Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aphorism #7

The qualities of the individual personality do not concern us. We do not ask if one is temperate, skilled, or thoughtful. We only ask whether one can afford to buy health, goods, or education. It is man's riches or poverty--his means or lack thereof--that make him stand out. Money makes inconsequential what it cannot buy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Aphorism #6

Argument is more than disagreement. We claim a right to argue but seem to have lost much of the power to do so. Perhaps this has to do with a shift in our values: As with many other things, the value we place on speech has become quantitative in nature. It matters little what we say, only that we say much. Most importantly, perhaps, is that we can afford to speak last. One thing is certain: we will not want for lively debate.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Summary And Concluding Arguments for "Rights Abdicated", by Peter McCombs and David W. Cooney

This is the concluding article in the series on Rights Abdicated, which consists of the following previous articles:

Rights Abdicated: The 2nd Amendment and an Appeal to Logic
Rebuttal to "Rights Abdicated", by David W. Cooney
In Defense of "Rights Abdicated"
Response to "In Defense of 'Rights Abdicated'", by David W. Cooney

I am very pleased to have had thoughtful argument from David on this topic. For those of you who are interested in other work that David has written, please see his web site, Practical Distributism. David approaches a number of current social and economic topics from the standpoint of Distributism.

It seems to me that David adds more dimension to this argument than opposition. However, that is for the reader to decide. For myself, I have begun to think with more attention about the difference between rights and powers as well as the specific meaning of "a right".

In this article, I will present the summary of my arguments for "Rights Abdicated" as well as some final remarks. I will then include David's summary and his closing remarks. Although this concludes the debate, I welcome additional commentary on the subject from any side. It is often through argument that I refine my thoughts and ideas.

* * *

In my argument entitled, "Rights Abdicated: The 2nd Amendment and an Appeal to Logic", I made the following claims:
  1. That some rights are transferable, or alienable.
  2. That alienable rights are important in self-government.
  3. That once a right has been vested in another party, it can no longer be exercised except through the one authorized.
  4. That the Second Amendment describes such an alienable right as demonstrated by the logical analysis of the amendment.
  5. That we ought to carefully consider the ways in which we allow our rights to be delegated (or abdicated) to others. 
In defense of my original argument, I introduced some additional points:
  1. That the American system makes use of the Social Contract.
  2. That all rights to means are alienable rights.
  3. That rights under any contract are governed by positive law.
  4. That when contracted rights are retained by the people, it is only through an unjust act of bad faith or through provisions in the contract itself that regulate the portion of rights granted and retained based on specific contexts (casuistry).
  5. That some rights are obligations that we will choose to give up for the sake of freedom in other things.
It is not important to my argument whether or not there are other reasons for the second amendment right to bear arms other than the reason provided by the authors of the Constitution. For a natural (or inalienable) right, any reason given for the right must be completely sound. However, since the one reason given for the right to bear arms is clearly no longer relevant to our standing relative to the federal government, modus ponens is sufficient to show beyond doubt that the right to bear arms is an alienable right to a means and not a natural inalienable right to an end. I do believe, however, that the right to bear arms is an extension of the natural right to protection.

To the extent that we delegate our means of protection to armies, mercenaries, and to police forces, our right to bear arms is proportionally reduced and regulated. As an example of this, I point to the fact that we must now obtain permits in order to conceal and carry a firearm. We are also prohibited from obtaining some kinds of specialized arms, such as nuclear or biological weapons. The economy of protection has also made other specialized weapons quite beyond the reach of private individuals. We may not act as or impersonate a police officer or a soldier because we lack the proper authority to do so. We have given that authority to others.

These regulations are all part of the social contract we have entered into when we authorized others to act on our behalf. The capability to defend ourselves against the very organizations that we authorize for our protection is greatly reduced. We must therefore have faith in them always to act in our best interest. Although we may still bear arms, the right we now enjoy is governed by positive law and has become a privilege. We believe that we have better served our inalienable right to protection by vesting others with the right to defend us.

I further reiterate the nature of the social contract. While I acknowledge criticisms of the social contract that question how (or if) it may originate and what its limits are, these questions are not important to the argument. What is important is that only alienable rights are susceptible to the social contract and that these rights are no longer exercised in the context conceived by their natural reasons.

