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Guns, Anarchy, and Leviathan

The University of Wisconsin political scientist Andrew Kydd offers an interesting critique [1] of the spread of concealed carry and stand your ground statutes. Departing from a Weberian definition of the state as a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, Kydd suggests that “[t]he United States is now embarked on an unprecedented experiment, in that it is a strong state, fully capable of suppressing private violence, but it is increasingly choosing not to.” Kydd attributes loosening restrictions on the possession and use of guns to a libertarian fantasy that “the absence of the state will lead to a paradise for individuals.” But he follows Hobbes in predicting grimmer consequences: the replacement of violence under law by anarchic clashes between mercenaries, clans, and vigilantes.

I share Kydd’s concern about the decriminalization of gun violence, which looks to me like a risky solution to an exaggerated problem (violent crime has been falling for years). But his thinking about the relation between violence and the state is too Hobbesian to be convincing. For Hobbes, the “state of war” and the juridical state were mutually exclusive; violence was subject either to monopoly control or anarchic diffusion. For Kydd, similarly, the choice is between, say, the modern UK, in which firearms are very tightly regulated, and Afghanistan, where the strong do what they can, and the weak do what they must.

In the history of political thought, however, this is a false alternative. Following Hobbes, Kydd ignores the (small “r”) republican model of organized violence, in which the law is executed by an armed citizen body. The classical republic is not a state in the Weberian sense because it lacks a standing army or regular police force. On the other hand, it is not simply anarchic: citizens who possess the means of coercion cooperate on a relatively informal basis to enforce laws whose authority they all recognize.

The republic, in this sense, has always been more ideal than reality. But it is an ideal that has played an important role in the development of American political culture, particularly in connection with guns. For the republican tradition, particularly as transmitted by the Country party in British politics, a well-armed, self-organized citizenry poses less of a threat to safety and liberty than a strong state. That is the reasoning behind the 2nd Amendment.

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There are serious and perhaps insurmountable obstacles to the revival of this tradition today. Apart from technological changes since the 18th century, the republican theory of violence presumes a relatively small, mostly agrarian society with a strong conception of public virtue. The contemporary United States, by contrast, is more like a multinational empire: a political form that has historically required much more coercive practices of government. Even so, the republican tradition reminds us that Leviathan is not the only possible source of order. We can acknowledge its necessity without regretting its evil.

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#1 Comment By CharleyCarp On July 19, 2013 @ 11:05 am

If Trayvon Martin had been carrying a gun, he might well be alive today. I don’t know why so many Americans seem to want to live in that world, but they clearly do.

#2 Comment By TomB On July 19, 2013 @ 11:50 am

Seemingly following in proud tradition of childish, captious New Leftism, what Kydd essentially says is that a state’s allowance of any private violence whatsoever even in self-defense disqualifies that state from the Weberian definition. But of course there’s probably never been any state anywhere that’s ever done that.

Together with the Left’s opposition to concealed carry though, and its opposition to the stand your ground laws, and now to top it all off the idea that the Martin youth ought to have been able to bludgeon Zimmerman without being shot, what all this reveals is indeed nothing less than a thinly veiled assault on the idea of self-defense. Especially as it concerns self-defense from black street thugs such as Martin proved himself to be.

Typical: Back in the Sixties when government was in the hands of people it didn’t like, of *course* they romanticized and defended folks like the Black Panthers.

Today, when the government is ever more in *its* hands, oh of *course* the government should have an absolutely total monopoly on the use of force.*

(*Or at least the use of force by whites: Mr. Holder has just made it plain that he isn’t bothered at all by the still-extant Panthers putting out a call for the killing of Zimmerman. Not just by ignoring that call, but refusing to give Zimmerman back his gun.)

#3 Comment By Joseph Dooley On July 19, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

Good post, but I don’t quite know what to make of that last sentence. Does the author mean to say “we can acknowledge [Leviathan’s] necessity and still regret its evil”?

#4 Comment By Biff On July 19, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

If Treyvon had a gun and used it, he would be in jail. And about the point of the “black street thugs”, I suggest you spend some time in some rural, southern trailer parks. Thuggery is not limited to certain racial groups. From the defence’s evidence, it looks to to me like Treyvon was doing a pretty good job of “standing his ground”.

We need to take a close look at “Stand Your Ground” laws. If they are truly intended to enshrine the citizenry’s right to self defence, we need to make sure they do JUST that. A law that’s supposed to ensure the assailed can fight back against the assailant should also contain a criteria for whom is in which position. If we allow the law to open the door to “he started it” arguments, then the law will never be free of bias, and will certainly make the task of figuring out who really started it impossible. One side of the story will always be taken to the grave.

#5 Comment By Seth Owen On July 19, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

now to top it all off the idea that the Martin youth ought to have been able to bludgeon Zimmerman without being shot, walk home with a bag of Skittles and a drink unmolested.

Fixed it for you.

It’s amazing how so much so-called conservative commentary on this whole Zimmerman matter prefers to concentrate on the very last moments of this tragic interaction without any deep thought about how it came to that, apparently.

“And armed society is a polite society,” they claim. But as Trayvon was 17 he had no opportunity to be “polite” by being armed, did he. So I suppose 17 year olds just have to walk around in terror now instead.

#6 Comment By Mr. Patrick On July 19, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

There is no organization, self-or-otherwise, concomitant to the liberalization of gun laws. Unless you count Mr. Zimmerman’s captaincy in the Neighborhood Watch. It is, as Kydd says, experimental. A complete innovation.

#7 Comment By Biff On July 19, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

Here here, Seth.

#8 Comment By SDS On July 19, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

If Trayvon had either kept walkng or waited for the police; or one of many other things except attack the guy*; only to find out he had a gun….

*If we are to accept the evidence given, that is…..

Whether Zimmerman was an acknowledged neighborhood watch or not….at the moment he was assaulted, he was acting legally.

#9 Comment By balconesfault On July 19, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

Biff said what I was thinking. Treyvon, being accosted in a dark street in a neighborhood he was unfamiliar with by an armed and belligerent Zimmerman, would be in prison right now for having shot and killed Zimmerman. Depending on the jurisdiction, he might have even been lucky to make it alive through the night.

What Zimmerman did was as dangerously wrong as had he been driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

I still do not believe that the case was about racism in the legal sense.

But in the court of public opinion … had Treyvon been a white teen who wrestled down an armed, adult black assailant who really didn’t like “his kind” in their neighborhood, been bashing the assailant’s head against the concrete, and been shot for it – he would have been a martyr in the minds of Pat Buchanan, et al.

#10 Comment By Andy On July 19, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

One thing is certain: either Zimmerman murdered Martin, or the fact that the law permits citizens to carry concealed handguns murdered him. First it must be acknolwedged that nothing Martin did or was alleged to have done (assault) is punishable by, or should be punishable by, the death penalty. So we must acknowledge that Martin was unjustly killed.

If Zimmerman didn’t legitimately fear for his life, then he murdered Martin in cold blood. Some people believe this is what happened. Many others, including the jury, believe that Zimmerman did legitimatley fear for his life.

If Zimmerman was acting in self defense, then we must blame his right to carry a weapon as the factor which turned an assault case into a murder case.

There are three posibilities in this scenario: (1) Zimmerman didn’t believe Martin posed a threat; (2) Zimmerman believe Martin posed a threat but that Zimmerman could win a hand to hand fight with Martin; (3) Zimmerman believed Martin could beat his ass, but was emboldened by his possession of a gun.

(1) is clearly false since it is not compatible with any of Zimmerman’s behavior in regard to Martin. That leaves (2) and (3). If (2) true then Zimmerman is clearly delusional, and probably shouldn’t have access to firearms. Even so, (2) is the best option for gun nuts, since it implies that current gun law simply converted an assault into a murder. Possiblity (3) is worse, because it implies that there may have been no confontration at all if Zimmerman wasn’t permitted to patrol the block packing heat.

In any case, one must truly be thinking with his (let’s be honest, it’s almost all dudes) gun boner rather than his brain in order to warp this event into something that *justifies* concealed handguns and stand your ground laws.

#11 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 19, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

Citizens can kill each other with their pea shooters, but nothing they have matches the firepower that can and is brought to bear upon them by government. There is no “Stand Your Ground” defense when it comes to government violence.

This mirrors the change away from governance being accountable to the people; the government/corporate nexus doesn’t much care how much we do violence to each other; if anything, the escalation of our violence serves the purpose of justifying an ever more powerful government armed against its own people in a national security state.

Americans have come to believe so, but violence is not redemptive. Those who choose to live by it, who do not die by it, will be ruled by it.

#12 Comment By Bob Jones On July 19, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

@Charley,

If Zimmerman hadn’t been carrying, Martin would likely be alive today, as I surmise Zimmerman wouldn’t have had the courage to get out of the car and pursue him, if he had been unarmed.

#13 Comment By Bob Jones On July 19, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

Mr. Goldman,

It is much more than just the technological advances of the 19th and 20th centuries that make a restoration of the original idea behind the 2nd amendment possible. It is the Imperial Military state that the United States has become that make it impossible. The same Imperial Military state that makes the broad scale dependency of American society on government endemic. How can you roll back the clock and once again make state militias relevant in a society that has surrendered its liberty to satisfy the needs of the Imperial Military state to the tune of $1+ trillion annually (DoD, DHS, and the myriad CIAs, NSAs, etc.)

