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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.

Volume 10, Issue 25: June 23, 2008

  1. The Meaning of the Second Amendment
  2. Balkan Lessons for Iraq
  3. Ireland’s Voters Reject Lisbon Treaty
  4. More on the Guantanamo Bay Case

1) The Meaning of the Second Amendment

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected this month to decide on the constitutionality of Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller—the first Second Amendment case to be heard by the Court in seventy years. What exactly did the amendment’s authors mean when they wrote, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”?

According to Independent Institute Research Fellow Stephen P. Halbrook, author of The Founders' Second Amendment, an alternative, equivalent wording of the amendment—based on the first dictionary published in the United States, by renowned scholar and educator Noah Webster—is the following: “Individuals have a right to have arms in their houses and to carry them for protection, and the government may not violate that right.” Moreover, this individual-rights interpretation, according to Halbrook, was long embraced by constitutional scholars and laypeople alike.

“It was only in the late 20th century that an Orwellian view of the Second Amendment gained currency,” writes Halbrook in a recent op-ed. “Within this distorted language prism, ‘the people’ would come to mean the states or state-conscripted militia; ‘right’ would mean government power; ‘keep’ would no longer entail custody for security or preservation; ‘bear’ would not mean carry; ‘arms’ would not include ordinary handguns and rifles, and ‘infringe’ would not include prohibition.”

“The Right to a Gun? You Could Look It Up,” by Stephen P. Halbrook (Star-Ledger, 6/11/08)

Upcoming Event: “What the Second Amendment Means Today.” Wednesday, July 2, Stephen P. Halbrook and Don B. Kates, Jr. will speak at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif.

The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, by Stephen P. Halbrook: Purchase | Read a detailed book summary.

Praise for The Founders’ Second Amendment:

“Stephen Halbrook’s The Founders’ Second Amendment is first-rate work, utterly convincing. This is a solid and important work.”
—Forrest McDonald, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of History, University of Alabama

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2) Balkan Lessons for Iraq

What institutional reforms can the Iraqi people implement to best promote peace and harmony in their country? They can start by learning what worked and what didn’t work on the Balkan peninsula, as Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland suggests in his latest op-ed.

Slovenia is the only success story in the former Yugoslavia, whereas Bosnia—infamous for a bloody civil war that yielded the worst fighting in Europe since World War II—was the region’s worst nightmare. The difference most relevant to these outcomes, Eland argues, was that Slovenia had the least ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity, whereas Bosnia had the most. Fortunately, Bosnia has been relatively pacific since it was decentralized under the Dayton accord. A similar arrangement holds the most promise for bringing peace and harmony to sectarian-torn Iraq.

“Thus, to prevent an all-out civil war when the United States finally pulls its finger out of the dike and withdraws its military forces from the country,” Eland writes, “the power of the Iraqi government will probably have to be reduced to a weak confederation of autonomous regions based on voluntary tribal or ethno-sectarian associations. And even then, the best Iraq can probably hope for is uneasy stability—similar to that afforded to Bosnia by its weak confederation.”

“Lessons for Iraq from the Former Yugoslavia,” by Ivan Eland (6/23/08)

Purchase The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed (Updated Edition), by Ivan Eland.

The Empire Has No Clothes is an extremely sensible book. I agree with Eland’s argument, though I doubt if it will be much appreciated by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle.”
—Paul M. Kennedy, Dilworth Professor of History and Director of International Security Studies, Yale University

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3) Ireland’s Voters Reject Lisbon Treaty

Ireland’s recent 53% to 47% rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon threatens to derail the latest hope for the Constitution of the European Union. Ireland’s decision should not be surprising: many Europeans feel ambivalent about political integration under the rubric of the European Union, as French and Dutch voters showed in their 2005 rejection of an earlier incarnation of the E.U. Constitution. Like the early American scuffles between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists over ratification of the U.S. Constitution—which ultimately led, of course, to the inclusion of the Bill of Rights—today’s battle between the E.U.’s “Europhile” supporters and its “Euroskeptic” detractors may yet lead to an interesting outcome. But what exactly would that look like?

In his latest syndicated column for the Washington Post Writers Group, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa notes that whatever shape European governance ultimately takes, the foundational document is unlikely to resemble anything so unified as the U.S. Bill of Rights. That’s because the Euroskeptics are united, not by any underlying positive principle, such as advocacy for individual liberty, but only by opposition to political integration with most of Europe.

“In the rivalry between American Federalists and Anti-Federalists, ideas were more important than interests, whereas in the antagonism between Euroskeptics and Europhiles, interests prevail over ideas,” writes Vargas Llosa. “This means that every referendum that Brussels loses is followed by new forms of centralization that disregard the citizens’ concerns over the explosion of European bureaucracy. One cannot see a meaningful Bill of Rights emerging in that context.”

“Ireland’s ‘No’,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (6/18/08) Spanish Translation

Purchase Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit chronicles the successes of Third World entrepreneurs who lifted themselves up from poverty and overcame obstacles (particularly the labyrinth of government regulations) to become successful business owners. . . . Ultimately, as the Independent Institute’s study shows, free enterprise and the extraordinary fortitude and vision of Third World entrepreneurs do play significant roles in alleviating poverty.”
The Futurist

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4) More on the Guantanamo Bay Case

In last week’s Lighthouse we recapped the Supreme Court’s clashing views of procedural safeguards for the “war on terror” detainees held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay. A new op-ed by Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins Jr. adds to that discussion by stressing the Founder’s reverence for the writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum:

“While bills of rights serve as guideposts for the people to monitor government infringements on their liberties, the ‘Great Writ’ [of habeas corpus] provides a mechanism by which a person can challenge a loss of personal freedom,” writes Watkins. “The Framers of the Constitution had such high regard for habeas that it is one of the few direct safeguards of liberty enshrined in the actual document.”

Although the administration will bear most of the political costs of the Court’s decision in Boumediene v. Bush, “Congress...crafted a poor substitute for habeas review,” Watkins writes. “On the domestic front, recent legislation such as the Protect America Act of 2007 (dubbed the ‘Police’ America Act by the ACLU) has given the NSA carte blanche to wiretap Americans without judicial oversight. How much more discretion can we risk giving the executive branch?”

“The Great Writ Preserved,” by William J. Watkins, Jr. (6/18/08)

Purchase Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, by William J. Watkins, Jr.

“Those of us who are alarmed by the recent incursions into personal freedom that have followed in the wake of the Administration’s open-ended ‘war’ on terrorism are indebted to William Watkins for Reclaiming the American Revolution, his penetrating and insightful account of how Jefferson and Madison reacted to a situation of equal peril to American liberty. As citizens of the republic we will each be judged on how we stood against those who would eat away at our rights under the guise of protecting us from attacks on our sovereignty. We could not do better than to remind ourselves of how Jefferson and Madison responded when faced with a crisis no less grievous.”
—Ronald Hamowy, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Alberta

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