Insurrection Day 2022
and the second amendment
In Congress, July 4, 1776…
The Declaration of Independence was not the beginning—the beginning was long before. But the Declaration of Independence was an irrevocable public commitment to treason, and to an experiment in government.
Has the experiment failed?
Someone wrote elsewhere,
The Constitution either authorized the exact sort of government we have, or it has been powerless to stop it. And the government we have is capable of doing great harm to millions of individual citizens, and incapable of effectively governing the country. Mark me down as “not a fan.”
It’s all true. The Constitution has been powerless to stop the exact sort of government we have; that government is capable of doing great harm; it is also incapable of effectively governing.
The experiment is failing. The government has become destructive of the rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. And this is a shocking idea to many today, but the Founders would, I think, be unsurprised. If anything, I think they would be surprised at how long the Republic has endured. The Constitution is, after all, the oldest surviving written governmental charter in the world.
The experiment is failing, and the Founders’ political philosophy accounted for the failure of the experiment:
[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
When they wrote a constitution for this experiment, I don’t believe the Founders thought that Constitution would prevent this government becoming destructive of these ends. This was an experiment; they had no idea how it would turn out; they did the best they could to muzzle the government so that it wouldn’t become destructive of its ends in any of the ways that past governments had. They even wrote into the Constitution a process for amending it to adapt it to changing times. And it worked for a while. The government was more or less muzzled.
But the Founders couldn’t foresee everything. They couldn’t imagine a 330-million-person nation stretching from Atlantic to Pacific and beyond. They couldn’t foresee the influence of corporate social media on the People’s decisions. They couldn’t guess at the unique diversity of this vast nation. It didn’t even occur to them that women should vote.
There have been inflection points, since 1789, at which we might wish different turns had been made.
The Civil War, turning the Republic from a mutually beneficial free union of independent states—these United States (plural)—to a compulsory union of subservient states, enforced by violence—The United States (singular)—was one such inflection point. A voluntary union is superior to a compulsory one.
Giving the People the right to choose their states’ Senators, with the Seventeenth Amendment, was another: this gave the People the false impression that Senators represent them, rather than the States. This misimpression in turn results in hard feelings from voters in large states who don’t have as much individual influence over their states’ senators as voters in small states have over theirs, and complaints that the Senate is undemocratic, when in fact it (like the Supreme Court) is, by design, antidemocratic.
Giving the federal government near-unlimited power to regulate everything in the states through an expanded reading of the Commerce Clause was a third.
Would America be better off today if Lincoln hadn’t used force to keep the Southern states in the Union? Possibly. If things had been different, things would be different. Slavery was on its way out, the Industrial Revolution impending, and it’s not hard to imagine a world in which the Southern states, before the turn of the 20th Century, came back, voluntarily and slave-free, to the Union.
But in that scenario, some people would have been much worse off for a time: slaves in the Southern states. This would have been an unconscionable prolongation of an intolerable (to us, in hindsight) institution. (The North was fighting to create a compulsory Union; the South to preserve slavery. There were no good guys, only winners and losers.)
The Republic’s foundation in slave labor is a stain that nothing but time—much more time—will diminish. And we don’t have that much time. Few Americans are fans of the Constitution anymore. The Republic is coming to an end, one way or another.
So what comes next? A new Constitution? Balkanization? I know only that
when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
What a time to be alive!
As promised in my last post:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The Second Amendent is much in the news lately. My last post was before the Supreme Court’s Bruen opinion, which affirmed the individual right to bear arms, with which the State can only interfere in limited ways.
People who don’t like the idea of an individual right to bear arms in America begin most arguments with the prefatory clause to the Second Amendment: