The Right to Arms and the American Philosophy of Freedom
Heritage Foundation, First Principles, No. 62, October 2016
20 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2016 Last revised: 18 Oct 2016
Date Written: July 5, 2016
The right to keep and bear arms is a vital element of our liberal order, but its philosophic basis is no longer appreciated by American elites. The left rejects the understanding of politics on which our nation was founded, and conservative intellectuals have been remarkably uncomfortable with the right to arms. George Will and Charles Krauthammer, for example, have advocated repeal of the Second Amendment, and conservative pundits have generally stayed silent in the face of such attacks on the Constitution.
People who do not understand why they should defend the right to arms are not likely to be its most effective defenders, and ignorance about the philosophy underlying our free institutions is among the least excusable failings of public intellectuals. Conservative pundits constantly complain about the erosion of individual liberty by bureaucratic government, about the enervating effects of the nanny state, and about the suffocating atmosphere of euphemisms and repressed resentment imposed by the political correctness police. If they had a better understanding of John Locke, William Blackstone, Cesare Beccaria, Alexis de Tocqueville, and every one of our founding fathers, these opinion leaders would not display an effete abhorrence of what Krauthammer calls “America’s frontier infatuation with guns.” Our nation’s founding philosophy was not infected with some silly romanticism about guns or an outmoded frontier mentality. It was based on the reality of human nature and on reason, neither of which has changed since the eighteenth century.
Keywords: Bill of Rights, Constitution, federalism, firearms, Heller, militia, political theory, right to bear arms, Second Amendment, self-defense
JEL Classification: K1, K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation