Lessons from the Ill-Advised Armed Takeover in Oregon

Barb Wire

Even Americans who claim they are “constitutionalists” can sometimes show such little regard for the use and abuse of vitally important Constitutional terms. I thought of this recently as I read the first lines of a story reporting that “some 100 armed militia men took over a federal building in rural western Oregon…” As used in context the word “militia” must refer to the general definition of the term- i.e., adult persons capable of bearing arms. At its Latin roots, the word refers simply to anyone who is part of an armed force. Taken in that general sense, the reference to “100 armed militia men” can be recast as “100 armed men participating in an armed force”, a redundancy that seems altogether superfluous.

However, but for the source, I would suspect that the report goes out of its way to include the word “militia” because the actions of the armed men in Oregon offer an opportunity to associate the word with events liable to cast it in the worst possible light. Admittedly, some of the people involved in those actions apply the word to themselves, must as Islamists use the reference to Islam to refer to the organized actions they undertake. But the U.S. Constitution aims to secure the unalienable right of liberty. Can Americans who profess to uphold the Constitution be indifferent to the gratuitously disparaging usage of a word that figures importantly in the reasoning the Constitution deploys to justify one of the most vital provisions it makes in respect of that security?

I understand that Barack Obama and others pursuing the elitist faction’s agenda for the overthrow of self-government are gratified at the prospect that every use of the word “militia” will evoke the stench of disordered violence. They have no use for the Constitution, except in the course of their own disordered assaults against the premises of right and rights on which it stands. In that destructive context, by abusively misconstruing the Constitution’s terms, they impart an air of legitimacy to acts its provisions plainly declare to be unlawful.

Gratuitously disparaging usage of the term militia in fact lays the basis for just such an abusive misconstruction. Not even very subtly, it prepares the ground for their final offensive to eliminate the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment. Whether achieved in the context of some patently outrageous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, or as a casualty of a constitutionally mislabeled “Convention of the States” (I say mislabeled because every amendment to the Constitution ultimately depends upon the will of the people as a whole.) these enemies of democentric constitutional self-government mean to erase all memory of the people’s right to keep and bear arms.

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The Constitution’s clear protection for that right is in practice the greatest Constitutional barrier to the general disarmament of the people of the United States. America’s founders understood what human experience has repeatedly proved: A people properly armed to defend the common good of their self-government is the second most important safeguard of the unalienable right of liberty. The first of course is the people’s reverence for the authority of God, which is for that very reason, the first attended to in the Bill of Rights.

It’s important to ponder the implications of all the elements of that 2nd Amendment safeguard. It does not convey the obviously absurd notion that, in and of itself, arming the people safeguards their liberty. I realize that these days (with the purposeful encouragement of educated elements of the elitist faction who “know better”) the prevalent tendency is to hear the word “liberty” simply in reference to the freedom it involves. But, as I have before observed, the liberty upheld in the American creed is an unalienable right. The freedom it entails is a consequence of the fact that a given use of freedom corresponds to the understanding of right imparted into human nature by reason of God’s will for the good of humanity, individually and as a whole; and to the promptings of God-substantiated conscience that impel us to respect His will.

Thus, though every right involves an exercise of freedom, not every exercise of freedom can reasonably be construed as an exercise of right. People have, for example, a right to do all that preserves the life by God imparted to them. But as human life cannot be understood without reference to humanity as such, individual actions that imply the extinction of mankind cannot be denominated as rights. So John Locke, the philosopher who so inspired America’s founding, formulates the consequence of the first law of nature, which is self-preservation to read: “every one, as he is bound to preserve himself…so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind.”

The challenge involved in this formulation has to do with the fact the existence of every human being essentially depends on respect for the aspect of one’s existence that makes one distinctively human. The respect is necessary for “self-consciousness” that is the hallmark of humanity as such. When one’s actions in respect of other human beings fail to respect the distinctively human aspect of human existence, one calls humanity as such into question. But how can a human being preserve himself if and when his actions vitiate the distinctive meaning of humanity. He may continue, in some sense to exist, but his humanity perishes with the self-regard that is the hallmark of humanity as such.

This is why some version of the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Do not do to another what you would not have another do to you.) best recapitulates the nature of action according to the first law of nature. Where human beings are concerned, unless we respect humanity, we cannot properly claim to be human. This insight explains why, in my description of the 2nd Amendment’s safeguard of liberty, I referred to “a people properly armed.” The word “proper” conveys the sense of the people’s respect for what belongs to them, what makes them the people they are.

This sense of self-respect is in fact essential to self-preservation. But is it possible to preserve something without taking into account the terms of its existence? The childish free expression that scribbles colors onto the pages of a coloring book with no regard for the lines that depict the objects on the page may be mistaken for “creativity” when it involves nothing of consequence. But a workman who did the same when pouring the foundations of a building would be worse than useless if his “creativity” led to its collapse. So would a surgeon whose incisions show no respect for the functional information conveyed by contours of the bodily organ he is working to repair.

The behavior of individuals bears the same relationship to the good of the community they form as the particular actions of those workmen bear to the work they aim to achieve. That aim corresponds to the common good which every individual who forms part of the people is obliged to consider when acting as a member in good standing of the sovereign body of the people. This common individual aim is what distinguishes the 2nd Amendment’s reference to right from the first Amendment’s reference to the “free exercise of religion.”

[Part II of this essay will appear as my column for The Daily Caller on Thursday and conclude in my WND column this Friday. The essay will be posted as a whole on my blog starting this weekend.]

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Dr. Alan Keyes
Once a high-level Reagan-era diplomat, Alan Keyes is a long-time leader in the conservative movement. He is well-known as a staunch pro-life champion and an eloquent advocate of the constitutional republic, including respect for the moral basis of liberty and self-government. He has worked to promote an approach to politics based on the initiative of citizens of goodwill consonant with the with the principles of God-endowed natural right.

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