Ken Masugi argues that conservatives and libertarians must be “radical to grasp the truth.” He certainly is radical in casting Robert Nisbet and, with him, it would seem, other Burkeans who see little platoons rather than isolated individuals as the building blocks of society outside “the foundation of American politics,” which Ken identifies with the Declaration of Independence.
This July 4, like countless prior, will witness paeans to the Declaration of Independence, celebration of its unalienable rights, laments of their demise amid spreading statism and the shrinking space left for the individual in American civic life—all of which might be compelling if the Declaration said any such thing. A more suitable tribute on the document’s 237th birthday would be to recover its actual meaning and proper context. (That context, I should indicate before proceeding further, I learned from George W. Carey, to whom the bulk of the ensuing insights—like most of those I claim for myself—are hereby attributed.)
The typical understanding of the Declaration’s unalienable rights is that they are the immutable and unregulable property of the individual, who is thereby rendered immune from the jurisdiction of the community with respect to his or her life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. But a moment’s inspection renders this individualist understanding absurd.
In a January 17 speech to students at Texas A&M University, Danny Glover, the actor from Lethal Weapon etc., attempted to disparage the constitutional right to arms with the critique that “The Second Amendment comes from the right to protect themselves from slave revolts, and from uprisings by Native Americans.”
This is abundantly wrong and I hope the students will not consider Mr. Glover a definitive source on the question. But I will give him credit for the try. He attempted to engage the issue by at least skimming one piece of the voluminous scholarship in this area.
His comment seems based on a cursory reading of a 1998 law review article by Professor Carl Bogus. First, it warms the academic’s heart that a Hollywood actor would sit down and read a law review article, although I acknowledge the possibility that someone just told him about it.
Either way, his education is incomplete (as is true for all of us). Mr. Glover’s mistake is to have taken one dubious thing and run with it. That is almost always a mistake and especially so in the gun debate. But Danny Glover’s mistake is also a teaching tool that illuminates the broader conversation.
As Mitt Romney continued his hapless class warfare rhetoric, the federal judiciary followed suit. In the most extreme post-Brown federal court opinion on equal protection ever issued, the Sixth Circuit held, in an en banc opinion, that certain unspecified minorities have privileged status in the American constitutional order. This promotion of classes over individual rights of course overthrows the American founding’s basic principle of equality of individual rights and the separation of powers that follows from it.
At issue was Proposal 2, whose victory in 2006 via popular vote of 58-42% amended the Michigan Constitution to reject race, ethnic, and sex preferences in public institutions, including universities.