May 28, 2002
ASK & YE SHALL RECEIVE: There’s a new logo, which hopefully addresses Dr. Weevil’s unfortunate associations with the old one. Archives are fixed so that links go where they’re supposed to. And I have answers to two popular questions sent in response to the autobiographical part of this post: “Why does Garry Wills hate you?” and “What’s this about your dad and the antiwar protests?”
The two are not connected as far as I know, except by the common factor of Garry Wills, but you can read about the antiwar protests (which also involved Billy Graham and Richard Nixon) here, including a mention of Wills’ article in Esquire, which I have never actually read.
Why does Wills hate me? Well, he doesn’t really hate me so much as he hates guns. But he wrote a rather nasty review in The New York Review of Books, reviewing a symposium issue of the Tennessee Law Review on the Second Amendment. Wills called me one of a cabal of nutty law professors who had dreamed up an unfounded interpretation of the Second Amendment, and offered his own (based on Latin etymology) in its place. Wills purported to demonstrate, using this Latin analysis, that James Madison had managed to hornswoggle everyone else into accepting a Second Amendment that did absolutely nothing at all.
Wills’ theory hasn’t caught on (as one colleague put it, “it would be more persuasive, if the Constitution were written in Latin”) but in an exchange of letters published in the New York Review about his piece he more or less accused me of fraud (he called my reliance “plain false”) for interpreting a letter from Tench Coxe to James Madison the way that pretty much every consitutional scholar (except Wills) interprets it, as indicating support for an individual right to arms. (The letters are not available online, but the discussion is accurately summarized here in the introduction and at fn. 15).
Wills has not been as quick to charge fraud where Michael Bellesiles is concerned, I note. In fact, as far as I know, he’s said nothing since his glowing review of September 10, 2000.
A somewhat modified version of Wills’ thesis, minus bogus charges of fraud, appears in Wills’ book A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government, which might have been dedicated, as was a book by Le Corbusier, “To Authority.”
So there you have it.
UPDATE: Reader Don McGregor writes: “A Necessary Evil was a deeply weird book. The Liberals have adopted pre-revolutionary Tory ideology: that the state has a claim to existence above and superior to the wishes and desires of the people it purportedly serves.” Yes. We’re seeing that in Europe with the EU, too. And for similar reasons.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Here’s a piece on Garry Wills’ Second Amendment theories that’s more digestible and to the point than the rather long item relating to Tench Coxe that I link above.