Even the folks like TomB seem to think only of self-defense, i.e. the right to kill other citizens, as the only purpose of the 2nd amendment, when in fact, in the absence of an Imperial Military in 18th (and 19th century America) and a large and intrusive centralized government necessitated the militia, which is openly referenced as a key component of bearing arms.

The 2nd amendment defined the actual situation on the ground in late 18th century America. No central government, no standing army, rather the need for the armed citizenry of a given community or county to take responsibility for governing the community, ensuring rule of law, and the defense of the community, the state, and the nation. Thus, we have traded the natural responsibilities of citizenship for the comfort of dependency on Leviathan, and the feel good empowerment of carrying a gun, which serves no other purpose than to remind those that do of their manhood, or their self-worth, without actually necessitating they step up and take responsibility for their community.

#14 Comment By Matt On July 19, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

So I suppose 17 year olds just have to walk around in terror now instead.

Terror of what? Being followed or watched? Obviously a brutal beating is the only proper or understandable response to such intolerable provocations, or so the lefties would have it. Or maybe that’s the case only with black people.

#15 Comment By C. Van Carter On July 19, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

I doubt the future is going to be as fun as this guy envisions.

#16 Comment By Wes On July 19, 2013 @ 6:47 pm

“I share Kydd’s concern about the decriminalization of gun violence, which looks to me like a risky solution to an exaggerated problem (violent crime has been falling for years). ”

This is not the decriminalization of gun violence, because self-defense is not regular violence. All the stand-your-ground laws, which weren’t even relevant to the George Zimmerman case, do is better clarify peoples’ right to self-defense. Stand-your-ground laws are not a licence for vigilantism.

“For the republican tradition, particularly as transmitted by the Country party in British politics, a well-armed, self-organized citizenry poses less of a threat to safety and liberty than a strong state. That is the reasoning behind the 2nd Amendment.”

But most people who are more pro-gun rights are also really pro-law enforcement. Those people who are often anti-law enforcement are usually also pro-gun control. There are a few civil libertarians on the right who complain about widespread police brutality, but most people who complain about police brutality are on the far left. It is theoretically possible, but it is extremely unlikely that the United States would ever come under the rule of a tyrannical government, or at least not in our lifetimes.

I’m pro-gun rights, but I believe that many gun-rights extremists are so extreme because they think that they will need their guns to fight off a dictator who rises to power. This belief, besides being crazy, can also be dangerous to the liberal democratic principles that our country is built on. Some of the Founding Fathers did indeed write about the Second Amendment from this perspective. But from the end of the Revolution until the Civil War, most American elites worried a lot more about the risk of a domestic insurrection than the risk of a dictator taking power. The few small domestic rebellions during the first few decades of the republic and, of course, the Civil War shows that these American elites were correct in their worries.

Charley Carp, you wrote this: “If Trayvon Martin had been carrying a gun, he might well be alive today. I don’t know why so many Americans seem to want to live in that world, but they clearly do.”

Few, if any, Americans want to live in that world. But they are often forced to, to defend themselves from violent criminals. A responsible law-abiding person with a gun is different than a criminal with a gun. It’s quite possible that some of those hooded black burglars that terrorized George Zimmerman’s housing development had guns, so Zimmerman had to be prepared.

#17 Comment By TomB On July 19, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

Biff said:

“We need to take a close look at “Stand Your Ground” laws. If they are truly intended to enshrine the citizenry’s right to self defence, we need to make sure they do JUST that. A law that’s supposed to ensure the assailed can fight back against the assailant should also contain a criteria for whom is in which position.”

In the first place the implication that the “SYG/no duty to retreat” provisions of the law in Florida were involved in the Zimmerman/Martin case is in error. Zimmerman never invoked those provisions, saying, successfully of course, that he never had any chance to retreat even.

In the second place, just as in Florida, those SYG provisions do not really change the long-long standing, incredibly detailed statutory and common law containing “the criteria” for determining who is in the position to use the age-old self-defense/lethal force right to fight back and who is not. See Fla. Stat. §§ 776.012 generally, and (1) and (2), and 776.013 (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5).

What the SYG provisions do instead is merely say that someone who *already* meets such established criteria does not have to retreat.

And further as regards those criteria I believe Florida’s § 776.014 has long predated its “no retreat” language, with that section detailing specifically that a person who *is* an initial aggressor *also* has the right of potentially lethal self-defense. (To summarize, not only if when they withdraw from their attack and clearly indicate same to their victim but continue to be fought, but also even if they have *not* been able to withdraw so long as they have exercised “every reasonable means to escape” otherwise.)

See: [3]

So … what more do you want exactly?

Seth Owen wrote:

“It’s amazing how so much so-called conservative commentary on this whole Zimmerman matter prefers to concentrate on the very last moments of this tragic interaction without any deep thought about how it came to that, apparently.”

