militia).
  • Weatherup, Roy, Standing Armies And Armed Citizens: An Historical Analysis of The Second Amendment, 2 Hastings Const. L.Q. 961-1001 (1975)
  • Schwoerer, Lois G. "No Standing Armies!" The Antiarmy Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England
  • Whisker, James Biser The Citizen-Soldier under Federal and State Law, 94 W. Va. L. Rev. 947 (1991-1992)
  • Cooper, Jerry The Rise of the National Guard: The Evolution of the American Militia, 1865-1920, ISBN: 978-0803264281
  • Bogus, Carl T. THE HISTORY AND POLITICS OF SECOND AMENDMENT SCHOLARSHIP: A PRIMER, Chicago-Kent Law Review, Symposium on the Second Amendment, vol. 76, 2000: 3S
  • Spitzer, Robert J. LOST AND FOUND: RESEARCHING THE SECOND AMENDMENT, Chicago-Kent Law Review,Symposium on the Second Amendment vol. 76, 2000: 349


  1. Interesting, and not too far from my position. I actually have no objection to the idea of national service, something along the lines of what Switzerland and Israel have. The notion of putting everyone together into a common task, regardless of station, is exactly what our system of government needs. And I see nothing about such a service that takes away basic rights.

    There's nothing fundamentally statist about the kind of militia service being described. We all do gain from being in a society, and I see no problem with giving back. I don't object to reasonable taxes or regulations of the institutions of power--be they government or business. Such militia service would also provide individuals with valuable skills as a side benefit.

    That being said, I do think that the Second Amendment doesn't require a militia to justify private ownership of arms. Again, it's a question of dependent versus independent clauses. The well-regulated militia clause is the reason for ennumerating the right, but the right itself stands alone.

  2. Nothing statist? Hunh?

    The entire institution is about as statist as you can get using the definition "emphasises the role of the state in politics or supports the use of the state to achieve economic, military or social goals. People who believe that the state is either good or necessary are called statists."

    The role of the militia is to defend the state and to inculcate civic virtues.

    "Republicanism made high moral demands on its citizens, in addition to entrusting them with the defense of their communities. For example, a citizen of a republic was expected to subordinate self-interest to the overarching good of the community."

    That is statism pure and simple.

    Greg, it amuses me how much you have no idea of what the terms you use mean.

  3. Lacie the Dog,

    It worries me how you see anything that you disagree with as either stupid or confused. I've said many times here that political terms are difficult to define precisely. I've also presented my position.

    Rather than calling me uninformed or stupid, why can't you just admit that we disagree on values, not on facts?

  4. Greg wrote:

    Rather than calling me uninformed or stupid, why can't you just admit that we disagree on values, not on facts?

    Because Laci uses the words and concept correctly, and has made the effort to be able to do so.

    You use them incorrectly - which is terrible for someone who is teaching subjects like literature and composition, where words and their correct use should matter more.

    Laci calls you uniformed and stupid because that is what he means, based on the evidence of your words.

    We do NOT simply disagree on values; we disagree on facts. We find you failing to engage in critical thinking, and failing to correctly present facts.

    You don't understand the concepts you throw around; that negates their meaning, and it doesn't reflect well on your side of the argument.

    This is not about simply disagreeing; it is about much more than that.

  5. When I see a post like this, with only a few comments it speaks volumes about the true motivations and justifications of the gunzloonz.

    They have nothing to say in rebuttal. They not only haven't read the numerous sources that Laci The Dog cites, they don't read the stuff their own "experts" write, except for the dogwhistles and buzzwords.

    They have no desire and, really, no ability to hold a substantive discussion on the matters that Laci writes about here or elsewhere. They have learned to (and to a greater or lesser degree, practice) not admit to the real reasons for wantin' allathem gunz--they're frightened of/hateful towards a lot of humanity and would actually LIKE to be given carte blanche to be "Regulators" and eradicate undesirable people/groups/religions/races from our society. As I said to Greg Camp the other day, however, the mask keeps slipping when they get agitated.

  6. Greg said, "Rather than calling me uninformed or stupid, why can't you just admit that we disagree on values, not on facts?"

    That sounds like a trick question to me. "Values," would be what exactly? That life is sacred, that's a value. How about "gun violence is bad," that one.

    Don't we all agree on them? So what the fuck are you talking about? No wonder Laci has no patience with you, you keep saying stuff like that, "values not facts."