Arming the principle of subsidiarity
March 1, 2018 § 78 Comments
It is said that when seconds count the police are only minutes away. Or maybe the police are already standing outside, doing nothing while kids are being murdered.
One way to interpret this unironically is as a natural expression of subsidiarity. In particular we can observe that the scope involved in subsidiarity invokes proximity in space, time, and authority. The authorities closest to a particular matter in space and time are those who are in the best position to make wise choices in how to deal with the matter proximately. So they should be the particular authorities empowered to make those choices, subject to review by higher authorities on the time and space scale appropriate to those higher authorities.
An example of how sensible subsidiarity is made explicit comes from the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States, the agency which governs the operation of aircraft, certification of pilots, and pretty much everything else directly related to aviation. 14 CFR 91.3 reads as follows:
§ 91.3 Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.
(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.
(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.
(c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.
An armed populace may thus be a good and natural thing when viewed from the standpoint of subsidiarity. Nobody is in a better position to defend a family or classroom, in the immediacy of an armed attack by a criminal, than the particular authorities literally closest in space and time to those defended: fathers and teachers, respectively.
But this depends upon viewing the authority of fathers and teachers in a context of subsidiarity: specifically not as rivals to or as the source of higher authority. The police may be slower and more distant than teachers; the courts may be slower and more distant than the police. But they are all integral parts of the same organic hierarchy of authority resting on a custodial relationship with the common good.
The second amendment to the US Constitution reads as follows:
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.
This is commonly read as an attempt by the sovereign to limit his own authority, or perhaps the authority of future sovereigns, by arming the populace. This particular interpretation/motivation is incoherent, for reasons explained in a previous post. Unfortunately, under American right-liberalism this seems to be a very common interpretation/motivation/framing.
Setting aside the multivocity of the term “free State” it is possible to propose an (illiberal, explicitly authoritarian, and thus unusual) interpretation of the second amendment as deputization. Armed citizens are viewed as loyal subsidiary agents of the sovereign, a militia very much loyal to and subject to the sovereign, against proximate threats posed: not threats posed by the sovereign, but by criminals and foreign belligerents in that crucial quick minute and last mile.
The proof in the pudding is in the eating. The proof in this particular pudding is the accompaniment of support for the second amendment by explicit repudiation of its purpose as set against sovereign authority, sovereign authority which is legitimate and independent of consent of the governed. Concomitant to empowerment to bear arms is readiness and genuine willingness to doff one’s hat to the King. How suitable one is to bear arms is a function of how ready he is to take a knee.
Needless to say, this authoritarian / subsidiarian take on the second amendment is not taking the country by storm. Most people favorable to the second amendment interpret it as at best a confused mix of common-sense self defense independent of the sovereign combined with explicit anti-authoritarianism: that is, as a particular expression of liberalism. It isn’t framed as empowerment of the pilot in command operating in immediate local conditions of time and space under higher (but more distant and slower) authority: it is framed as a separate individual empowerment independent of and even set against higher authority. Pilots are licensed and regulated by the government; and this oversight is exactly what, it is typically proposed, the second amendment forbids or at least grossly circumscribes.
I conclude that a broadly armed population may well be an arguably good thing as an extension of subsidiarity – wherein citizens who are armed are those particular citizens who demonstrate unshakeable loyalty, explicit repudiation of liberalism, and firm commitment to the legitimacy of sovereign authority. But this is pretty much the opposite of the actual situation with the second amendment and its most vocal supporters. In modern liberal America, support for the second amendment is specifically liberal in its character and tends to be inversely related to support for the authority of the sovereign.
In short, advocacy of an armed populace in Current Year right-liberal America suffers from the same fellow traveller problem as, say, just wage advocacy amongst Feminists. You can join the team, but only if you are willing to overlook the bodies.