The trouble with pragmatism as a method of politics is that solving real problems is difficult and produces many failures along the way. In contrast, campaigning for a law has a pleasing simplicity, even if it might be as useful as a ban on cancer. Pragmatism requires an experimentalist see-what-works attitude rather than merely applying your theory of society to every problem and giving the same answer to every question.
The law and order approach that began in the s and is now finally being rolled back was predicated on such a theory, a foolish one that divided the world into bad guys and good guys and assumed bad guys could only be controlled by deterrence. It abjectly failed to address the circumstances of violence and the right of citizens to be free of it. A pragmatic politics would have demanded more evidence that it was working before expanding such draconian powers of the state against its people, and would have looked continuously at how individual policies, from the overarching war on drugs to minimum sentencing and racial profiling, might be reformed and improved.
Moreover, while a pragmatic politics respects what works, and thus the known quantity of inherited institutions, it has no particular respect for tradition in itself. Even institutions and laws that successfully solved or prevented problems in the past - such as the second amendment defence against tyranny and the return of the English - may end up causing new problems if they do not evolve to fit changing conditions and needs. The unpopularity of such pragmatism on the right seems to relate mainly to disagreement about what counts as a problem in the first place; for example, is the gender pay gap really something that society needs to solve?
But that is a normal political disagreement between those more or less satisfied with the status quo, not a disagreement about how politics itself should go. However, this is not the end of the argument. For it seems to me that despite Locke's central place in the theory of America, his ideas have not actually done much service. Critics of progressive liberalism complain that a government dedicated to solving social problems will often trample over the rights of individuals that stand in the way of increasing aggregate welfare.
We need individual rights to prevent such excesses, and therefore we need Lockean constraints and a muscular citizenry that will insist on them. One thing to point out is that however inspirational Locke may have been for its founding fathers, the actual history of American government doesn't seem to hew very closely to Lockean values and constraints. The American social contract was apparently compatible with the genocides of Native Americans, economic dependence on racial slavery, the suppression of women, mass conscription in wars of choice, moralistic laws against contraception and homosexuality, and so on.
But more importantly, a muscular citizenry has become a goal in its own right rather than merely a means to restrain government. And that is a mistake incompatible with a civilised society. Where every citizen must retain responsibility for upholding the law and judging the use of deadly force, every individual must be a hero or else a victim or else a villain in a pre-political Homeric world in which society is no more than a band of heroes. Hence the strange belief - which appears central to the gun rights movement; see for example the popularity of stand your ground laws - that the world is divided into good guys and bad guys, and the government has no right to interfere in what the good guys get up to.
This is neither attractive nor feasible nor Lockean. A society fit only for heroes is not a fit society to live in, but rather resembles a nostalgic fantasy of movies of the Wild West.
Still, a society of sheeple uninterested in anything but getting on with their own small lives is an appalling prospect. There should be heroes, citizens willing to stand up for more than themselves. Fortunately the choice is not binary. The second approach to debating gun control is to disentangle guns from the ideal of strong citizenship. Neither handguns nor even those military grade ARs are going to stop the US army from crushing you if that's what it has a mind to do. Unless your idea of strong citizenship is extorting concessions from the US government by threatening a terrorist campaign against your fellow Americans.
Gun rights may induce a feeling of political significance and that feeling may be of significant power. Yet, the first thing to note is that this feeling is founded on a delusion as great as that of the sports enthusiast who looks up from his bowl of Buffalo wings to shout instructions at the football players on the TV screen. And, second, gun rights, like Buffalo wings, introduce new health problems of their own into society. This is because, besides fostering political assertiveness in defence of classical liberal views of the state, extensive gun ownership also undermines the very society it is supposed to defend against tyrannical government.
Gun rights introduce a new fear and distance between fellow citizens, whether they choose to arm themselves or not. As the philosopher Firmin DeBrabander argues, an armed society is a polite society not because everyone in it recognises that others deserve respect, but only because everyone is afraid to say or do anything that might be considered threatening. Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear.