I consider the large-scale abdication of alienable rights to be a national tragedy. Such a course leaves many individuals and communities at the mercy of a "majority" with whom they do not agree. This damages and destroys self-government wherever these rights are more properly delegated at a local level.

I do not limit my argument to the right to bear arms. For example, I claim a right to raise my own children. I teach them at home and do not send them to school. A natural right is one that does not require special permission for its use, yet I must obtain permission annually if I want to keep my family together at home. If I do not get this permission, a man with a gun is authorized to visit my house and enforce compliance. I could be forced to adhere to standards that are not my own or risk losing my kids.

The truth is, I no longer have a right to my own children, but a regulated privilege. This is because the right to children is an obligation that we, as a majority, ceased to desire in favor of ever increasing options in the area of ease and prosperity. In order to gain the freedom of careers and of financial gain, the State has been granted much of the power and authority once held exclusively by parents. Those few of us who still desire to maintain our exclusive rights must struggle against a rising tide that threatens to sweep us away.

There are probably many other examples of Rights Abdicated. Some of us will refuse to acknowledge our own hand in this tragedy. Others will remain in delusion, as those who trade raw diamonds for pretty glass trinkets. Such will argue that they never lost their rights, only improved them.

It seems to me that, like Esau who sold his birthright for a "mess of pottage" and then blamed others for his loss, we prefer to resent a government perceived as oppressive rather than taking steps to make fundamental changes to our lives and to our culture in order to reclaim what we have given away.

* * *

David's summary and closing remarks are as follows:

The summary of my position in regard to our current discussion is divided into two areas.  The first area is that of the Constitution in general and the Second Amendment in particular.  The second area is the scope to which the application of the abdication of rights involved in a social or other contract may logically be applied.

The Constitution

The Constitution and the first ten amendments to it must be viewed according to the intent of the authors in order to understand the provisions and how they were intended to be applied.  The purpose of the Constitution was to define and limit the scope of the revised federal government they were proposing to the American people.  The federal government was only to have those powers explicitly and clearly given to it in the Constitution. In fact, they were so adamant about this, that they did not want to include the Bill of Rights because they feared that, if they started listing any specific rights retained by the states and the people, it would end up being interpreted exactly how it is now being interpreted; that the rights and limitations of the states and people are also defined by the Constitution.  

This is how you are presenting the Second Amendment; as though the inclusion of a reason for not disarming the public means that, if the government claims to eliminate the reason, the public no longer has the right not to be disarmed.  The Constitution was never intended to limit the states and people to any extent beyond those powers absolutely needed to be given to the federal government to perform the explicit and limited powers granted to it.  Any and all other rights and powers that can be said to exist remain with the states and the people, so it is not only not necessary to list them, but it is unwise to even start listing them because of the false interpretation that such a list would cause.

A perfect example of this is found in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers.  I don't have my copies handy, but when they debated Section 8 of Article 1, the Anti-Federalists argued that the term "general welfare" was too vague and could be taken to mean anything.  The Federalists pointed out that the the Constitution itself defines exactly what is meant by general welfare in that same section.  All of Section 8 is one sentence.  It starts out by stating the general purpose of the powers of Congress, and then, using no division other than semi-colons, lists those specific powers which Congress is allowed to employ to fulfill those purposes.  At the end of that long sentence, Congress is given the power to make laws to fulfill the limited powers of the federal government, but is explicitly limited to only those laws which are both "necessary and proper" to do so.

In regard to the power of the federal government to raise an army, taking into account the Second Amendment, the federal government is not empowered to disarm the public because doing so is not necessary to raise an army.  History is clear that it is entirely possible to have an army and an armed public, therefore there is no necessity to disarm the public in order to fulfill the ability of the federal government to raise an army.  If it is not necessary, the federal government has no authority to make such a law because it is specifically only given the power to pass those laws which are both necessary and proper.

The view of the Federalists, the Anti-Federalists, and of the people in general is that government in general cannot be trusted, and that a remote government (and they all viewed the federal government as a remote government) could be trusted even less.  This is absolutely clear from their writings.  They hoped the states and the people would jealously guard against any attempt by the federal government to increase its centralized power by binding it with the "chains" provided in the Constitution.  In the end, the Federalists only agreed to include the Bill of Rights because they realized that it was the only way to get the new Constitution ratified.

