The Second Amendment in the Light of American Republicanism

By Stromberg, Joseph R. | Freeman, June 1999 | Go to article overview

The Second Amendment in the Light of American Republicanism


Stromberg, Joseph R., Freeman


The "transforming" ideology of America's revolutionary period saw the chief conflict in society as one between liberty and power. That ideology synthesized themes from several sources.1 Given the differing origins and jumping-off points of classical liberalism and classical republicanism (the two most important elements), the American "synthesis" might be expected to undergo some unraveling when up against the harder problems of political life. What is striking, however, is the surprising tenacity and coherence of American republicanism over the long haul, the persistence of its language, and the continuing relevance of its key ideas down to the present.

One of these key ideas is the notion of the individual properietor on his own land, capable of bearing arms in defense of himself, his property, his family, and the republic. In his role as defender of his free society, the armed citizen served with his fellows in the militia, which republican thinkers regarded as the military system most compatible with republican liberty and whose existence helped offset the menace of "standing armies" drawn from outside the community ("crimped scum") loyal only to their immediate superiors (men of "ambition" or a "court party"). The armed proprietor was the idealized republican citizen, and the Second Amendment enshrines his role in the ideological and political systems.

Some latter-day writers on republicanism have a way of overestimating the tensions within the American synthesis. But some of the alleged incompatibilities-"agrarianism" versus "commercialism," "virtue" versus "luxury"-were either handled well enough by Americans, or exist mainly in the eye of the beholder. Wendy Kaminer, for example, writes that "[alt the heart of the gun-control debate is a fundamental tension between republicanism and individualism" (that is, liberalism).2 A look at the Second Amendment is an opportunity to learn more about American republican ideology and to gain a better understanding of the Amendment itself.

Kaminer writes of "the challenge posed by republicanism to the individualist culture that many gun owners inhabit."3 But when have Americans not inhabited an individualist culture? And when did American "individualists" not live in communities? (Re-read Tocqueville.)

The problem as set up by Kaminer rests on the old caricature of "atomistic liberalism." It does not follow that because John Locke started with individuals and their rights, that he or any other liberal writer overlooked the existence of families, churches, and other social institutions. It has never been strictly a matter of "the individual versus society"; rather it has been about what kind of society we live in, or wish to live in, and whether or not a free society is desirable and possible. If there are "atomistic" versions of liberalism, the French can answer for them, since the English, Scottish, and American writers did not create them. The rootless, abstract individual, who can only be made "whole" again by participating in an authoritarian-to-totalitarian form of republic, is central to Rousseau's systemnot Locke's.4

The Second Amendment in a Distinctively American Republicanism

Anti-Second Amendment writers have great sport trying to separate the individual's right to bear arms from the same individual's role in the militia. On their reading of republicanism, the community stands opposed, somehow, to those who make it up, and the people have "the right to keep and bear arms" only in relation to their duties in the militia. We are asked to take seriously the view that these individuals only keep and bear arms at the command of the state, and really ought to store them all in a central warehouse, whence they will be issued when the state organs (of "national security"?) decide there is an emergency. The state militias, it is likewise asserted, mean nothing today, having been consumed by the National Guard, with its sort of Third World name. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Second Amendment in the Light of American Republicanism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.