Hobbesian Gun Control

I was struck by a passage out of this recent National Review piece by Keven D. Williamson in reference to gun control:

People have a visceral reaction to guns, which is why the reactions to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago have been so emotional. One extraordinarily telling reaction came from David Ignatius of the Washington Post, whose response was headlined: “The Supreme Court Gun Decision Moves Us Toward Anarchy.” Mr. Ignatius wrote: “My biggest worry with Monday’s Supreme Court decision is that by ruling, in effect, that every American can apply for a gun license, the justices will make gun ownership much more pervasive in a society that already has too many guns. After all, if I know that my neighbor is armed and preparing for Armageddon situations where law and order break down (as so many are — just read the right-wing blogs) then I have to think about protecting my family, too. That’s the state-of-nature, everyone for himself logic that prevails in places such as Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mr. Ignatius here is remarkably forthcoming: He is not worried about guns in the hands of criminals, but about guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens, people who are willing to apply for a permit and jump through the bureaucratic hoops re­quired of gun buyers. His nightmare is not an America in which criminals run amok with Glocks, or even an America in which gun permits are handed out liberally, but an America in which “every American can apply for a gun license.” Never mind the approval of licenses, the mere application gives Mr. Ignatius the howling fantods. It is wonderfully apt that he references the “state of nature” in his criticism, imagining a Hobbesian version of life in these United States: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, permeated by the aroma of cordite. Mr. Ignatius, like Thomas Hobbes, is casting his lot with Leviathan and makes no apology for it.

That is the essence of 21st-century progressivism: In matters ranging from financial derivatives to education to gun control, the Left believes that we face a choice between a masterful state and a Hobbesian war of all against all. For all of the smart set’s vaunted and self-congratulatory nu­ance, it is this absolutist vision, this Manichean horror, that forms the foun­dation of progressivism.

This strikes me as getting rather directly at the divergence of views in regards to gun control. Conservatives, in favor of legal gun possession by citizens, are often accused of endorsing a Hobbesian worldview in which they are at war with the world and need to arm themselves in order to protect themselves. This does not, however, tie well with my experiences as a gun owner and knowing other gun owners. Far from a bunch of angry loners out for themselves against everybody, you’ll seldom run into a more friendly and outgoing bunch of guys and those down at the shooting range — eager to show you their guns, help teach beginners, offer advice, etc. Sure, there are doubtless some bozos out there who have managed to legally get hold of guns and aren’t to be trusted, but generally speaking I really don’t find myself worried about the legal gun owners of the world, least of all those who have gone through the lengthy and highly regulated process of applying for things like concealed carry permits. You are unlikely to find a group of people less likely to commit crimes than legal concealed carry permit holders.

And yet, the reaction among anti-gun advocates is entirely the opposite. To them, the ownership of a gun makes you more likely to turn violent, and nothing seems more terrifying to them than that someone might (after background checks, training and licensing by the state) be carrying a concealed handgun. It does seem very much as if they are convinced that if only people are given the means of violence, a weapon, then they will revert to some sort of savage natural state and become violent. That it is only the strong arm of the state making sure that no one possesses weapons that keeps us from all being at each other’s throats.

18 Responses to Hobbesian Gun Control

  1. Joe Hargrave says:


    The logic of David Ignatius is frightening and sobering. Unfortunately there are some Catholics who tend to agree with this absurd paranoia and distrust of fellow citizens.

    With due credit to Hobbes, he recognized as absolutely paramount the right to self-preservation. Modern “progressives” are even sub-Hobbesian, willing to throw their own lives onto the pyre – what WOULD they do if it all broke down? They’d be dead in a week, and the right-wing “nut” would survive.

    No one WANTS the state of war, moreover – as if the Lebanese people like living that way, or as if anyone does – and it isn’t entirely irrational to take modest precautions in the event of societal collapse, especially in times such as ours, during which the government is determined to see how much money it can create and spend before destroying the entire economy.

  2. Dale Price says:

    There is also a decided element of class snobbery to this as well, a profound distrust of/disgust with the great unlettered and their pastimes.

    It’s enclave thinking, and Ignatius needs to leave his bubble much more often.

  3. j. christian says:

    The Hobbesian horror is a failure of the progressive’s imagination. Short of the managerial state, there are no intervening institutions or intermediary forms of community that act as a bulwark against chaos. In their view, we are all violent individualists at heart. Those of us with strong families, churches, etc., know otherwise.

    There is also an imaginative failure of the “wisdom of crowds” sort: That decentralized decisions lead to chaos, and only centralized direction works.

  4. j. christian says:

    …Plus guns are just oogedy-boogedy scary to people who haven’t been around them. I don’t own any guns (Hello, criminals!), but my father was a police officer who came home with a .38 every day. It was no big deal to me, but it seemed to shock certain “enclave types” (to borrow from Dale, above) who were surprised to learn that no one actually shot anyone with anything all those years in our home.