The Abdication of Rights, With a Particular Consideration of the Second Amendment

I do not deny that one can abdicate or otherwise forgo rights.  However, the argument you present is that abdicating rights can actually separate them from you.  The authors of the Constitution, however, believed that certain rights were inalienable; therefore, even if you abdicated them in any way, they still remained with you and you remained free to exercise them at any time you felt the need.  If you remain free to claim and exercise your inalienable rights, then you logically must also retain the right to access to the means necessary to do so.

In the case of claiming your right to self-defense, you have the right to secure those means necessary to succeed in claiming them.  This right, like the inalienable right itself, remains with you at all times as a logical necessity.  Attempts to disarm the public deprive them of the means necessary to defend themselves against armed aggressors.  It is no use to say that, once you are attacked, you "regain" this right.  Once you are attacked it is too late.  If you are standing on the street and some thug threatens you with a gun, will he wait while you go to the gun store to buy a weapon for your own defense?  Will he wait while you call the police to come and defend you on your behalf?  That is nonsense.  

The right to self defense necessarily includes the right to prepare for that defense ahead of time.  Because self-defense is an inalienable right, the corresponding right to arm oneself is also inalienable. Not only that, but the fact that the purpose of this right is self-defense, you have the right to secure whatever weapons you feel you may need to defend yourself.  It is useless, in a practical sense, to defend yourself with a sword if your aggressor is armed with a gun.

This can easily be seen in how the Second Amendment was viewed prior to the very recent arguments that the government somehow now possesses the right to disarm the public.  The government had as standing army long before these arguments were being made.  Likewise, communities had established law enforcement long before these arguments were being made.  Was the establishment of these viewed as the elimination of the right for the general public to arm themselves with whatever weapons were available?  No.  In the mid 19th century, you could not only order all manner of hand-held guns, but even cannon, through the Sears & Roebuck Catalog.  They would ship them directly to your house.  

The right to do this was assumed, therefore the social contracts establishing the police and armies did not constitute an abdication of the right to arm yourself, because they were never intended to defend everyone, everywhere, and at all times. Those social contracts were made with the understanding that there will remain times when the established law enforcement won't be available for any number of legitimate reasons, and, therefore, the people would need to be able to act in order to defend themselves, or even others when the need arose.  In order to do this, they must be allowed to arm themselves in preparation for it.  The government was not assumed to posses the right to restrict, or even track through registration, the exercise of this right.  In fact the opposite is clearly the case.  The government is assumed NOT to posses such rights because restrictions would be a violation of the inalienable right of the people and tracking is not authorized by the constitutions that limit the powers of government.

Aphorism #5

Self-government has very little to do with majority rule.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Aphorism #4

Humor sometimes lends sophistication to a weak character. We are infinitely amused by those who have nothing important to say.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Response to "In Defense of 'Rights Abdicated'", by David W. Cooney

It seems to me that our disagreement is on the nature and extent of the social contract.  I agree that contracts impose limitations on both parties, but only within the intended limits of the contract itself.  In my opinion, your conclusions, especially in regard to the Second Amendment, are only possible by going far beyond those intended limits. 
“Under the social contract, the author of any action does indeed relinquish his personal claim to the act in lieu of the delegate. When we say that our government is obligated in some way to perform a duty, the only way we can rightfully reclaim that obligation is by unauthorizing the government's claim. The people and the government cannot both act in the same capacity at the same time. That is the social contract which is fundamental to the existence of government.”
I agree with this completely, however you must keep in mind the intent of the contract itself. According to what you are saying, if I hire you as my personal bodyguard, to protect me from harm at all times, I necessarily give up all right to protect myself. That simply does not follow. For you are only hired to assist me in the area of protection, just as the government and local law enforcement is hired to assist us in securing our right to protection.

You say that the one hired and the one hiring cannot act in the same capacity at the same time. That is only true according to circumstance. If I hire you to negotiate a contract on my behalf, it is true that I cannot directly negotiate the same contract at the same time. (However, even in that case, you are not necessarily empowered to make offers I do not personally authorize, for you are hired to represent my interests; nor are you necessarily authorized to sign the contract and bind me to it without my final review and approval for ratification is a separate act from negotiation.) On the other hand, if I hire you as a bodyguard and someone starts shooting at me, there is no aspect of our contract that suggests we cannot both draw guns to shoot back.
“I consider the right to protection to be an inalienable right. However, this is not the same right as the right to bear arms, which would only provide a means of protection. There are other ways to secure protection besides bearing arms personally.”

