Bret Stephens posted an amusing Op-Ed in the New York Times yesterday entitled “Repeal the Second Amendment”. Bret Stephens, for those who aren’t aware, self-identifies as a conservative, and as is somewhat typical of the NYT op-ed crew who lean Right, he’s a card-carrying Republican who stands firmly on his principles to appeal to the NYT’s Left-liberal Democratic platform in this dangerous, Trump-tocratic, post-Obamanite era. He is, in other words, one of the typical New York elite: clueless, educated, disconnected, and snobbish.
This is worth keeping in mind; the media, having learned nothing from the thrashing they received in 2016, continue to stack their columns with “conservatives” in an attempt to remain relevant. The typical complaints about American Conservatism aside, MSM’s various attempts to hire a couple Republicans to parrot their liberal doublethink, as if that’s going to keep their op-ed pages interesting and their news relevant, is a bad joke. Stephens, addressing the obvious transparency of the Left’s lip service toward citizenry disarmament seems unaware of the same obvious transparency in the lip service he pays toward his political identification. Can anyone seriously believe someone is a conservative in the United States when they’re advocating for the appeal of the Second Amendment? This isn’t just any amendment to the constitution–this is one of the contingencies enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The Constitution would not have passed a vote without it. Imagine a conservative telling America from a New York City high-rise that the first third of Guns, God, and Freedom should probably be revoked! Come on, Bret: try to be a bit more subtle in your gun-grabbery. Hopefully he has the decency to cease using ‘Constitutionalist’ arguments to uphold his “conservatism”.
The article continues as one might expect. He quotes the approximately 45,000 gun-related deaths in the United States that occurred last year alone. He mentions how widespread and frequent unintentional deaths are due to firearms, and of course, he reminds us that kids get killed from these accidents, too. He neglects to address, of course, the rampancy of drug-trade related crime, or the crime that third world immigration brings into the country, or the fact that overwhelming percentages of these murders occur in cities where violence is so common that people get shot to death almost every single day.
But okay, sure: the guns are the problem. Not the idiots who don’t understand gun safety. Not the criminals who are engaging in the muggings, home invasions, gang violence, and drug trade-related shootings. Not the entire series of generations that have grown up without fathers or stable families, without strong communities and circles of peers and friends that aren’t all mob-operated criminal organizations, without churches, congregations, and clergymen that are as invested in their flock as they are in God. The problem that needs to be addressed is not the means of violence but the cause of it all.
And that’s a conversation that most Americans aren’t willing to have—but lay-conservatives, in general, seem to be willing to start it. They may not be willing to concede that staunch individualism has brought about an implosive culture of self-confinement, and they may not be willing to concede that there are fundamental differences among people—both in physiology and psychology—which are not surmountable by a simple appeal to hard work. But they are at least willing to have the debate on psychological fitness and the mental health crisis in the United States. Granted, it’s not a debate that will be solved before the moral crisis and the metaphysical crisis are each solved, but it’s conceivably a start.
An even better start would be to shortcut the ideological debate entirely and just go about returning sovereignty to communities. America’s definition of communities now exists as a farcical category of a collection of geographically coincident row-homes. Every few years, it needs a government-funded “community organizer” to come in, usually a snobbish and delusional member of the urban elite, to organize a couple parades, get funding for the construction of a “youth center”, and create one or two tutoring groups that piggy-back off of the failing urban school system. It doesn’t matter that the parades were held by groups alien to the community they passed through, or that the youth center will be vandalized within the month and burned down before the end of the year, or that the tutoring groups won’t survive the semester. The organizer, his job seeming complete, gets a few accolades from City Hall, a paycheck from a grant undersigned by Uncle Sam, and a nice-looking line on his resume. The so-called community, meanwhile, stays indoors, lets their kids shoot each other outside, and turns the other cheek.
