Skip to comments.The Conservative Mainstream: The Right and Duty of Self-Defense (Frank S. Meyer Flashback)
Posted on 10/29/2002 1:21:13 PM PST by Pyro7480
The Right and Duty of Self-Defense
(National Review, May 17, 1966)
(Words in italics are the authors original empathesis, boldface and underlining my empathesis.)
The present state of affairs in our great cities raises one of the most fundamental problems in political philosophy in the most immediately practical way: the right of self-defense when civil society fails to protect the individual. The most divergent moral and political theories of the West agree that all men possess the inherent right of self-defense when their lives, their persons or their property are forcefully or violently attacked. Under normal conditions of civil peace, that right is, as it were, yielded to the juridcial and police organs of the state in order that men may be protected without the constant need of each individual's maintaining his own continual self-protection. But when civil order breaks down, it is all but universally agreed that the right of self-defense reverts to the individual.
I would not, of course, maintain that civil order has completely disappeared in our major cities, but any honest appraisal of the situation as it actually is can only lead to the conclusion that it has partially done so. We are not in what theorists call "a state of nature," in which no law or order exists, but we are, although in civil society, in a situation where too often civil society cannot protect us. Although there exists, in John Locke's phrase, "a common superior," civil authority, to which we can theoretically appeal for defense against the attacker, more and more frequently men and women find themselves in circumstances where their lives and their persons are in danger, with that authority effectively unavailable. It is this condition Locke describes:
"But force, or a declared design of force upon the Person of another, where there is no common Superior on Earth to appeal to for relief, is the State of War: And 'tis the want of such an appeal gives a Man the Right of War even against an agressor, though he be in Society and a fellow Subject."(The Second Treatise of Government, Sec. 19.)
Daily we see crimes of violence mount. Every year mob actions, whether inspired by ideology or by the senseless savagery of amoral teenagers, become more common. Yet at this very time our lemming-like leaders proceed to raise a clamor against the means by which individuals can protect themselves. The right of citizens to bear arms, as old as the Republic and older, come under attack, as the agitation for fire-arms control bill gains momentum. When a girl defends herself with a knife against rape and murder, the District Attorney's office seriously considers indicting her. When the Maccabees in New York City organize patrols to defend their women and children, they are castigated as vigilantes.
The Liberal theory is that criminal violence is the product of "underpriviledged" environments, and that the only thing do about it is to improve the environment.The Liberal theory is wrong, but even if it were right, it would take a very long time - granted the Utopian dream that it could ever be done - to transform the situation. Meanwhile, the citizens of our great cities continue to face violence and terror in their daily lives.
Nor is the usual conservative resonse adequate. Conservatives say - and unlike the Liberals, they are fundamentally right - that the underlying cause of criminal violence is the breakdown of moral standards. There is no question but that a permanent solution of the crisis of crime and violence will be found only in revitalization of the Western ethos, but there is no solution to the immediate problem. A renascence of the West is not something that can be achieved without long and desperate struggle. Some consevatives who recognize this would attempt to restore order by increasing the numbers and power of the police, and there is much to be said for such a course, provided the safeguards of the individual against irresponsible government action are maintained. Nevertheless that alone will not be enough.
When the standards of morality are broken down, when individual criminals are coddled by the courts, when mass violence is condoned, indeed praised as a civic duty, at the heights of American society, a spirit of disorder is let loose that police measures alone can never control. Order is maintained in a society primarily by the moral outlook of the citizens; the function of the police under such circumstances is to handle the criminal exception to that outlook. When, however, criminality is no longer an exception but becomes endemic in whole groups of the population, it is then more than the police alone can handle.
Self-defense today has become not only a right but a duty. I can hear alarmed cries of "vigilanteism," but the measures that need to be taken can be taken in full cooperation with official law-enforcement agencies. It is time and more than time - whether through the hiring of private policemen or the volunteering of individual citizens - our streets, our parks, our apartment houses, our schools should be guarded by widespread private patrols. Rather than talk of government control of firearms, private citizens should be encouraged to arm themselves. Laws like the Sullivan Law in New York State should be repealed. They hamper the criminal very little, but throw masses of bureaucratic red tape in the path of citizens who want to protect themeselves, their families and their homes.
It is sad indeed that our country has fallen on such evil days. But fortunately the remedy exists - enunciated by the philosophers of the West, guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States - the inherent right of self-defense.
I found this gem of an editorial in The Conservative Mainstream, which is a collection of essays and articles that Frank S. Meyer wrote. Unfortunately, this book is out of print, but I was fortunate enough to find a used copy online.
Since FReeper William McKinley is posting excerpts from the classic conservative title by a founding father of the modern American conservative movement, Russell Kirk called The Conservative Mind, I thought it would be a good idea to posts articles by Meyer, who was another founding father.
Meyer was a senior editor at the National Review from its founding until his death in 1972. He was a proponent of what was called "fusionism," which tried to reconcile the traditionalist and libertarian strains of thought in conservatism. Meyer leaned more towards the libertarin aide, but was critical of people who went to the extreme to either side of the debate. The reconcilation/consensus Meyer proposed was picked up by the conservative movement, and presidential candidates like Goldwater and Reagan ran on platforms that appealed to both strains of thought.
Both Kirk and Meyer's memory has waned overy the intervening years. But the contribution that both of these men made to our movement is huge. I think it is valuable for all conservatives to read the major works of these authors, so we can see properly see them as part of the great tradition we have inherited.
I thought it would be a good idea to posts articles by MeyerPlease do. I think it is time for conservatives to reacquaint themselves with some of the best writers and minds of our recent past; as you have shown with this post, the past is still relevant.
WILL IT STILL BE HER SENATE?
Seriously, however, Meyer there and Kirk also, both speak against the excesses of the two threads of American Conservatism (White Nile-Blue Nile, Traditionalism/Libertarianism) when they run into Ideology. The Ideology they refer to is the sort where it is postualated that one particular brand of one particular vision has a simple hidden, saving, truth or magic formula and has always reminded me of the arguements of a cult preacher in its simplicity.
Kirk put it well:
Rejecting religion and metaphysics,...original ideologues believed that they could discover a system of natural laws--which system, if conformed to , could become the foundation of universal harmony and contentment. Doctrines of self-interest, economic productivity, and personal liberty were bound up with these notions. Late-born children ot the dying Enlightenment, the Ideologues assume that systemized knowledge derived from sensation could perfect society through ethical and educational methods and by well organized political direction.And of course Meyer and Hayek will have none of this Utilitarian Ideology clap-trap.
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Although it has been the most powerful of ideologies, Marxism--very recently diminshed in strength--has competitors: various forms of nationalism, negritude, feminism, fascism (a quasi-ideology never fully fleshed out in Italy), naziism (an ideology in embryo, Hannah Arendt wrote), syndicalism, anarchism, social democaracy, and Lord knows what all, Doubtless yet more forms of ideology will be concocted during the twenty-first century.
Kenneth Minogue, in his recent book Alien Powers: the Pure Theory of Ideology, uses the word "to denote any doctrine which presents the hidden and saving truth about the world in the form of social analysis. It is a feature of all such doctrines to incorporate a general theory of the mistakes of everybody else." That "hidden and saving truth" is a fraud--a complex of contrived falsifying "myths", disguised as history, about the society we have inherited.
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Self-defense is not a "right" but a duty in Judaism.