True, but it does not follow that, because I choose, at this time, not to bear arms personally, I have contracted with another to bear arms on my behalf in certain circumstances, I completely waive my right to do so in all other cases. As I stated above, the restriction against acting in the same manner at the same time is not universal. It is a conditional obligation even in social contract theory.
“I know that you won't be able to fulfill the obligation under the contract and therefore I retain the right for myself also. This equates to delegation made in bad faith.”
 “It is a fact that David's rebuttal is in complete agreement on this point since it specifically uses the language of bad faith”
This is a gross misinterpretation of what I said. The government, federal and state, are authorized to take up arms as a means of securing our right to personal protection against other governments. The police are authorized to take up arms as a means of enforcing the laws and apprehending criminals. These are the limits to the authorization and therefore the limits to the social contracts themselves. Therefore, those who argue that the Second Amendment does not constitute an abdication of our personal right to bear arms do not make the social contract one of bad faith. Indeed, all contracts are based on the assumption of good faith when entering the contract, but also include, at least by implication, protection against any party acting in bad faith once the contract has been established.

Therefore, as long as the government is not a tyranny, it maintains the right to act on our behalf. As long as the police enforce the law and apprehend criminals, they maintain the right to act on our behalf. However, what protection do we have if the government or the police fail to act? Have we, by entering this contract made ourselves completely helpless without them? That is nonsense. The only way to secure the protection against bad faith actions in the case of arms is by retaining the personal right to bear arms. This is completely consistent with the social contract.

Your argument is based on taking the social contract far beyond its intention. You twist my statements about the limitations of the police to make them sound as though I am claiming that, because the police cannot protect everyone, everywhere, and at all times, this constitutes bad faith, because of which we can once again reclaim our personal right to bear arms. That is incorrect. The specific things I listed, and which you quote, are precisely the original limitations of the social contract we have established with the police when we empowered them. Therefore, the social contract itself never constituted grounds to deprive ourselves of the personal right to bear arms. For the police are only hired to assist us in our right to personal protection and typically fulfill this obligation very well. However, the implied limits of the social contract (the fact that they cannot protect everyone, everywhere, and at all times), along with the only means to enforce our rights in those cases where some police office may actually act in bad faith, not only imply that we maintain the personal right to bear arms, but actually necessitate the retention of that right even if we do not personally choose to exercise it.

“In other words, there arise ways in which we may not bear arms and we must also procure special government permission in order to conceal and carry them. With regards to our rights, we become casuists, subdividing rights and applying them to specific cases.”
This is completely wrong. Authorizing the government to act on our behalf in defense of the country and authorizing the police to act on our behalf in defense against crime does not logically result in our needing special permission to own, carry, or even to conceal arms. For the very limits of the authorization does not grant the government complete control over the use of arms; that would be beyond the intent of the social contract and a violation of it. The fact that this argument fails to appear before the 20th century, or maybe the late 19th, even though governments and local law enforcement have existed for millenia, shows the complete absurdity of the argument. Historically, the only people government armies and local law enforcement were ever authorized to disarm were slaves. Free citizens, for that matter, even the partially free serfs of the early Mediæval period were allowed to own, carry, and conceal arms on their person.

“By my argument I do not deny that there can be other reasons for the right to bear arms and in fact I made this very point: The power to bear arms may still not be infringed even if the antecedent is false..”

“If the second amendment is a definition, then it is a biconditional proposition and it is absolutely true beyond question that there exist no other reasons to suppose we have a right to keep and bear arms other than to secure the State against the tyranny of federalism.”

“Instead, we continue to grant federal power for a professional specialized military force against which the State cannot be secured by militia. The right to bear arms is clearly abdicated for this reason. What we retain is a regulated privilege to bear arms.”

The latter statement only holds true if it can be proven that the former statement is true. However, no such proof exists. Just because the US Constitution makes no mention of other reasons for the right does not mean it is making an absolute definition. The most we could conclude on the matter is that the authors of the Constitution considered the reason given as sufficient to satisfy the concerns of the Anti-Federalists and therefore, no mention of other potential reasons was necessary. Therefore, it would follow that the Constitution is neutral regarding other potential reasons for the right.

