Going through a box of old papers, I found this letter I wrote to the Chapel Hill News back in my North Carolina days; I dont recall whether it was published.
18 May 1994
To the Editor:
The current debate over gun control is the latest, and perhaps the last, skirmish in a centuries-old conflict between two radically different visions of social order: the Celtic-Germanic system and the Imperial Roman system.
Under the Celtic-Germanic system, which dominated much of Northern Europe (especially the British Isles) during the Middle Ages, there was no distinct governmental agency known as the police. Instead, the responsibility for keeping the peace, enforcing the laws, and maintaining social order lay with the armed citizenry as a whole. In a sense, everybody (or at least, every free adult male) was the police, and all arrests were citizens arrests. Like the age-old right to judge the accused in a jury setting, the right to defend the innocent by force was a right of the people, not of government officials. (To be sure, there was some division of labor in provision of security; but this occurred within, rather than as an alteratve to, the context of an egalitarian distribution of police authority.)
More familiar to modern eyes is the Imperial Roman system. When the Roman Republic gave way to the Roman Empire, one of Emperor Augustuss most significant acts was to establish Romes first police system the Urban Cohorts and the Vigiles. From then on, keeping the peace in Rome was the prerogative of government agents, as in modern states. Where Celtic-Germanic system police authority was bottom-up, Imperial Roman police authority was top-down.
Growing up as we have under a system like the Roman one, we tend to assume that the Roman-style system is the only one that could possibly work. But highly civilised and sophisticated peoples (e.g., medieval Ireland) lived happily and prosperously under the Celtic-Germanic system for centuries. And although the Imperial Roman system has been on the ascendancy in the west ever since the centralisation of state power during the Renaissance, the rival Celtic-Germanic system has yielded only gradually. For example, as incredible as it may seem to many today, there were no police in England before the nineteenth century; the government exercised legislative and judicial functions, but left the actual apprehsion of criminals to the armed citizenry, in the form of the posse comitatus or, later, Associations for the Prosecution of Felons.
Similar arrangements may be found in American history in the colonial minutemen, and later in the so-called Wild West wild and violent according to Hollywood depictions, but surprisingly peaceful and crime-free according to current historical research. (I am not speaking of vigilantes or lynch mobs, but [2010 note: apologies for the scrambled grammar; I should have written I am speaking not of vigilantes or lynch mobs, but of] responsible citizens associations that respected the rights of the accused.) Our countrys founders still recognised the right of self-defense as the foundation and presupposition of all other rights.
On a recent ABC documentary on guns, a gun rights advocate unwittingly echoed the Celtic-Germanic paradigm when he suggested that recent tragedies like the Long Island train shooting could have been averted if the other passengers on the train had also been armed and able to take defensive action. In response, a gun prohibition advocate expressed incredulity, and exclaimed that a society in which everyone packs heat would collapse into anarchy a viewpoint unwittingly expressive of the Roman perspective.
Indeed todays advocates of gun prohibition are so deeply in the grip of the Imperial Roman paradigm that they literally cannot grasp or conceive of the Celtic-Germanic alternative and thus, for example, are unable to see the Second Amendments militia as anything but a government agency, despite clear historical evidence that in the eighteenth century militia meant the armed citizenry.
In this country today the Imperial Roman system is poised on the brink of its final victory: the complete disarmament of the citizenry. Before we take that final step, we should ask ourselves whether our long journey away from the Celtic-Germanic system has really been a move in the right direction. Are we really safer or more secure today as a result of this transformation? The evidence suggests otherwise.
A restoration of, or at least a move back in the direction of, the Celtic-Germanic system would have at least five advantages over our current Roman-style system.
- First, it would provide greater discouragement to criminal behaviour by in effect raisig the numbers, presence, and reaction time of the police to a maximum.
- Second, it would more flexible, efficient, and inexpensive than a tax-funded bureaucracy.
- Third, it would reestablish neighbourhood control over law enforcement, a desperately needed measure in the light of police harassment of minorities.
- Fourth, it would more faithfully embody our democratic egalitarian heritage by making the use of defensive force a universal right rather than the privilege of an elite.
- And fifth, by diminishing the power differential between citizens and their government, it would seriously block the evident tendency of contemporary western democracies to evolve toward a police state.
Roderick T. Long