Conversion of a Pacifist

Four years ago, I came to Vermont a fire breathing, "left" out, revolutionary pacifist and anarchist. (Sounds more like a witches brew than a person.) Today I am a committed Christian, american patriot and staunch second amendment supporter.  Why the change, you might ask.  Simple, I got hit with the truth and decided to embrace rather than reject it.  Since then, I have had to unlearn a lot of falsehoods I had been taught, reorganize a lot of misplaced information, and learn a tremendous number of new things.

One of the most striking revelations to me has been the central importance of the second amendment to the republican form of government that our Founding Fathers bequeathed us.  Recently, I read an excellent article in the Journal of American History, entitled, "The Ideological Origins of the Second Amendment," by Robert E. Shallhope.  In it, Prof. Shallhope quotes from the writings of Machiavelli, Sir Walter Raleigh, James Madison, George Washington, and others to demonstrate the centrality of a well-trained and properly armed citizenry to the moral character and proper functioning of our republican form of government.

In his article, Prof. Shallhope argues persuasively, building from Machiavelli through and including a review of the history of the Constitutional Convention and the then existing State Constitutional provisions, that the Second Amendment creates an individual right to keep and bear arms to defend oneself, to hunt, to defend one's state against foreign invasion, to keep one's rulers honest, and to maintain one's republican character.  Considering each basis for the right in turn, I was not surprised by the arguments with respect to self-defense, hunting or as a check on government tyranny, but what really surprised me was its centrality to the moral character of a republic's citizenry.  The ability to defend oneself with arms these people discovered, was, in fact, a prerequisite for maintaining the moral character to be a good republican.

This concept blew my mind.  I had always been led to believe that the path of non-violence was the moral high road and here the political philosophers most esteemed by our Founding Fathers were equating the ability to defend one's self, one's property, one's state and one's rights by violent means with good moral character.  How could this be?!

As I read on, I was amazed.  James Burgh, the English libertarian most attractive to our Founding Fathers, lamented that "the common people of England . . . having been long used to pay an army for fighting for them, had . . . forgot all the military virtues of their ancestors."  He and other likeminded men "related the downfall of English society to an increasingly luxury-loving people who freely chose to yield their military responsibilities to a professional army.  Once armies were paid for by taxes, taxes were collected by armies, and the liberties of the English were at an end."

Interestingly, the possession of arms was the distinction between a "freeman" (i.e. responsible citizen) and a "slave," according to the libertarian philosophy, dominant at the time of our nation's founding.   The reason for this distinction was explained as follows:

He, who has nothing, and who himself belongs to another, must be defended by him, whose property he is, and needs no arms.  But he, who thinks he is his own master, and has what he can call his own, ought to have arms to defend himself, and what he possesses; else he lives precariously, and at discretion.

Now, my mind was working overtime.  Could this be why our Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 8) specifically limited appropriations to support a standing army to two years in duration?  Had we became "slaves" to our governmental "keepers"?  Might this explain why we needed the government's permission nowadays to do most anything (e.g. drive a car, marry, develop our property, own a business, etc...)?

I was troubled as I read on.  Joseph Story, one of our first Supreme Court Justices, foresaw this threat to the republic in his Commentaries on the Constitution

The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium [(i.e. the safeguard)] of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of ruler; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.  And yet, though this truth would seem so clear, and the importance of a well regulated militia would seem so undeniable, it cannot be disguised, that among the American people there is a growing indifference to any system of militia discipline, and a strong disposition, from a sense of its burdens, to be rid of all regulations.  How it is practicable to keep the people duly armed without some organization, it is difficult to see.  There is certainly no small danger, that indifference may lead to disgust, and disgust to contempt; and thus gradually undermine all the protection intended by this clause of our national bill of rights.

But, I was hardest hit by the conclusion of Joel Barlow who stated that "[a]ny government that disarmed its people 'palsies the hand and brutalizes the mind . . . and men lose at once the power of protecting themselves, and of discerning the cause of their oppression."  (Emphasis added.)  In the end, however, my eyes were "opened" and I was converted.  I have embraced that which I formerly despised.  What about you?

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