“Freedom is sometimes found in the transfer of obligations. If, rather than a personal obligation for the security of the State, or for the education of children, or the maintenance of health, or the production of goods etc., we elect to pay (probably a tax or a wage) for someone else to do the job for us, then we can be theoretically "freed" from the obligation. One meaning of freedom is not having obligations to distract us from the other pursuits we feel are necessary to our happiness.

How curious is it that we often give up rights in order to become free and that freedom has come to signify dependence on others rather than independence?”
Again, hiring someone to help fulfill a right does not signify an abdication of the right, or obligation that goes with it. If I have an obligation to educate my children and cannot do so myself, I have the right to hire someone to do what I must, but cannot. That is merely an exercise of my rights in regard to the obligation, but it does not remove that right or obligation from me. Therefore, I do not transfer to the other the right to decide what constitutes a good education and completely abdicate my right to all say in the matter. The obligation to educate my children remains with me along with the obligation of evaluating how well the person hired is performing his side of the bargain. If I find him lacking (acting in bad faith after the contract was entered), not only do I have the right to either take on the burden of educating my children myself (home schooling) or finding another educator for the task, I have the obligation to do so. When the law removes those rights from me, I have ceased to be a free person.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

In Defense of "Rights Abdicated"

In his partial rebuttal to "Rights Abdicated", David Cooney presented the following arguments with respect to my demonstration of the abdication of rights based on a logical analysis of the second amendment:
  1. That there may exist other reasons besides the reason cited in the second amendment for the right to bear arms, therefore this right is maintained even if the reason given by the founding fathers is falsified. David's argument claims that "Rights Abdicated" denies there can be any other reasons. It is further claimed that the argument does not consider the full context of the wording of the second amendment.
  2. That Hobbes' contract theory fails utterly and that rights are in fact simultaneously delegated and retained. Support for this is taken from the fact that, in the case of military or police, a delegation of the right to bear arms cannot successfully fulfill needs in all cases, leaving individuals with the right to bear arms in those cases where the military or police fail to provide protection. Although people have authorized military and police, they still have the right to individual protection.
First, I want to point out that my claim about the abdication of rights is not limited to the second amendment. The second amendment simply provides a good way of demonstrating the idea because it is written in argument form and may therefore be subjected to logical analysis.

Secondly, I want to reiterate that formal logical analysis is not subject to "intuitive" notions of logic. It may be the case that I have mistranslated the conditional or misunderstood a nuance of the formal system and thus arrived at my conclusion in error, however the conclusion itself is quite beyond opinion if the conditional is interpreted correctly. Appeals to anecdotes that outwardly appear unjust or unfair under the required conclusion nevertheless do not change the truth value of the proposition. Nor do historical vagaries change the truth value of a proposition; they merely serve to illustrate the erroneous ways that men are inclined to adopt.

Finally, I wish to note that parts of David's rebuttal are presented as if they are in conflict with what I have written when in fact they are in perfect agreement with my argument. In this regard, the rebuttal actually provides good examples of precisely what I am not claiming in my argument on the abdication of rights.

Social Contract

The first argument I wish to address is the second argument stating that Thomas Hobbes' claim that rights cannot be simultaneously delegated and retained is somehow warped or illogical. Taken as a whole, Hobbes' philosophy may be 'warped', but it is not without reason. The founders of the American republic did not construct a wholly new philosophy in plain view of the burning wreckage of Hobbes' system. Rather, the social contract is fundamental to the Western style of government. It is not a wrong or abandoned  idea; on the contrary, the social contract is a First Principle of liberal government and an axiom of our founders' political philosophy.(1) To discredit it is to cast our theory of government into the fire.

Under the social contract, the author of any action does indeed relinquish his personal claim to the act in lieu of the delegate. When we say that our government is obligated in some way to perform a duty, the only way we can rightfully reclaim that obligation is by unauthorizing the government's claim. The people and the government cannot both act in the same capacity at the same time. That is the social contract which is fundamental to the existence of government.

