December 23, 2012

DEAD GODS, LIVE FAITHS:

This sacred text explains why the US can't kick the gun habit (Jonathan Freedland, 12/21/12, The Guardian)

If you really want to know why the US can't kick its gun habit, take a trip to the National Archives in Washington, DC. You don't even have to look at the exhibits. Just study the queue. What you'll see are ordinary Americans lining up, in hushed reverence, to gaze at an original copy of the United States constitution, guarded and under heavily armoured glass. It is no exaggeration to say that for many Americans this is a religious experience.

When outsiders hear that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment of the US constitution, I suspect many imagine this is like saying it's "protected by law", something that can easily be changed, as it would be in their own countries. But this is to underestimate what the constitution means to Americans.

It is indeed a sacred text. Despite, or perhaps because, the US is a country animated by faith, the "founding fathers" are treated as deities, their every word analysed as if it contained gospel truth. Any new idea or policy proposal, no matter how worthy on its own merits, must be proven compatible with what those long-dead politicians of the late 18th century set down - otherwise it's unconstitutional and can be thrown out by the supreme court, the high priesthood selected to interpret what the great prophets of Philadelphia intended.

I don't mock America's awe for its constitution. On the contrary, I regard that text as the most powerful statement of democratic principle - starting with its declaration that "we the people" are sovereign - and human rights ever written. Its system of checks and balances is mathematically and beautifully precise in its determination to prevent unfettered, over-centralised power. It represents the unfinished business of England's own incomplete revolution of 1688. It's no exaggeration to say that this single document makes the US possible, cohering an immigrant nation with no common bonds of blood or soil around a radical idea.

But when the attachment to that text calcifies into a rigid dogma, danger beckons. Even the best ideals can become warped: note how the first amendment guarantee of free speech has allowed unlimited spending on TV campaign ads by anonymous corporate donors. In the case of the second amendment, a constitution designed to be a document of liberation instead imprisons the US, shackling it to an outdated rule that makes easy the murder of schoolchildren. Polls show a majority of Americans favour greater gun control, but the US constitution stands stubbornly in their way. The scholar Daniel Lazare describes America as "the frozen republic", chained to decisions taken when the right to bear arms meant the freedom to carry a musket. He wants the US to revamp its constitution, like most of the other countries of the world: "Why must Americans remain slaves to the past?"

Absent a cataclysm, such as the US suffering a total defeat in war, it's hard even to imagine such a thing.

Which is, of course, the point of the Constitution in the first place.  Rather than discarding rights every time there's an unfortunate incident, we require a cataclysm.  It forces us to act deliberatively, rather than emotionally,


MORE:
Reid's liberal power play (George Will, December 23, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Ideas are not responsible for the people who believe them, but when evaluating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's ideas for making the Senate more like the House of Representatives, consider the source. Reid is just a legislative mechanic trying to make Congress' machinery responsive to his party's progressivism. And proper progressives think the Constitution, understood as a charter of limited government, is unconstitutional.

Posted by at December 23, 2012 8:08 AM
  

blog comments powered by Disqus
« IT'S THE PRODUCT, NOT THE PRICE: | Main | FOR AULD LANG SYNE: »