Communities used to be places where neighbors looked out for one another. Where “minding your own business” meant respectfully ensuring the domestic peace of your street block, and by extension, your neighborhood, and by extension, your town. “Minding your own business” now, of course, means keeping your head down and ignoring whatever is going on around you. In tightly-packed urban cities, where people are forced to live like gerbils piled into brutalist stacks of apartment buildings sarcastically called “homes”, it’s no surprise that an abrasive, antagonistic attitude toward neighborliness has developed. There are simply too many people in such tightly-managed spaces–and more often than not, of such varying and diverse backgrounds as to prohibit any meaningful sense of belonging to develop. Some folks may find it refreshing to be crammed into an apartment block where, at any given time of day, five or six different languages can be heard within the same apartment building (often at decibels uncouth to neighborly affiliations); most people don’t.
Amusingly enough, Stephens also seems to regret even the use of firearms in the course of American national sovereignty:
“From a personal liberty standpoint, the idea that an armed citizenry is the ultimate check on the ambitions and encroachments of government power is curious. The Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, the New York draft riots of 1863, the coal miners’ rebellion of 1921, the Brink’s robbery of 1981 — does any serious conservative think of these as great moments in Second Amendment activism?”
Widespread personal grievances of populations that the government ignores shouldn’t rise up in rebellion and fight back with whatever means they have at their disposal? Tyranny should be accepted by free peoples across the West? I suppose to some degree I’d concede that there’s a bit of merit to that point. But then again, isn’t that exactly what happened at Lexington and Concord about two hundred and forty two years ago? I can’t tell if his implication is that the American Revolution was a mistake or that anyone who questions the State authority should be considered a traitor. Given the pages of the rag he’s writing in, it’s probably the latter. Ironic, too, considering all of the anti-government movements that the New York Times and other MSM outfits have shilled for in the past couple years. Maybe, like so many intellectuals, what Stephens is suggesting isn’t that violence against authority is necessarily bad, but rather violence against the alphabet soup agencies that pull all the strings is prohibited. Fuck Trump and all that, but don’t you dare question how much of your internet history the NSA has backed up on its servers!
Stephens concludes with the only level-headed point he makes in the entire article:
“Some conservatives will insist that the Second Amendment is fundamental to the structure of American liberty. They will cite James Madison, who noted in the Federalist Papers that in Europe “the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” America was supposed to be different, and better.”
America was supposed to be better, and for the most part, it was. Even Tocqueville, as critical as he was toward the American experiment in his observations, recognized that violence was not specifically something the Americans reveled in—certainly not the sort of violence conducted against neighbors that runs so rampant today. So what changed?
Oh right, we lost our religion, our communities, and our families. And endless scandals and corruption sacrificed our confidence in democracy, our destructive public school system destroyed our ability to reason, and our media brainwashed us all into the sense of complacency necessary to think that all of this is perfectly normal and a-okay. I’m not one to defend libertarianism or the arguments of classical liberals, but there is one truth that they do settle on again and again: less-obtrusive government generally guarantees freer and better functioning societies in Western nations.
So what would Madison insist today? Stephens says he’d “Take the guns,” though he’s quick to follow that up with “or at least the presumptive right to them”. No, I don’t think so. Madison would probably advocate for a third American Revolution, if I had to guess—but some leeway in his jargon can be afforded. After all, revolutions imply the toppling of an existing social and political order and the institution of something wholly new, and the so-called American Revolution was not, in its entirety, such an accomplishment. It was the restoration of colonial economic and political autonomy, with only slightly more freedom granted to the peoples of the New World than was present there before the French and Indian War. Certainly, things changed on the surface—new currency, new foreign relations, new political leaders, new constitutions—but the engine driving American prosperity was the same one that was driving the flourishing of colonial expansion. Names and places changed but the geography of American exceptionalism remained the same.
The next several years presents a challenge to the American experiment that isn’t all that unlike the ones it faced in 1774 and in 1858. A restoration, of some sort, is necessary if America is to remain recognizably American; so much of that has been lost in both the political details and even in the general ethos. Some of it still remains. Is what’s left worth fighting for?