The social contract works because not all of our rights are inalienable.  An inalienable right is one that a person cannot physically give up to some other entity. For example, how can one transfer one's life to another? According to John Locke's philosophy, property is created by the act of labor and therefore can't be changed into the property of another since labor is a defining attribute of property (e.g. it is still "Rembrandt's painting" or "Stradivari's violin" in spite of who "possesses" the property). According to Adam Smith, one cannot consciously work toward a goal of unhappiness or against one's own interests. According Hobbes, one could not willingly submit to imprisonment or torture. All of these ideas influenced the founding fathers.

I consider the right to protection to be an inalienable right. However, this is not the same right as the right to bear arms, which would only provide a means of protection. There are other ways to secure protection besides bearing arms personally. If a person has a right to something, but not the means to secure the right, it is not necessarily the fault of the social contract or of some other externally imposed injustice.

We can authorize another to protect us, to feed us, to raise our children, to keep us healthy, to build us shelter, to make us clothes, and to fulfill many of our personal obligations. We may contract with another to perform many things that we would otherwise have the right (if not the power) to do for ourselves. Part of this important freedom of transferring the alienable rights to means forms the basis of associations and of community, and as I have mentioned already, of liberal government.

Bad Faith

In order to refute my argument, the rebuttal would need to address footnote #12 in which I claim that delegation itself implies that a right delegated is an atomic entity and that whenever the right is delegated and simultaneously retained, this can only be an act of "no confidence" against the delegate; a type of injustice or contradiction. A falsehood.

The no-confidence rule essentially states that, although I authorize you to act in my name, I know that you won't be able to fulfill the obligation under the contract and therefore I retain the right for myself also. This equates to delegation made in bad faith.

It is a fact that David's rebuttal is in complete agreement on this point since it specifically uses the language of bad faith:
...no one with any use of reason can argue that the police are meant to be everywhere at all times.
...they typically arrive after the fact.
...they are responding to crime, not preventing it.
..the police cannot always be there to provide it.
In other words, we have authorized an organization to act in our name that can't provide us with the protection we claim a right to. Hence, it comes as no surprise that police officers and military personnel might hold the opinion that civilians ought to protect themselves whenever possible. We claim the right to protection, but no longer have faith in the power to secure it when we delegate it to other people.

In such a state of bad faith, those who suspect that the delegation of powers will not fulfill the contractual obligation of protection might take up arms for their own protection. This would not be entirely unjust if the delegate were actually in breach of contract, although the proper course of action is to remedy the situation by first retracting or reducing the authorized powers through modification of the social contract. This is the rule of law.

A more likely scenario for the so-called "retention" of rights is that--realizing, a priori,  the weakness and limitations of those whom we authorize to act in our behalf--we only transfer a portion of the powers authorized by our right to the third party, retaining only reduced powers that become justly regulated.

In other words, there arise ways in which we may not bear arms and we must also procure special government permission in order to conceal and carry them. With regards to our rights, we become casuists, subdividing rights and applying them to specific cases. When this happens, it is not an infringement of the rights when we must refrain from acting as police or soldiers, but rather a voluntary abdication of rights under the social contract. This is the regulation of rights.

In a separate vein of thought, it matters less to the subject that they have a right to something if they do not have the effective power to satisfy the right. Also, if the power of a right can only be achieved through a delegation of that right to a corporate entity, then it is still nonsense to say that the author retains the power that he otherwise would not have in the first place. Here I am making a distinction between rights and powers.

The material point of all this is that the individual and the government may not justly act simultaneously in the same capacity. Therefore, rights must be delegated and not retained under the rule of law. Rights also become subject to regulation when sub-divided and delegated. This is not contrary to the American theory, but essential to it.

Sound Logic

The first argument in the rebuttal states that my logical analysis is deficient. In fact, if we look closely at the argument, we see that the rebuttal actually agrees with what I originally claimed, therefore it cannot succeed to show deficiency. By my argument I do not deny that there can be other reasons for the right to bear arms and in fact I made this very point:
The power to bear arms may still not be infringed even if the antecedent is false...
I am quite aware of the logical outcomes of an implication, which is the form that I presumed that the second amendment naturally takes. If the second amendment really is a simple implication, then we must suppose that there could possibly be any number of other reasons for the right to bear arms.

