Arms and Human Dignity

I. The Necessity of Arms to Human Dignity

The necessity of arms to a dignified human being arises from self-defense. That already assumes dignity, though, which ought to be explained. Unlike a rock or a fallen twig, a human being cannot just be broken or otherwise used for your amusement or instrumental purpose. A child might enjoy throwing rocks in a stream, or floating twigs down it; it might be useful to repurpose a rock as part of the foundation of your house, or a set of twigs to start a fire to warm that house. Another human being cannot be seized by force and used without their permission: this is to say that they have a dignity that rocks and twigs and the other merely material stuff of the world does not.

That dignity entails a right of self-defense. Should someone attempt to seize you, use you, or destroy you in order to advance their own ends, as a dignified being you have a right to resist. You have a right to insist on having your dignity respected, and to using such means -- including force and violence -- as are necessary to that defense of your dignity. Because you have this right, you have also a right to the necessary means to the end of defending your dignity. Because those means are a necessary condition of the right, to deny the means is also to deny the realization of the right. 

To deny you the realization of the right of defense therefore entails denying you your dignity. Note that such a denial itself is the kind of attack on your dignity against which you are entitled to defend yourself. The potential for such a denial therefore itself entitles you to the means to defend yourself against such a denial.

II. Why Government Does Not Satisfy this Necessary Condition

Readers will note that the discussion so far follows the logic of the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence
(Assumption) All men are created equal.
(Assumption) All men have certain inalienable rights (such as this dignity).
(Unstated Assumption) There are dangers in the world that imperil these rights.
∴ Governments are instituted among men to protect these rights.
One might argue that the establishment of a government -- with an army, a police force, etc. -- itself satisfies the provision of a means to defend one's dignity. Arms could then be restricted to the police, army, etc., without such a restriction being an attack on human dignity.

The pragmatic lesson of the 20th century (and likely most or all other centuries also) is that one's government is in fact the chief danger to dignity, as well as to life, liberty, and other rights. Imperial Japan in its domination of the Chinese nation used terrible modes of oppression, and tested plague bombs and other weapons on the Chinese people. Even so, it did not come close to killing as many Chinese people as did their own government under Mao Zedong: the Great Leap Forward alone killed at least thirty million Chinese people, and perhaps twice that many. German losses in World War II were over three million people, which is approximately half as many of their people as the government killed through its genocidal policies. The Soviet losses were far worse, but nowhere near as significant as the number starved to death on purpose by their own government. 

Given the clear evidence that one's government is itself a chief danger to one's human dignity, the provision of the means to defend human dignity must also include the means -- at least collectively, in such large scale cases -- to reject one's government. 

This, not coincidentally, lines up exactly in agreement with the logic and conclusions of the next section of the Declaration of Independence. Far from being a radical opinion, it is the founding logic of the United States and of the American model.

Therefore: the right of the people to keep and bear arms is a right that no government, this nor any other, can infringe upon without a basic denial of human dignity. Such a denial itself entails a right of self-defense against such a government; and the everlasting potential for such a denial therefore entails an everlasting, permanent, and basic right to arms. Human dignity does not merely entail but absolutely requires the right to keep and bear arms.


Grim said...

Your hypothetical has a number of actual historical precedents.

The Declaration asserts two things that I’m not arguing here:

1) That there is a right to life (it is named, alongside ‘liberty and the pursuit of happiness’);

2) That establishing a government is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for defending these rights.

I’m not arguing (1) because I am not sure about it. I’m not arguing for (2) because I hope it isn’t true.

Tom said...

Yes, much of the Anglophone world would work as real examples of my hypothetical. Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all more or less fit.

I would be very interested in your thinking on these two things you aren't arguing.

Grim said...

That is exactly the sort of discussion that would derail this one entirely, so I shall move it to a separate post.