“[A Constitution is] not an act of government but of a people constituting a government and a government without a constitution is a power without right…”Thomas Paine
The strength of America used to be its people. Now America’s strength is geography. If the French Third Republic was surrounded by two massive oceans, it, too, may still exist. Instead, the Third Republic was pulverized by a more vital foe, in the form of the German Third Reich. France tried to fortify its own geography when it built the Maginot Line. So dilapidated was France’s will to exist, so stunted its creativity, the Republic’s military could not see the simple solution to defeating the Maginot defenses: Go around it, through Belgium.
Contrary to popular myth, France did not have a weak military. In fact, it was the strongest in Europe, at least on paper. Though German tanks like the Tiger and Panther are the most talked about tanks of WWII, those tanks were relatively rare and did not exist until near the end of the war. France’s intellectual and spiritual dynamism had been gutted after WWI. Just as in modern America, the Left and Right in France became bitter enemies. France’s Right, much like America’s, ( and my own beliefs), believed that the left had lead France into decadence, and the depression of the 1930s fed the country’s cynicism. Sound familiar? Corruption had infected the political, judicial and media systems, culminating in the Dreyfus Affair. The far Right was severely damaged by the event, and the Left surged.
France had no interest in war with Germany. But as Trotsky chimed, war had interest in France. Germany annexed Czechoslovakia and France turned a blind eye, eagerly signing the Munich Agreement in a fruitless attempt to appease Hitler. The rest is history. The once proud French Republic bowed pitifully.
In 1918, France forced the Second Reich to sign an armistice and build a monument which read:
HERE ON THE ELEVENTH OF NOVEMBER 1918 SUCCUMBED THE CRIMINAL PRIDE OF THE GERMAN REICH. VANQUISHED BY THE FREE PEOPLES WHICH IT TRIED TO ENSLAVE.
Now the tables were turned. Evil won. Evil can be more energized than a sedated “good”which violates the Boy Scout Oath: Always Be Prepared. Lazy and sedated is not really good, after all.
I’m going somewhere with this. It’s not about Hitler, The Third Reich, or France; it’s about us. I’ve just taken the long route, as I’m prone to do. My point is that a country’s fate can change very rapidly, especially when internal elites want it to change. The impetus for this article is this piece written by Louis Michael Seidman, published in the New York Times. Seidman is a Constitutional Law professor at Georgetown University. In his op-ed, Seidman contends, essentially, that the United States Constitution should be followed at our leisure, when it is convenient. He defends his position by saying that even some of the Founding Fathers defied the Constitution when they felt it fit, and that currently we spend too much time trying to divine what we thought the Founding Fathers would do instead of just doing what we feel is right.
First off, Seidman comes across as dishonest when he says:
As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is.
His article hardly carries the tone of someone who’s had a recent epiphany on the matter.
Secondly, Seidman is plain wrong. He begins his article with:
AS the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.
What provision in the Constitution has caused our government to continuously spend more money than it has? Is it the same provision that the Greek Constitution had when Greece spent itself into irrelevance?
I begin to wonder how such a shallow thinker, whom could write the following, could manage a law degree, let alone hold a respected post at an even more respected school:
Nor, finally, should we have an all-powerful president free to do whatever he wants. Even without constitutional fealty, the president would still be checked by Congress and by the states.
Where does Seidman think that such “checks” would come from other than a Constitution?
Seidman’s most disturbing statement is thus:
Freedom of speech and religion, equal protection of the laws and protections against governmental deprivation of life, liberty or property are important, whether or not they are in the Constitution. We should continue to follow those requirements out of respect, not obligation.
So the logic is as follows: When future leaders stop respecting speech and religion, they should be able to abolish the free practice of both by fiat.
Of course, even a Constitution is no guarantee against tyranny. I remember when I was in college, arguing in open class with my Constitutional Law professor, a lawyer, that the Constitution was merely a piece of paper, and that there was nothing special in its words that could compel all men to obey it. She grew furious, eventually storming out of the class and slamming the door. The class was silent for a few minutes, before, finally, two other students said: “I agree with you.”
The professor missed my point, I think, which was not that government and people should do as they please, without regard to the Constitution, but that, as I’ve written recently, nothing absolutely compels them to obey the law except force. Otherwise, the Constitution is a gentleman’s agreement in a world where not everyone is a gentleman.