What I did claim is that an implication, where the antecedent is shown to be false, is unsound by reason of modus ponens. In other words, I am saying exactly what the rebuttal claims I am not: that the right, if it remains, remains only because of some other unexplained reason and not by virtue of the nature of the right as explained by the founding fathers. Therefore, the second amendment is unsound not by opinion but by the laws of logic--a fact sufficient to demonstrate that this right to bear arms itself is susceptible to social contract because the natural reason (protection from tyranny) is superseded by some other arrangement that precludes us from enjoying the right according to the original intent. The rebuttal did not address modus ponens.

My logical analysis may be deficient in another way. It has been pointed out to me that the second amendment is most likely a definition and not an implication. I am persuaded by this assertion because legal documents do not typically deal in implications, only in the definite. Therefore, the fact that the founding fathers chose to qualify the conditions of the right to bear arms requires us to presume that the right (which is a natural right that requires a reason) remains intact if and only if the antecedent remains true.

If the second amendment is a definition, then it is a biconditional proposition and it is absolutely true beyond question that there exist no other reasons to suppose we have a right to keep and bear arms other than to secure the State against the tyranny of federalism. If we aren't maintaining our arms to that end, then we hold them against our own right or only under regulation. This result is guaranteed by the laws of logic in spite of whatever personal feelings we may hold. It is very significant that the founding fathers qualified the right to bear arms by bringing into view the natural basis for the right itself.

This biconditional interpretation is very plausible. The Bill of Rights is clear in stating that there are other rights not enumerated. It states no such thing about reasons.

Some Rights Are Obligations

The notion that all of our unclaimed rights are inalienable is incorrect. The Bill of Rights does not require us to take up our rights, nor does it prohibit us from assigning them to another entity under the social contract. The logical analysis of the second amendment is a clear proof of this: We are not required to retain the right to bear arms because we are not maintaining well-regulated militias in order to protect State interests from federal power. Instead, we continue to grant federal power for a professional specialized military force against which the State cannot be secured by militia. The right to bear arms is clearly abdicated for this reason. What we retain is a regulated privilege to bear arms.

Some rights, such as the right to bear arms in order to preserve the security of the State, demand individual and community attention.  The militia was once understood to be a civic duty, or an obligation.

Freedom is sometimes found in the transfer of obligations. If, rather than a personal obligation for the security of the State, or for the education of children, or the maintenance of health, or the production of goods etc., we elect to pay (probably a tax or a wage) for someone else to do the job for us, then we can be theoretically "freed" from the obligation. One meaning of freedom is not having obligations to distract us from the other pursuits we feel are necessary to our happiness.

How curious is it that we often give up rights in order to become free and that freedom has come to signify dependence on others rather than independence? I alluded to this more than once in my original argument.

Ever since the mid-nineteenth century in America, the pursuit of happiness apparently coincides with the pursuit of financial gain, of power and influence, and of material goods. In order to get gain and have "the greatest good", we must not hold too many personal obligations that would disturb us from the singular pursuit of more than we need. This is a monumental tragedy indeed, but I maintain that my original argument is basically sound and that the basis of this tragedy is not to be found in the unjust infringement of rights by a corrupted government, but in the freedom held by a corrupted and forgetful people. Liberal democracy ensures, as George Bernard Shaw once observed, that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.



1. It has been suggested that the central principle of liberal self-government--the social contract--is incompatible with Catholic social teaching (see, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_contract#Criticisms_of_natural_rights ). The social contract presumes a somewhat different genesis of rights than does Christian and specifically Catholic teaching. Because of this, social contract theory would allow a people to pursue interests that are contrary to Christian principles, which I believe is adequately demonstrated in the state of American democracy today. I know that David Cooney is quite sympathetic to the ideals of Catholic social teaching, as am I. While I admit that social contract facilitates the pursuit of greed and excess, I also believe that it can be equally useful toward the ends of Christian democracy. I believe that we have used the social contract to drift ever further from the original intent of the founding fathers. This perspective may help to clarify my purpose in writing the original essay on "Rights Abdicated".

