Friday, June 27, 2008

Now remember, we live in a Republic

One of the funniest things I hear from conservatives is "now, remember, we live in a Republic, not a democracy," and then they spout off about how that actually limits our own control of government.

Anyway, that's not what Republic means. Rather than direct democracy, the framers assumed that citizens would be so damn close to their government, that there would be no chance that it would get out of control.

For example, guns. The recent gun rights decision actually makes a lot of sense to me as a liberal Democrat. There would be very little chance of anyone raising a militia if individuals didn't have the right to bear arms.

But, bearing those arms should be to the benefit of society as a whole. It should be the better protection of our communities and our neighbors.

Gary Hart wrote a great book almost ten years ago, The Minuteman: Restoring an Army of the People, that turns the gun rights argument on its head:

The Framers of our Constitution had a fear of standing armies, and of governments backed by them, that one legal scholar calls "almost hysterical." A standing army of professionals, they were sure, would eventually do one of two things: agitate for foreign military adventures to keep itself employed, or turn against its civilian masters to create a military dictatorship. To these two political threats they added a third, moral danger: that citizens used to relying on professionals for the defense of their liberties would come to take their freedom lightly.

The Framers' solution was the militia, an armed body that included all citizens qualified to vote. Whites without property were also eligible for the militia, provided they were not felons, and so were some blacks. The Framers saw this broad-based military institution as a vital protection against tyranny.

Every citizen had the right to own a gun because every citizen, in a republic, was responsible for that republic continuing.

You may have an individual right to bear arms, but that right comes with a societal mortgage that needs to be paid.

How do we pay that in an age of professional armies and police forces?

Another great discussion at History Beating Up Politics.

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