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Memories of the 28th Century

Struggle for Civil and Political Rights

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I have gotten the impression that American schools do not teach Civics very well. There seem to be U.S. citizens who think that the people should do what the government says, and that the Duty of Civil Disobedience is not a responsibility that Americans should take seriously. The matter of how citizens should act in a republic has a great deal formal philosophical literature behind it, and its origin go back before the origin of organized government. I could go back to Plato’s Republic and some other Ancient Greek writing on the nature of states and civil society, but It is simpler to assume that and ideas of ideal government, such as The Journey to the Moon and Journey to the Sun by Cyrano de Bergerac, Utopia by Thomas Moore, New Atlantis by Francis Bacon, and so on, and look instead at the explanation of how it might actually be done, as was explained in The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes and in various essays by John Locke. But the concepts were actually applied in the Founding documents of the United States of America and further explained in the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers. Some people seem to think that the idea that citizens are responsible for their country is too old-fashioned, but there will be no more republics when citizens stop calling their governments to account. Some might even complain that John Kennedy suggested that the citizens should look for what they can do for their country, but nothing could be further from the truth; governments exist to serve the people. That is what Hobbes' concept of "social contract" is all about, but there are people who don't want to share the responsibility for running anything.

When we citizens neglect to take our shared responsibility seriously people like Hitler, Lenin, Mao, Mussolini, and Stalin take over, and they take the matter of running a country seriously. The social contract requires that we accept the government if we live under it, but that is a two-way street; the government is required to run the country for the benefit of the people, and if the government ceases to do so, then the people are required to make the government serve their purposes, or as it was put in the Declaration of Independence:"Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness."

It is not desirable for citizens to be forced to overthrow one government and set up another, but it may become necessary in some times and places. For that reason, the founders of the United States of America included the Second Amendment in the Constitution. so that the people might have the necessary hardware to abolish the government, if necessary.

This subject came up in a discussion of the meaning of the Second Amendment. Some people who are not familiar with the background think that the Second is in regard to to establishing militias for the states, but there would be no need to include that in the Bill of Rights, because it is implicit in the existence of the states, all of which existed and had militias before the United States existed. It might have been a good idea for whoever wrote that amendment had used descriptive language , so that it read: To ensure that the government will not become abusive and that the people will be able to carry out their right to alter or abolish an abusive government, the people shall have the right to own and to use any weapons as it may be necessary that they can use them well and accurately, and the right to own, bear, and use such weaponry shall not be infringed, but it should be encouraged. One of the salient characteristics of the U.S. Constitution is that it does not waste words, and "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Is considerably terser than what I suggested as an alternative.

The matter of the meaning of the Second Amendment came up again recently, and later I saw an article in the Economist about Human Rights and who, if anyone, backs them up. And then there’s what Henry David Thoreau called "On The Duty of Civil Disobedience". Well, the reason for the Second Amendment is that government cannot be trusted, and the citizens are responsible for straightening things out.

It would be nice, if the people could establish their social contract and set up a government that would serve the people forever more, but it doesn’t work that way. Jefferson thought the tree of liberty would have to be fed its ordinary manure, the blood of patriots on a regular basis. Whenever government pokes its nose into another facet of the citizens’ lives, a human rights is lost. Sometimes it may be a convenience for government to do something, but the citizens still have to pay for it, but they lose the freedom to do something their own way.

Updated 08-20-2019 at 05:20 PM by PeterL



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