That is not freedom, but quite its opposite. Here is where the feeling of vulnerability to guns comes into political significance. Guns were supposed to protect society from threats, including from its own government. But instead they undermine its health from within, weakening civil society and leaving us unable to relate to each other except via the legalistic forms controlled by the state or else down the barrel of mutual suspicion, as in a spaghetti Western. The great irony of gun rights is that they actually make citizens more dependent on the state and less able to resist it because we lose the sense of solidarity that a civilian society so readily supports.
It directly addresses the very concern gun rights activists claim to be defending, the very benefit they claim makes guns worth having. But there is one more line of positive argument to make. For, fortunately, gun rights are not the only path to strong citizenship. The civil rights movement is probably the most impressive demonstration of the power that citizens can mobilise against tyrannical government, but there are plenty of other more recent models of strong citizenship, from the progressive liberalism of blacklivesmatter to the classical liberalism of Edward Snowden.
These movements succeed, when they do, by relying on the social relations that gun rights undermine. They do not shout up at the government demanding to get their way or else. Instead they bypass the government and address the people themselves. I share the intuition of many Americans that there is something very wrong with a society in which peace is supposed to be achieved by each individual's fear of every other's capability for deadly force. I understand their appal at the gun rights pundits lining up on mainstream media after every atrocity to sombrely declare that the only solution to bad guys with guns is for good guys with guns to step up and volunteer to guard schools.
This is not the kind of society I would want to live in either. But the problems with this society are not the actuarial risks it imposes on individuals, nor even the defiant take it or leave it attitude towards government associated with the second amendment. Rather it is the relations between citizens that suffer most in an armed society.
This is a harm that at least a large proportion of believers in gun rights could be persuaded to take seriously, since it undermines the very integrity and resilience of society, and thus its independence of government, that is central to their political philosophy. The challenge for gun control advocates is to discipline and focus their moral indignation. They cannot win a philosophical argument about what kind of politics to have by appealing to the objectivity of death statistics.
Significance is a value judgement not a mathematical operation. One cannot prove that America has a disproportionate number of gun deaths without engaging with the positive value attributed to gun ownership, just as one cannot use the number of traffic deaths to straightforwardly prove that cars should be banned. To win the politics they must win over the people who buy guns and vote for them, or at least weaken their vehemence. That means leaving aside the question of whether or not guns kill 'too many' people and engaging instead with the values debate: explaining what an unarmed America would look like and why it is better.
Baum, Dan. Gun Guys: A Road Trip. New York: Vintage, Collins, Randall. DeBrabander, Firmin. Do Guns Make Us Free? Opinion: The Stone. Hemenway, David. Pan, Deanna. Accessed August 3, Wilkinson, Richard G. Allen Lane, Activism and Outreach. Equality and Justice. As the review coordinator, you may edit these fields as necessary, and then hit "Preview Email" to see how it looks all together. After previewing, you can then send the invite. Burger journal current people.
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Select reason s for rejection. Submission does not significantly contribute to existing scholarship. Submission does not adequately address an issue of public concern. Submission is otherwise inappropriate. Change Status. Result Sounds Good! Thomas Wells. Abstract This essay argues that only one side of the gun control debate recognises it as a fundamentally philosophical dispute.
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Let's go into this a little more. II My argument so far may seem like politics as usual: just another attempt to knock holes in the public health case for gun control. Dan Baum again: Going armed has connected me with an entire range of values I didn't use to think much about—self-reliance, vigilance, muscular citizenship—and some impulses I'd rather avoid, like social pessimism and irrational fear.
I see two complementary paths for achieving this. IV The first is for gun control advocates to engage directly with the political philosophy debate, which they haven't really done up to now. References Baum, Dan. Recall: the political insider Jeb Bush spent twice as much as the NRA in and achieved nothing but humiliation. Fortunately, that, unlike the NRA, is a problem you can fix.
CDC, Black men are more than 15 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than white men CDC figures. Many of the laws mooted by gun control advocates seem totemic rather than effective. For example, in chapter 3 of his book, Dan Baum discusses how the Assault Weapons Ban was perceived by gun owners as insulting their intelligence and moral character— thus entrenching political opposition to gun control — while being too badly designed to reduce the number of such weapons. Tags politicalphilosophy politics guncontrol guns.
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Is an armed society a safe society?
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