Between Tyranny And Anarchy

23 Feb

Constitutional Amendments 101

I had this argument in my head, and now the most likely source of it, George Kenney and his Electric Politics podcast, has given me 102 pages of a 1998 law review article and an interview with its author, Carl T. Bogus, to lend it support.


Professor Bogus argues that there is strong reason to believe that, in significant part, James Madison drafted the Second Amendment to assure his constituents in Virginia, and the South generally, that Congress could not use its newly-acquired powers to indirectly undermine the slave system by disarming the militia, on which the South relied for slave control. His argument is based on a multiplicity of the historical evidence, including debates between James Madison and George Mason and Patrick Henry at the Constitutional Ratifying Convention in Richmond, Virginia in June 1788; the record from the First Congress; and the antecedent of the American right to bear arms provision in the English Declaration of Rights of 1688.

One way of reading the Constitutional debates of 1787 through the FederalistAnti-Federalist exchanges, and finally to the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788 is to brace oneself for some of the most erudite philosophical discussions on politics ever compiled. It’s also a running debate with its own politics and personalities. Or, one can lift arguments from this newspaper editorial or that speech, and use that to interpret the whole. Bogus takes the first approach, and argues that gun control opponents, or insurrectionists, adopt the second.


The second approach, according to Bogus, requires that one appreciate how the slavery question influenced the drafting of the Second Amendment. Bogus points out that the Second is the most politically-charged of any amendment, yet until recently SCOTUS had devoted the least amount of effort to interpret. This is because it is a political compromise designed to save the constitutional project and not very important in its own right.


And, the purpose of that compromise was preserving a political union where one section of the country included a plurality of slaves, and another increasingly unsettled by how slavery affected its economy and social norms. It was slave-owners who took the threat of a government tyranny personally, even if Madison considered the Constitution a check on tyranny against the states and individuals.


What is preposterously ironic is, that an aristocrat like Thomas Jefferson would argue for insurrection against a lawfully elected majority government elected by the largest electorate in the world for the sake of fleeting political concerns. One has to ask if an aristocracy or a tyranny is preferable to a democracy, with all its problems. Anyone who can answer against democracy has to ask himself if he can live in an anarchy, in a mansion on a hill surrounded by slaves and women at his command




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