In David Berlinski’s brilliant book, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions, Berlinski writes the following:
At some time after it became clear that Nazi Germany would lose the Second World War, and before the war had actually been lost, one of the senior party officers–perhaps it was Himmler–in confronting the very complicated series of treaty organizations that Germany had accepted with respect to its satraps, wondered out loud, “What, after all, compels us to keep our promises?” It is a troubling question and one that illustrates anew the remarkable genius for moral philosophy the Nazis enjoyed.
Seidman seems to enjoy the fact that nothing can compel a president to obey a law and thus believes we should remove the outdated shackles of the Constitution from the Executive branch. He proposes checks, but does not indicate from where these checks would draw their power. While it is true that the Constitution probably has faults ( as all human creations must) its brilliance is in its generality, which allows for some flexibility. The Constitution is supposed to be difficult to change, like any work of importance. It can be changed. By amendment…
Moreover, a Constitution, even a flawed one, keeps important ideals highlighted in the mind of a people. It draws a people together, and makes a nation, not just a state. It says, we’re in this thing together and we’ll do our best to make it happen. The Constitution is the glue that keeps our parts from flying into the ether and our people from degrading to tribal warfare.
As it says:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
I shy from arguments which summon Hitler. Mostly such arguments seek to shock hearers into agreement. I do not seek this. Well, not only this. Instead, I present the empirical. Hitler, democratically elected, consolidated all powers of the State in the federal government by disintegrating the parliament and he was made Fuhrer.
Many people never dreamed a life-failure like Adolph Hitler could do what he did. A mere corporal in the German Army in WWI, a failure in school, in art, in relationships, a convict. And yet, as Hitler bragged to a British correspondent in Berlin, 1934:
At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense I tell you that the National Socialist movement will go on for 1,000 years! … Don’t forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!
There’s quite a few now who think it could never happen again. Unlikely? Sure. Impossible? Never. There have always been experts. The French Third Republic and Germany, both the pinnacle of Western civilization in the 30s, were filled with experts who believes these things could never happen. Many of them also spoke and wrote just as Seidman does now. That men will do the right thing out of respect…
As the French Third Republic shows us, a country can go from military supremacy to signing an armistice in defeat, in a flash, and small-minded but energized men can wreck a nation. Our country is lucky, given its present state, that it has two oceans to guard it, and not a rock wall. That we have Canada to our north and not the Third Reich. Our Constitution has served us as no Constitution has ever served a nation, making America the light on the hill. We should jealously guard it, even with our own blood if need be. It should be changed only with solemn consideration and amendment.
So now I leave you with the oath I swore 4 years ago, and plan to carry to whatever end it brings me. I hope my people will follow:
I, Douglas Moore, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
Although not a pleasant topic so near to Christmas, I feel it necessary to touch on the issue of guns, violence, and the limits of what the law can do to protect us.
First, I will hit upon utility of the law. When I was a police officer, it was common for me to deal with “violations of protection orders”. A protection order is simply a legal piece of paper that ordered one person to stay away from another. It does nearly nothing to stop a person from actually having contact with another; the hope is that the possibility of getting in trouble will deter most people from violating the law. But as I would counsel some of the people who believed in the extraordinary power of the protection order, it is not a force field. It will not make bullets bounce off you. Moreover, people can violate a protection order without the rest of the world knowing they did so. They can stalk their victims, they can make anonymous phone calls, and they can murder their victims and get away with it, just as did O.J. Simpson.
Recently after the shooting at Sandy Hook, I began watching a documentary on the Beslan school shooting in Russia. In the first part of the documentary, a small boy, who was at the school during the massacre, makes a stunningly insightful comment at the 3:06 minute mark:
There is no God, only force. Military force.
I’m not sure whether to be more dismayed by the child’s nihilism, or the fact that he is more philosophically insightful than 99% of the adult liberals whom propose additional laws to control those breaking already existing laws. The laws against homicide did not prevent the children of Sandy Hook from being murdered. Now of course I am not for the removal of laws against murder. They certainly make some people think twice, and they provide us a legal path to imprison those who refuse to play by society’s rule, but they do not guarantee anyone’s safety. Nothing does.
