Is This The End of the American Century?

This site features updates, analysis, discussion and comments related to the theme of my book published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2008 (hardbound) and 2009 (paperbound).

The Book

The End of the American Century documents the interrelated dimensions of American social, economic, political and international decline, marking the end of a period of economic affluence and world dominance that began with World War II. The war on terror and the Iraq War exacerbated American domestic weakness and malaise, and its image and stature in the world community. Dynamic economic and political powers like China and the European Union are steadily challenging and eroding US global influence. This global shift will require substantial adjustments for U.S. citizens and leaders alike.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Has the Supreme Court Legitimized Armed Insurrection?

The scary idea of insurrectionism may have been given a boost by the Supreme Court, according to a new and disturbing book by Joshua Horwitz and Casey Anderson, entitled Guns, Democracy and the Insurrectionist Idea, published by the University of Michigan Press. They argue that in the landmark Heller v. D.C. case of 2008, the majority ruling went far beyond the individual gun rights argument and opened the door to the (previously radical fringe) “insurrectionist” argument that citizens have a right to arm themselves to counter government tyranny. The authors make a strong case that this has potential to undermine Constitutional government, the rule of law, and democracy itself.

I raised similar concerns in chapter 3 of The End of the American Century, on the “Torn Social Fabric,” one important component of which was the huge number of violent crimes in the U.S., and the concomitant prevalence of some 200 million privately owned firearms. There, I raised particular concern about the minority of gun owners who believe that gun ownership provides an extra check on the government itself. As I wrote there ( p. 58):

“They see the Second Amendment to the Constitution as an implicit right of armed Americans to forcibly overthrow the federal government if they view it as tyrannical. It is hard to imagine any constitutional document, especially one with so many democratic checks and balances built into it, providing for its own violent overthrow. But many Americans seem to believe this—yet another reason why the United States is increasingly seen around the world as swimming against the tide of modern civilization.”

Horwitz and Anderson note that when they began writing their book several years ago, this insurrectionist idea was considered marginal, radical, and probably even treasonous. (Article III of the Constitution, in fact, considers levying war against the United States to be treason.) But the Supreme Court’s ruling in the D.C. case has given the insurrectionist idea more stature and respectability, and brought it into the mainstream. Horwitz and Anderson believe that this is a very dangerous precedent, potentially giving cover to those who would forcefully overthrow the U.S. government.

I share their concerns, and believe these concerns have become even more germane in the polarized and radicalized atmosphere of the last few years. Fox News stirs up hatred of the government, and calls into question its very legitimacy. The election of Barack Obama, ironically, has emboldened racists and bigots of all stripes, and led to a huge spike in the number of threats of violence against the President and the government itself.

In their conclusion, Horwitz and Anderson urge that “the Insurrectionist idea should be vigorously challenged by citizens in the court of public opinion and now, after Heller, in courts of law as well.” Among their recommendations for action is “occupying the common ground” with the majority of gun owners who are not Insurrectionists. In my mind, this solution is part of a broader need in the United States—for Americans to find the middle ground, and to isolate and marginalize those who preach hate, violence and intolerance.

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