  5. Mike Petrik says:

    I don’t own a gun (unless you count a WWII German pistol given to me by my late uncle, which is probably non-functional), and I have zero interest in owning a gun. And I favor reasonable gun regulations. I also favor a faithful interpretation of the Second Amendment just as a matter of principle. Ignatius’s criticism is telling in that it is a policy analysis, not a legal one. Like most Lefties he thinks that the SCOTUS should make policy rather than interpret our laws, including the law of the land, with fidelity. Of course he compounds his felony by commiting poor policy analysis.

  6. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I have never liked firearms. I haven’t fired one since I left the Army and bid a not so fond farewell to my M-16. However, I fully support the right to keep and bear arms pursuant to the Constitution. I also agree with many of the Founding Fathers that an armed populace is the final defense against a tyrannical government.

    “Conceived it to be the privilege of every citizen, and one of his most essential rights, to bear arms, and to resist every attack upon his liberty or property, by whomsoever made. The particular states, like private citizens, have a right to be armed, and to defend, by force of arms, their rights, when invaded.”

    Roger Sherman 1790

  7. c matt says:

    I don’t own any guns, and don’t plan to. But I certainly do not begrudge anyone from obtaining one legally.

    Every time this debate comes up I recall the scene from Zombieland:

    “Thank God for rednecks!”

  8. Art Deco says:

    There is also a decided element of class snobbery to this as well, a profound distrust of/disgust with the great unlettered and their pastimes.

    Can’t imagine who you have in mind.

  9. Blackadder says:

    guns are just oogedy-boogedy scary to people who haven’t been around them.

    I suspect that this effect is exacerbated by the fact that on tv and in the movies guns seem to be an almost magical cause of violence.

  10. This is doubtless because they haven’t read enough classic British mysteries, in which people seem always to be mysteriously bludgeoned.

    In addition to the fun of the world “bludgeoned”, we also have the fun that everyone is a suspect!

  11. Bear says:

    Indeed. There are people around whom I am totally relaxed and at ease when they are holding a gun, and there are people who make me nervous when they hold a sharpened pencil. The problem with gun crime is not the gun, its the crime. The progressive penchant for holding things instead of people responsible is the key difference in the views.

  12. Dale Price says:

    “Can’t imagine who you’d have in mind.”

    Believe it or not, not anyone I’ve sparred with on the ‘net.

    It’s implicit in Ignatius’ horrified acknowledgement that “every” (read: the wrong kind) law-abiding American has a protected right under the Second Amendment.


  13. Bill Sr. says:

    Excuse me but are we to assume a rush to purchase most guns today is to protect ones life from other law abiding gun owners? Isn’t that a little absurd?
    If a poll were taken I believe we would find the average first time gun buyer today is most concerned with protecting his liberty and pursuit of happiness. This is the greatest threat to the average American at this time, not common criminals with guns but radical politicians with one party rule and a large following of thugs to enforce their tyrannical agenda.

  14. Actually, I think most guns are purchased because people enjoy hunting and/or target shooting.

    Defense against crime probably comes second after that, and defense against the government a distant third.

  15. Bill Sr. says:

    I agree but in your haste..

    You missed my point. Did you not notice I said “first time buyers today”.

  16. mundabor says:

    This is a recurring problem of the leftists.
    They play “humanitarian” but as soon as you scratch the surface you discover that they don’t like humans.

    The nanny thinking is the fruit of the same mentality: “you are a bunch of savages and we enlightened people must make civilised being out of animals like you” is the implied message.

  17. Elaine Krewer says:

    So according to this article, progressives/liberals think the only thing standing between us and Mad Max-style anarchy is an all-powerful nanny state. Well, pardon my bluntness here, but what did they expect when they have been going around for decades trying to convince people that the freedom to copulate at will like savages is the only freedom that really counts, and anything or anyone that gets in the way of it (particularly inconvienient spouses and unborn children) can and should be disposed of at will? Or when they blame crime solely or primarily on poverty, lack of education, racism, mental/emotional illness, etc., and disregard the notion of free will? In essence, they’ve already conceded a low opinion of the common person as little more than animals who can’t help themselves, so it’s no wonder they assume that anyone who gets their hands on a gun has the potential to turn into some kind of crazed psycho.

  18. Suz says:

    Once guns are taken out of the commoners’ hands, knives and other sharp objects begin to take on the oogedy-boogedy scary aspect. Not sure what comes after that. Brass candlesticks perhaps.

    I admit to having a visceral reaction to the AYA side-by-side in the LL Bean hunting catalog, but it has remarkably little to do with my fear of a tyrannical government.

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