Let’s talk about the usefulness of restricting gun rights. Later, I’ll touch on justice and what our Founding Fathers believed. I’ve already talked about the limits of written law and Blaise Pascal agreed:
Without force, the law is impotent.
Does anyone believe that by restricting access to AR-15s, violent crime will drop? If so, can you support your belief in fact? I can provide support to show the opposite is true.
Two countries, very close to America in cultural climate (and culture is important when considering crime and individual rights), Australia and Britain, experienced astounding increases in violent crime aftter implementing increasingly restrictive gun laws. In 1997, Australia enacted its gun ban. Some believe that Australia has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world. Five years after the ban, violent crime increased by 42.2%. Rapes jumped by nearly 30%. Shockingly enough, criminals didn’t obey the law.
We love the English accent. It summons thoughts of a refined and stoic people, steadfastly enduring Nazi air raids and fighting evil to the bloody end. Too bad England’s violent crime is even worse than America’s, despite heavy-handed restrictions on guns. In one decade, gun crimes in Britain nearly doubled. And while England has relatively low gun-crime, it is still the violent crime capital of Europe. One of my fundamental problems with modern liberals is not that they want a more peaceful and safe world, but that the laws they propose in order to make such a world rarely do what liberals say they will do. From the Kyoto Protocol to guns laws, the liberal argument is that of Piers Morgan: “We have to do something!” Consider this: Australia and Great Britain are both big islands, making the importation of illegal firearms more difficult than in countries like America. Yet this fact and the strict laws are not nearly enough.
How about trying something that works, doesn’t infringe on the Bill of Rights, and isn’t the child of a dreamy, politically correct world?
Then there’s our friendly neighbor to the south, Mexico. Here’s what the US Consulate in Tijuana web page has to say to Americans travelling to Mexico:
Don’t bring firearms or ammunition across the border into Mexico.
Don’t carry a knife, even a small pocketknife, on your person in Mexico.
You may become one of dozens of U.S. Citizens who are arrested each month for unintentionally violating Mexico’s strict weapons laws.
If you are caught with firearms or ammunition in Mexico…
- You will go to jail and your vehicle will be seized;
- You will be separated from your family, friends, and your job, and likely suffer substantial financial hardship;
- You will pay court costs and other fees ranging into the tens of thousands of dollars defending yourself;
- You may get up to a 30-year sentence in a Mexican prison if found guilty.
If you carry a knife on your person in Mexico, even a pocketknife . . .
- You may be arrested and charged with possession of a deadly weapon;
- You may spend weeks in jail waiting for trial, and tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees, court costs, and fines;
- If convicted, you may be sentenced to up to five years in a Mexican prison.
Claiming not to know about the law will not get you leniency from a police officer or the judicial system. Leave your firearms, ammunition, and knives at home. Don’t bring them into Mexico.
Yet the drug cartels, not the Mexican government have the monopoly on violence in Mexico. Draconian gun laws do not prevent drug lords from fielding their own militias. I’ll find somewhere else to vacation, thanks.
I posted the following on my Facebook page earlier today:
Question to Liberals: If you were at Sandy Hook on the day of the shooting, and you had a gun, would you have shot the killer, Adam Lanza? If so, how do you square that with the prevalent argument from the Left that there should be gun-free zones and no armed teachers or guards? If you would not have shot him, how would you live with yourself?
If a person answers that they would shoot the murderer, they admit that having a gun at that time is preferable to not having one. And yet many liberals argue against gun rights. Of course, their argument is only that of Rosie O’Donnell. Guns are for me, not for you. Only me and my bodyguards can be trusted with them. I agree that some people prove they cannot be trusted with guns, but the average American can and should be trusted.
The police cannot protect you. Take it from a former cop. The police protect you only in so far as the criminal fears being caught, after the fact, or to the extant that you can slow the criminal down until the police arrive. If someone breaks into a person’s house, intent on injuring another person, the police will not stop him if the victim has not taken proper precautions in protecting themselves. That’s why I’m for both passive and active defenses in schools. If we make our banks difficult to attack, why not our schools? The disingenuous argument that our school houses would become free-fire zones doesn’t ring true when we consider the less important institutions in America that have far more security than schools, yet don’t resemble the Wild West.
