the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
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Societies are societies, of course; states are states, governments are governments. They will behave as they will behave. And so it does not matter that the United States originated in violent revolution, that it reveres founders who advocated the permanent right of revolution, the possibility of a society’s renewal through bloodshed. It could not take long before the society, the state, the government began acting to preserve itself by working against the revolutionary instinct, and even against the liberal conditions which make it a reserve possibility. Of course there are treason and sedition laws in the United States. It cannot be surprising that government employees, even minor functionaries at public institutions with no governing authority, must take ‘loyalty oaths’, disavowing membership in ‘subversive organizations’.
México has “revolución institucional”. In most of the Ленинist-毛 Máoist states, a ‘revolutionary’ was a conservative committed to the establishment, and a ‘counterrevolutionary’ was a dissident opposed to the establishment. The US never fell into such nonsense. But it did make the transition from openly revolutionary to anti-revolutionary in an amazingly-short time, taking the side of the français monarchy against republican revolt less than twenty years into its history. It has supported revolution in but few cases since, generally out of parochial self-interest, and not truly in connection with any ideal ― unless the replacement of one dictator by another is a laudable ideal. The Revolutionary War is so abstracted at this point that its celebration by such a conservative society hardly seems incongruous.
But the revolutionaries who founded the United States left a curious legacy. The Yankee constitution is rare, perhaps unique, in guaranteeing the citizenry the essential tool of revolution ― personal arms. The second amendment to the constitution prohibits the infringement of “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms”. A literal reading of this prohibition would make all gun control unconstitutional. Taken with other provisions of the constitution, and the spirit and language of the Declaration of Independence, it points to a society which was so distrustful of government that it anticipated that even a government of its own establishment must eventually be overthrown.
The defenders of the second amendment are an unsavory lot. It is no joy to be associated with them. They keep the wrong company, they hit the wrong notes, they make the wrong arguments. They primarily focus on the use of guns in sport, whether the pure sport of target-shooting or the gratuitous hunting of wild animals. Occasionally they will point out the use of guns in personal defense, but always in defense against criminals, and then, more often than not, to defend property, not life. It is no wonder then that gun control makes its strongest arguments, and achieves its greatest successes, against firearms designed to kill humans. When it is said that a handgun or an assault rifle has no purpose but the killing of humans, and should therefore be banned, there can be no doubt that the end goal is a ban of guns, period. For all uses of guns are peripheral to the one use. All justifications for gun ownership are secondary to the one justification.
Guns are indeed for killing humans. That is why they must remain in the hands of the citizenry. It is but one of the bizarre aspects of the gun-control debate that the same broad political grouping that works hardest against foreign tyrannies, for the human rights and freedom of oppressed individuals in conflict with some or other government, is most strongly in favor of the elimination of private gun ownership. Exactly what do they think will happen when the government has all the guns?
The debate, with its logic and illogic, must be understood in the proper context. That context is not the political spectrum from liberal to conservative, which classifies ideology according to support for or opposition to change, and is thus entirely relative to the situation. If society were perfect, all sensible individuals would be conservative. And the societies across the world differ greatly, and so in some the steward would be more conservative, in some more liberal. A more useful spectrum classifies individuals on their support of the nationalist idea in society. And it is best viewed not as a line, but as a set of concentric circles. At the very center are the ultranationalists; around them the largest group, the nationalists; next the secularists; on the outside is the smallest group, the anti-nationalists. Fascism, the enforced hegemony of beliefs and customs, is the best determinant for this spectrum: ultranationalists are in favor, nationalists sympathetic, secularists unsympathetic, and anti-nationalists opposed.
Because societies are what they are, because they depend on tradition and perpetuation of the core ideas of the society, nationalism tends to be the conservative force in society. Because the state is the organization of society, nationalists typically support the state, typically have the most invested in it, typically, in fact, have created the state. This is true also in the United States. Indeed, the Yankee nation, or ‘America’ as the Yankees call it, came into existence because of the state. There would be no nation without the formation of the federal government. All of the nationalism in this society is defined by the extent of the federal government. The federal territory is the national territory, the federal history and mythology are the national history and mythology, the federal symbols are the national symbols.
It is baffling, then, that, at least rhetorically, Yankee nationalists are opposed to the federal government, and Yankee secularists in favor. Nationalists would have it curbed, secularists would have it expanded. And the ultranationalists, best embodied in the ‘patriot’ or ‘militia’ movement, have established themselves in armed opposition to the federal government. No group is closer to violent rebellion in the United States; no group more seriously reveres the revolutionary elements of the national myth, especially the memory of the Revolutionary War, and the right to keep and bear arms.
The liberal or progressive secularists have been able in this century to make some use of the state to further their agenda. This has alienated the conservative nationalists, and given the secularists a misplaced faith in the government. As secular members of the nation, they may avoid the more religious aspects of patriotism, but they give this religion some support nonetheless. They tolerate but marginalize dissent and anti-nationalism. And so they unconsciously augment the power of nationalism as they avail themselves of this power.
The best secular alternative is to return power to individuals. The nationalists, who actually do believe in cultural conformity, support individual power only on economic matters (for in the United States, capitalism is nationalist doctrine); their answer to the liberalization of the federal government is to devolve power to the provinces (‘states’, in Yankee usage), a position which is supported by the constitution. The provinces are no better for the cause of freedom from tyranny than the federal government. To the contrary, they are typically the agents of the worst acts of government, the last defense for reactionary and oppressive causes. It is with this in mind that progressive secularists turn to the federal government. They do not see the paradox in their alignment. They do not detect the deception in the expedient alignment of their foes.
Progressives are an admirable lot. They mean well and do good. They are the salvation of the world, no doubt. But if they disarm the populace and arm the state, they have become the instruments of tyranny. They wish to prevent violence against the innocent. But their own naïveté will bring about a world where innocence and guilt are the absolute province of the state; should the state ever fall wholly to the dominion, as is likely, there will be no checking it. A person might suppose that these progressives lack acquaintance with the stark realities of the world. Peace is indeed a worthy goal. But a world where the power of state and society is unchallenged will not be at peace. It will be at order. It will be a dominion of society over the individual, and if progressives believe they can rely on this dominion to be responsible and liberal, they were born yesterday.
© O.T. FORD
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