Once again, Americans are involved in an intense national discussion over what can be done to stem the tide of increased violence within society. Not surprisingly, the participants in this exercise are focusing a great deal of attention on the availability of guns. Fine. So be it. But the fact is that they are addressing the symptoms not the disease. To paraphrase the Bard, “The fault, dear reader, is not in the guns, but in ourselves, that we are flawed.”
Christians refer to this circumstance as “original sin,” and attribute it to Adam and Eve’s nasty experience with a snake in the Garden of Eden. Obviously, you do not have to believe in the historic accuracy of this story, but you should believe the poetic truth it conveys, to borrow a phrase from the poet W.H. Auden. Citing Aristotle, C. S. Lewis explained it as follows in his remarkable little book, The Abolition of Man: “The little human animal . . . must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting and hateful . . . Without the aid of trained emotions, the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.”
Even the most primitive societies understand this. Most establish elaborate systems for civilizing their young. The fundamental unit in these systems is invariably the family, and the teachings are virtually always deeply imbued with the idea that they are based on some divine order. More advanced societies establish complex networks of educational and cultural institutions to inculcate citizens with the customs, mores, history, in short, the culture of which they are a part. The United States once excelled in this exercise. Today it is failing badly.
For the record, the government neither created this failure nor the crisis it precipitated. Government’s role is to fill the void left by civilizational decay, which is exactly what it is doing. Hence the on-going conversation about the legislative and regulatory remedies to the problems of gun violence. While this is a necessary function, in the long run, it is a dire threat to individual freedom because it eventually leads to totalitarianism.
Civilization is the responsibility of the people. It is an extension of the age-old battle against evil. As we have said over and over again in these pages (or in the pages of our other newsletter): the battle for the heart and soul of America will not be won or lost in Washington. Washington is nothing more than the place where the results of this conflict are recorded, where the score is kept. The battles are fought daily in the nation’s cultural institutions: its schools and universities, its churches and synagogues, its movies and news media.
We are certain that we will have occasion to revisit this fight again, and probably in greater depth. In the meantime, don’t kid yourself about the likelihood that gun laws will solve the problem of increased violence. Now, as always, it’s the culture, stupid.