Monday, February 4, 2013

Government, Guns, and Max Weber

Max Weber, the German sociologist famous for his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, is not known as a gun nut.  But he had some interesting things to say about the relationship between armed citizens and big government.

In his posthumous General Economic History he does a tour d'horizon of the feudal era.  We tend to think of that era as a pretty fixed order, with landed aristocrats at the top and serfs at the bottom.  But of course things were much more complicated than that.  Some peasants owned land, others rented land, still others owed labor to their landlords.  But there is one theme that runs pretty clear.  People that owned their own weapons were accorded much more respect in the feudal era than people without the means to arm themselves.

I wonder why.

Weber also has interesting things to say about the rise of the cities.  Generally, when cities start up, the inhabitants still look to their blood kindred out in the countryside for identity.  They don't really form an urban community.  And often the local princes make darn sure that they don't.

But when the city inhabitants start to think of themselves as individuals that swear allegiance to the city--instead their blood kindred--then things start to change.  They especially change when the city develops its own citizen militia, armed with weapons provided by the citizens themselves.

Because, of course, the landed princes don't give no respect to people that don't have the power to make their presence felt in the calculus of power.  But when a city becomes an armed power, then the princes pay attention.

Now of course, when the Founders put in the Second Amendment to the Constitution they were 200 years closer to the old tradition of the citizen militia than we are. (Think of Rembrandt and his painting of "The Night Watch," a local Amsterdam company of musketeers).  So the Founders possessed in their cultural heritage the idea that involved citizens would naturally band together in armed companies to meet the exigencies of city life.

And there is no doubt that government at all levels respects people with the means to inject themselves into the power equation.  Government is force, after all.  So if you want to play in the game of force, you had better have credible reputation in the force department.

Something to think about as our modern ruling class attempts, once again, to disarm the populace.

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