The Potowmack Institute

Pamphleteering on the Internet

Potowmack Institute
asamicus curiae in
US v Emerson (1999)

The Rule of Law

The National Rifle Association
What does the NRA really want?

The National Rifle Association
Charlton Heston Speaks

The Founders and the AK47
Sue Wimmershoff-Caplan:
The NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" "outflank", Wash. Post 7/6/89
The Washington Post
Cultivating Ignorance

Guns, Rights, the Libertarian Fantasy, and the Rule of Law
Not Seen in The Responsive Community
Getting Commitment from Congress
The blood on their doorstep
The Libertarian Fantasy on the Supreme Court
Thomas and Scalia
Joyce Lee Malcolm
Ayn Rand, Blackstone
Joseph Story's
"Palladium of the Liberties"
John Kenneth Rowland
Lawrence Cress
Jerry Cooper
Gary Hart
LaPierre's List and the Law Reviews
Revolutionary Militia

Militia Act, 1792
Mass. Militia Act, 1793

Whittaker Chambers
Reviews Ayn Rand

National Review, 1957

January, 1996

In his introduction to the first volume of British Pamphleteers (George Orwell and Reginald Reynolds, eds,, London, 1948), George Orwell laments the quality of pamphlets in his own time (writing in the late 1940s) and the decay of the English language— under the influence of scientific precision and bureaucratic organization. The pamphlet collection is from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when pamphlets, as Orwell observes, were very influential in the English Reformation and American Revolution. Orwell wrote, "It would be difficult to name a single eminent English writer who has produced a pamphlet during the last fifteen years. There is not a Swift or Defoe living today, but even those who are nearest to them never bother to write pamphlets. In order that they should begin doing so, it is necessary that people should once again become aware of the possibilities of the pamphlet as a method of influencing opinion. . .that the prestige of the pamphlet should be restored." The Potowmack Institute does not pretend to rival Swift or Defoe but the Internet offers possibilities that Orwell could appreciate. The Potowmack Institute operates in the spirit of the pamphleteer.

A pamphlet "is written because there is something that one wants to say now, and because one believes there is no other way of getting a hearing." Pamphlets "always have a clear political implication." "When there is genuine freedom of speech and all points of view are represented in the press, part of the reason for pamphleteering disappears. . . Violence and scurrility are part of the pamphlet tradition, and up to a point press censorship favors them." The Potowmack Institute will not be violent or, in its own estimation, scurrilous, but it is not always easy to be kind when very serious business is neglected. The issues taken up in the "The Rule of Law are the most vital issues of political life. We have now not only a crisis in gun violence but the very real threat of private armies in our midst and candidates running for high office on the position that private armies are just normal. Gun violence and private armies are the direct result of the gun lobby's success in keeping gun ownership outside of accountability to public authority so it can have its rightwing fantasy. The articles, which would have been a feeble beginning to a discussion that should have begun decades ago, were unworthy of interest not just to the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and the Christian Science Monitor but as long ago as 1993 the same arguments were submitted to The Progressive, The Nation and in 1991 proposed to the Washington Monthly. For several years the basic research and reasoning was offered for free to anyone who wanted it. That should not have been necessary. It does not take a great intellect to figure this business out.

Nevertheless, the op-ed pages of the Washington Post are a virtual bulletin board for the gun lobby's frauds. A competent newspaper has to exercise editorial discretion. It cannot simply post as fact any interest group's claims. See "Abusing Federalist Paper No. 46". The Post could examine the gun lobby's claims and conduct a rational, factually accurate informative debate drawing from history, law, and political theory on why anyone has to maintain extralegal armed force. Substantive debate, however, might embarrass the National Rifle Association and its water carriers in Congress and on the campaign trail. Of course, the "body count" news reporting simply documents the obvious. The Washington Post has now abandoned all responsibility for public enlightenment. We have to wonder if there is any issue on which we are getting real information.

Orwell knew. He demonstrated his political insights:

The capacity to exercise extralegal armed force is a large and uncomfortable fact. The justification for the maintenance of extralegal armed force is several rather obvious frauds. What James Madison was really talking about in Federalist Paper No. 46 can be judged by anyone. The Potowmack Institute will continue the Firearms Policy Journal's standing offer to pay anyone (not on the payroll) $100 who can get the relevant words in full context printed in the Washington Post.

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