Of all the myths of the Left, none is more beloved than, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Our most advanced writers–the Leftist intellectuals ensconced in the cocoon of academia, could only hope so. Thus their over-reliance on such entities as the State Department and United Nations. Talking and making rules doesn’t mean jack to the people we’re worried about. Force does.
Finally, there is the philosophical and historical argument for gun rights in America.
Thomas Hobbes said it best:
A man cannot lay down the right of resisting them that assault him by force, to take away his life.
If the government takes away the right of a man to defend his life, it essentially takes away his life. Any effort by the government to take away the right to self-protection assumes the ability of the government to adequately protect the individual, which it cannot do. Were all citizens afforded a Secret Service protection detail, such regulation may be justifiable. But that’s an impossibility.
Sometimes justice outpaces utility. For instance, in my mind, just as Edmund Burke argued, free trade is not so much about utility (how much in taxes the government can harvest) as it is about what’s right: It is right that people should keep what they work for. In the case of guns, it is right that I be able to protect my child and myself. It is not right that a man be able to break into my house and rape my wife without me being able to shoot him in the face…
The statements of America’s Founding Fathers and other respected historical figures are replete with support for individual gun ownership. While I’ll try to avoid appeal-to-authority fallacies, I submit that these figures deserve to be heard, and sufficient evidence is required to overturn the wisdom of these men. The proposed gun control laws have proven insufficient in the past in this country and in others. And they violate my inalienable right to protect myself. A law that both doesn’t work and harms individual liberty is a bad law, something this country surely doesn’t need any more of.
I’ll leave you with a few gems from the brilliant men that left it in our hands to maintain that great thing we take for granted: Our own liberty.
Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defence? Where is the difference between having our arms in our own possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defence be the *real* object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?
— Patrick Henry, speech of June 9 1788
“The great object is, that every man be armed. […] Every one who is able may have a gun.”
— Patrick Henry, speech of June 14 1788
“The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good”
— George Washington
“Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
My old blog was called: The Political Realist: Post-Modern Hobbesian Views.
While writing blog entries for The Political Realist, I attempted to argue what would happen, not what should happen.
I firmly believe in what Blaise Pascal had to say about the moral argument: “Without force, the Law is impotent.”
In his recent speech overseas, President Obama has made clear that he chooses the moral argument as his weapon primus. Islam should cooperate with America, after all, we all just want to live peaceful lives, right?
If only it were that simple. People shouldn’t fight. Nations shouldn’t go to war. Everyone should have health care. But we need to consider that one important military term. The word that decides if any operation has even the possibility of success: Logistics.
We can say anything. We can write what our minds can imagine. But we cannot make others do what is right. And we cannot always summon the needed materials, money and will to accomplish any mission.
Woodrow Wilson lived by the moral argument, and saw what amounted to one of the most senseless wars in history kill millions and forever change Europe. He appologized for his forfather’s aggressions, hoping that other countries would all feel the love. But it didn’t happen. Instead, one of the bloodiest centuries in history ensued.
I will admit that human beings should be significantly moved by moral arguments. But they rarely are. And they almost never are if adhering to moral values means sacrifice. Humans will not starve to death in order to obey the moral law of not stealing. Humans will kill if they feel significantly threatened, or if they think they can improve their position in the world by doing so, even while avoiding retribution.
In the end, the moral argument is the brood of convenience or utter desperation. It is easy to conceive that a person facing imminent death in a dark alley at the hands of a mugger may utter: “I have a wife and kids at home. Please don’t kill me.” Now, the mugger may find himself lowering his pistol, and warning the person not to call the cops. But what if he believes the victim will be able to pick his face out of a lineup? What about testimony in court? The survival instinct is likely to overcome the moral argument that he should spare this person’s life so that the his wife isn’t left a widow and the children fatherless.
It is admirable and even desireable to start negotiations with the moral argument. Hamas should stop throwing rockets onto areas populated by defenseless civilians for the purpose of making a political statement. Israel asked nicely for many years. But then of course, it was the Palestinians who after finding themselves at the mercy of the IDF, could only resort to the moral argument. Look: Israel is killing women and children by invading and fighting with Hamas militants. As I said above, the moral argument comes from a weak proponent or a proponent so insulated from the actual problem, that the moral argument now becomes the argument of luxery.
So, let me end this by quoting Patrick Swayze in the movie, Roadhouse. “Be nice until it’s time not to be nice.”