But there has been such deep thought, Seth: In the law, encapsulating over 200+ years of common law as well. To wit, drawing a bright line between the initiator of the illegal use of violence/the assaulter/”aggressor”, and the victim/the aggressed.

And that’s why after all this kerfuffle you still aren’t seeing any calls for any specific changes in the laws except for the repeal of the Zimmerman/Martin-irrelevant “no retreat” provisions, which calls I doubt will even be heeded by many/any states.

After all, Seth, think about the incoherence of the “pro-Martin” commentators railing against the state of the law: On the one hand they are screaming to cut back on the rights of self-defense because Zimmerman allegedly had too many/too much. And yet in the very next breath (as you yourself seem to do), they want to wildly expand self-defense rights so as to justify Martin’s assault on Zimmerman because Zimmerman had been following and allegedly scaring him.

You can’t square a circle, Seth, and this, combined with the fact that robust self-defense rights—including the SYG right where that’s included—disproportionately benefit the disproportionately crime-afflicted black community, is why I don’t think we are going to see any significant changes in the law.

The bottom line is that after running away and losing Zimmerman (for 4+ minutes, during which time Martin could have gotten home and/or called 911), Treyvon Martin made a mistake that no-one will really seek to legalize: Circle around and jump out and assault Zimmerman. Nor is anyone going to seek to say that while under such an assault a person doesn’t have the right of self-defense. Nor is anyone going to say that a person under that sort of assault cannot use potentially lethal force to repel same. All because doing any of same doesn’t make any sense for anyone, be they black, white or polka-dotted.

Thus one tragedy from all this is that instead of the message being that if you assault someone the law is going to be against you and by-the-way you might get lawfully killed as well, the kerfuffle’s message is that if you feel sufficiently “disrespected” the law will be on your side if you seriously assault someone, and the person you so assault has no legal right to shoot you.

Nice work Mssr.s Sharpton, Jackson and Holder.

#18 Comment By SteveJ On July 19, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

With the abuse of the plea bargain (now used to resolve over 90% of all charges) and it’s ever-widening parameters (20 years if found guilty at trial but probation if you take the deal) government judicial departments created a situation where they could process far more people in the same amount of time. Trials can take months. Bargaining sessions take 30 minutes.

And many forces have been happy to oblige by providing these judicial departments with more “customers.”

Over the past 40 years, ideologues on both the left and the right have been ramming through all kinds of laws creating more “criminals” to promote their various pet projects which they claim will solve various societal ills.

This has created a way for a lot of public and private institutions to make a lot of money. The prison industrial complex is big business. It has become larger than the Pentagon. And the people involved have access to public relations firms who will throw all sorts of Malthusian themes at you to convince you these laws must remain and that we need more of them.

Even if we decided to do something about this, I don’t know if it’s possible. Government departments, and that’s what a prison system is, expand. They do not shrink.

Suffice it to say we’ve got a problem. Hopefully we’ll deal with it.

#19 Comment By Emilio On July 19, 2013 @ 9:14 pm

Some so-called gun-rights libertarians seem to want all the direct action and none of the representative kind. Yes, it’s nice to not have to delegate power to elected representatives and officials, judiciary and law enforcement, but it can’t be done in any political entity whose directly active citizenry numbers more than a few thousand or maybe a few ten thousand.

What’s more, if the nation of America is a genuinely felt home community to you, important enough to form opinions on its laws and vote in its elections, then it’s impossible for you to be a libertarian. If you were, you would instinctively know that these pursuits will never satisfy you, and you would reject it and ignore it like Dreher’s sister, and live your life focused on your community.

The principles of Libertarianism are universally accessible, but they are also anathema to a growing feature of human social organization, that is, the reality of more people living together in more confined spaces, with more people on the way.

#20 Pingback By Sunday, July 21, 2013 | Tipsy Teetotaler On July 21, 2013 @ 6:02 am

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#21 Comment By John Galtwell On July 21, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

I just want to correct something that has been posted. If Trayvon had a gun the night he met Zimmerman, he should have been arrested by law enforcement, not because he’s black, but because it’s illegal for someone of his age to possess and carry a handgun.

#22 Comment By Beyond A Reasonable Doubt On July 22, 2013 @ 12:30 am

There is one fatal flaw in all the arguments defending Zimmerman and that is this:

It was impossible for him to have pulled out his gun and shot Martin as he claimed (e.g, in the police video taken the day after the shooting).

When someone lies like Zimmerman did that is clearly indicative that they are hiding something and most likely guilty.

Conclusion: Zimmerman already had his gun drawn when he confronted Martin.

Likely scenario: Zimmerman, the wannabe cop, tried to detain Martin, Martin resisted or tried to escape, and this resulted in the scuffle that led to Martin’s death.

But regardless of whether this was what happened or not, the bottom line is that Zimmerman lied and the shooting event could not have happened as he described it.