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Restore the Constitution!

Free Association and Public Morality

In recent years, American politics has been preoccupied with moral questions, or what are now called "social issues": sexual immorality, sodomy, abortion, pornography, and recreational drugs. Some conservatives want the federal government to play a role in opposing these evils. Many libertarians, on the other hand, want the government, state and federal alike, to treat them as matters of indifference. Most liberals seem to want the government to promote them because they believe that these activities are not evils but "rights."

Liberals have a habit of reading their agenda into the Constitution. As Daniel Lazare observed in the October 1999 issue of Harper's, Americans tend to regard the Constitution as a "sacred text"—a secular Scripture—that contains the answer to every problem. Since liberals favor gun control, for example, they assume that the Constitution must favor it as well.

What about the Second Amendment? Most liberals argue that the Second Amendment only recognizes the right of states to keep militias, not the right of individuals to own firearms. But Lazare argues that recent scholarship is conclusive: "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" was integral to the Founding Fathers' philosophy of republican government. In the Federalist, for example, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison envision various situations when the people might...

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