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Aphorism #3

Nuclear weapons are like lies. It is risky to continue maintaining them but disastrous to stop. Not only does the committed liar live in a perpetual state of anxiety, but he is often indignant when dishonesty is revealed in others.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rebuttal to "Rights Abdicated", by David W. Cooney

If any of these conjunctive predicates is false, then the antecedent is necessarily false also; if the antecedent is false, then the argument—though still valid—is no longer a sound argument. The power to bear arms may still not be infringed even if the antecedent is false, however, it will no longer be the case that this is due to the nature of the right to bear arms.
The problem with this argument is that, while you admit that there are rights not enumerated in the Constitution, you seem to deny that there can be any reasons for the specific right of the Second Amendment other than the one that is listed. This is false. Simply stating one particular reason does not mean that there are no others that could be used to maintain the right. Therefore, even if all of the given conjunctive predicates are false, you cannot reach the conclusion you have attempted.

Your argument fails to take the full context of the wording, as it was understood by its authors, into consideration. The specific mention of “a free State” was included to address the claims of the Anti-Federalists that the new Constitution would allow the federal government of the Republic to become a tyrannical authority over the otherwise sovereign governments of the States in the federation. Therefore, the federal government was, and still is, prohibited from establishing a standing army. I realize that this notion is pretty much a joke these days, but it was a very serious issue when these words were written.
According to the political philosophy that I briefly explained at the beginning of this essay, in such a condition as this, it is not a matter of opinion that the right of the people is voluntarily given to the government and no longer retained. In the specific case where a well-regulated militia is superseded be the delegation of coercive power to a professional organization, if the people still enjoy a right to bear arms, it is only in the form of a privilege.

For reasons that Thomas Hobbes explained, it is not possible to posit the simultaneous delegation and retention of rights without doing mortal harm to the very idea of government.
This is where Hobbes' argument fails utterly. In Hobbes' warped view that liberty consists of freedom from bondage, the argument seems to imply that granting the government a standing army means that individual liberty is guaranteed. History shows this to be absolutely false. Granting a government the right to have a standing army does not mean that the government has been granted the sole right to redress all injustices for which necessitate the use of arms. Otherwise, the establishment of a federal army would also eliminate the right for a local police force. After all, if granting the federal government an army in our name removes from us the right to take up our own arms, then it must follow that it removes the right of the local municipality to take up arms as well.

Yet, this is plainly not the case. By granting the federal government a permanent army (which we have not yet done in this country, even if that is the practical reality), we have only granted the government the authority to use the army according to the proper function of the government, namely defense of the country. Since there are many realities of life that may require the use of arms but don't constitute an armed threat to the country as a whole, the right of the individual to keep and bear arms is logically retained.

Indeed, it cannot even be used as an argument against the continued right for each State to maintain its own militia. The purpose of the Second Amendment was to protect each State from the potential tyranny of the federal government. Therefore, each State, in order to remain free, retains the right to maintain its own militia for that purpose. This is clear from the debates that took place at the Constitutional Convention as well as in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers.

However, even the permanent establishment of State militias would not imply the abdication of the individual right to arms for the same reason that the establishment of the federal army doesn't. The purpose of the militia is only to defend the State which brings us to the establishment of police forces. What is their purpose? To enforce the law and capture criminals. However, no one with any use of reason can argue that the police are meant to be everywhere at all times. The reality is, as most police will readily admit, is that they typically arrive after the fact. Most of the time, they are responding to crime, not preventing it. Most police officers in the United States are ardent supporters of the individual right to keep and bear arms.

The woman who, after working late, has to cross a dark parking lot to her car still has the right to protection, and the police cannot always be there to provide it. Therefore, she logically has the right to arm herself against the very real threat of attack; likewise the shopkeeper who is confronted by robbers; the person sitting at home when strangers break in; and the law-abiding woman in the diner who was forced to watch while her parents and several others were shot in front of her while her gun was locked in the trunk of her car.

Additionally, it is not only the state that has the right to protect itself from the potential of tyranny by the federal government. The individual also has this right in regard to both the federal and the state governments.

In conclusion, the statement of a specific purpose for protecting a particular right does not mean that there can be no other purposes for that right, nor does it mean that the right is dependent on those purposes rather than an imperative right held by individuals according to the Natural Law. The granting of any right to a government does not constitute the abdication, even voluntarily, of that right for the individual, for the individual must naturally retain the right to protect himself against the government's abuse of that granted right.

Aphorism #2

A people whose understanding is shaped by feelings rather than by definitions is a people that exists beyond the possibility of persuasion by argument or reason. Such people must be manipulated or coerced.