“If America is going to be the world’s policeman, on some scale or another, that has to be backed by a supportive culture among the citizenry,” Dr. Tyler Cowen writes at marginalrevolution.com. “And that culture is not going to be Hans Morgenthau’s foreign policy realism, or George Kennan’s Letter X, or even Clausewitz’s treatise On War. [ED: links added.] Believe it or not, those are too intellectual for the American public.” Before I address Dr. Cowen’s theory linking gun ownership and martial culture, bad elitist! Bad elitist! That said, Dr. Cowen’s got it mostly right and a lot wrong. First, a bone to pick . . .
If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly martial culture at home, by all means make your case. But I am skeptical. I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.
Make my case? Who died and appointed Dr. Cowen the final arbiter of what motivates the body politic? If that’s the way Nobel Prize winners talk to non-Nobel Prize winners, include me out! Assuming I was ever in. Anyway . . .
If you disarm Americans, you deprive them of their sovereign citizenship. That’s how disarmament works: it makes citizens reliant upon, and thus, subservient to, the State. The all-powerful State goes about happily sacrificing its citizen’s rights – indeed their very lives – to maintain power. The State becomes fundamentally, profoundly, powerfully, proactively corrupt. It becomes a militarized police state.
This transition doesn’t curb the State’s appetite for foreign entanglements. Quite the opposite. As we saw with Nazi Germany, the unchecked State inevitably seeks to expand its power outside its borders. If nothing else, it wants to pillage its neighbors to increase its wealth and power. At the same time, the State gladly jumps into bed/cut deals with any foreign power that operates according to the same principles (or lack thereof). ISIS? Sure, why not?
Cohen doesn’t get that. Instead, he divides the country into four main groups: anti-gun modern Democrats; radical, anti-war, the anti-military industrial complex, semi-pacifist, anti-gun Left; libertarians, who “hate martial culture on the international scene,” and “right-wing conservatives” (scare quotes and all). Guess who’s responsible for American interventionism?
They support a martial ethic, they support America’s active foreign policy abroad, and they are anti-gun control for the most part. And they find their greatest strength in the relatively martial American South. Like the old anti-war Left, their positions are consistent, and their positions are rooted in a cultural understanding of the issue.
They see the gun control movement as a war on America’s greatness, America’s martial culture and the material embodiments of said culture. They don’t understand why “the world’s greatest nation” should give up its superpower role, and its supporting internal martial culture, all for the sake of limiting the number of suicides and maybe stopping a few shootings too. To them it’s not close to being worth it.
While many of TTAG’s readers are small “c” conservatives who see no contradiction in being anti-gun control and anti-foreign intervention, Cowen’s got this one right. Although America’s unsuccessful military campaigns have made millions of gun owners gun-shy of foreign entanglements, especially campaigns aimed at “nation building,” the majority of gun-owing American conservatives are ready to gird their loins for battle, as and when they see fit.
For example, millions of gun-owning Americans believe it’s time America deployed its armed forces to the Middle East to destroy ISIS. Considering ISIS’s followers’ terrorist attacks within the county, considering the high likelihood of an ISIS operative using a nuclear or biological weapon against our citizens, many if not most gun owners believe we should send our military into the Middle East to eliminate this threat.
I know that seems simple-minded to those who think military intervention increases the chances of terrorist attack. So be it. You don’t have to read Clausewitz to know that waging war on ISIS makes perfect sense. But if you do, there it is. The military theorist argued that nations should wage war to “achieve limited aims” and “to render [the enemy] politically helpless or militarily impotent.” What part of that conflicts with crushing ISIS? What part of the American public doesn’t understand that?
I assume, as Cowen does, that gun-owning Americans are more likely to favor “limited” war because they’re more likely to be part of its “internal martial culture.” In other words, they’re more likely to understand that Americans fought and died for the peace and prosperity they enjoy. The know that this battle never ends. There know there will always be people who want to destroy their freedom, both individually and collectively, both internally and externally. And they’re not OK with that.
I find that pro-gun control Democrats, and libertarians, are incapable of understanding the issue in these cultural terms. But if you read something by a “really stupid conservative” on gun control, the more emotive and manipulative the text the better, it is often pretty close to the mark on the actual substance of what is at stake here.
I reckon gun control advocates use emotion and manipulation to make their arguments, while gun rights advocates rely on logic and reason. Be that as it may, Dr. Cowen rightly predicts that the American schism on gun control will color the coming debate over when and how we should go to war – by which I mean fully engaged military conflict – against ISIS. Because it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.