Anywhere a monopoly on violence exists, free thought will perish.
It’s an often misunderstood principle. Indeed, one thing many Progressives these days don’t understand is that the Second Amendment in the American Constitution is not really about guns … no, it is about limiting the government’s monopoly on violence.
The recent church shooting in Texas is an intriguing, though tragic, example of this. A mentally ill man stormed into a church in a rural area that housed some of his former in-laws. Apparently, it was a domestic situation related to his ex. Now let’s be clear, he should not have been able to buy guns in the first place due to dishonorable discharge, commitment to a mental institution, violent attacks on his ex-wife and children that left his infant son with a fractured skill, and making physical threats against his military superiors. Unfortunately the Air Force who discharged him because of those things failed to notify the FBI’s background check database, as they were legally required to.
The interesting aspect of the case though were the two good Samaritans – armed Samaritans – who confronted him, wounded him during an exchange of gunfire, and then chased him down when he tried to flee in his truck. Arguably, they probably saved lives.
Now some would argue that the police response would have been forthcoming. And while such a response may have occurred in 5 minutes in an urban area (like Chicago where I live now), in more rural areas – like where I grew up in the South – the closest law enforcement officer may have been 30 minutes away.
But those points aside, the real argument such people are making, wittingly or not, is that in order to stifle violent crime, the government should have a monopoly on violence.
They fail to see the irony in that position. It is, in fact, the polar opposite of why the Founding Fathers put the Second Amendment in the American Constitution in the first place, or why political revolutions occurred across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. How quickly we forget our past …
We often forget in modern times why the founding fathers put these rights into place. You see, in old world Europe, kings and monarchies held a monopoly on violence … do something or even just say something they don’t like, and they could cut your head off. Literally. Or forcibly take all your land, property, or whatever else they saw fit. Those in power could force you to believe things, or stifle what you were allowed to say, at the point of a sword or gun.
Over time of course in Feudal Europe, the nobility was able to mitigate that monopoly to some degree, but generally only for the noble class. The common man had little recourse when faced with the full brunt of that monopoly. No way to defend himself. And like all absolute forms of power, this led to corruption and tyranny.
The framers of the constitution knew this, and enlightened as they were by the classical liberal ideals of Voltaire and Locke and Hume, they knew that the only real way to prevent such tyranny to limit the government’s Monopoly on Violence. They knew there was a trade-off, that of permitting more violence in society in general by making it more accessible and less centralized. But they viewed the possibility of tyranny as a much greater threat to a liberal society.
You have to remember that these people were still coming out of the era of Old Europe and kings and feudalism. Tyranny was a very real thing, not some word bandied about during rallies and trigger warnings and safe spaces. People could shut down your speech, your thoughts, your views… and if you complained about it, they could legally cut your head off.
And in a democratic system, such tyranny may come not only from the central government, but also the Tyranny of the Majority. A perfect example of the latter is the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Ensuring that neither the government nor any single group could monopolize violence as their “sole right” was a backstop against such dangers.
Now obviously a few farmers with guns, even if organized as a militia, is not going to stand much of chance against modern military tanks and the like. But that is not the point. The point lies in maintaining the principle that all people, the governed, still retain the right to possess the tools of violence, regardless of who might hold political power at the time.
Such a principle ensures that the potential exists, however unlikely, that if the government supersedes its authority or descends into tyranny in some way, that a violent resistance is a very real possibility.
And it is that principle that is the point.
We can see this line of reasoning in the Federalists papers, particularly in Federalist paper No.10 written by James Madison discussing the Tyranny of the Majority. The second amendment and the guns that come along with it are really about ensuring a system of checks and balances in the distribution of the means of violence.
Because anywhere a monopoly on violence exists, free thought will perish.