Guns and the Monopoly on Force

The Objectivist corners of the Internet have been lit up recently by some new comments from Yaron Brook (executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute) about the Second Amendment and gun control. I’m not going to take on these comments in much detail because they strike me as offhand, flippant, and offensively arrogant—you really have to listen to him to get a sense of this—with Brook making broad and flat assertions on a topic he doesn’t seem to know much about, in a way that seems really divorced from the real world. If you think private ownership of firearms is irrelevant to the rise of dictatorship, for example, you might want to check in with the people of Venezuela, who are in the process of having their firearms confiscated—and then distributed to pro-regime thugs. Meanwhile, Yaron Brook asserts that this sort of thing is a “made up story” that “hasn’t happened anywhere.”

That’s about as much comment as the video itself deserves. Personally, I’m less concerned with Yaron’s poorly informed views on the Second Amendment than I am with his cynical assertions about how nobody wants liberty and most people just want to be told what to do. It seems an oddly demotivational speech for a movement that is supposed to be dedicated to promoting freedom, though perhaps it explains some of my own unhappy experiences with the dominant management style of Objectivist institutions.

Yet the online debate this has sparked about the Second Amendment has moved on to raise a specific issue in political philosophy and political science that is interesting and not very well understood: what it means for government to have a “monopoly” on force.

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