I had planned not to blog about the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., for two reasons: One is that I’m finishing another book and don’t have much time for much else; the other is that what one is expected to say at times like this is often not what occurs to me. As Edgar says at the end of King Lear:
The weight of this sad time we must obey, Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
In other words, times like this are for feeling and not philosophy. Being more of a thinker than a feeler, I’m better off keeping my mouth shut.
But others haven’t, and two others in particular help to illustrate Shakespeare’s point. One gives us an excellent example of thinking about feeling; the other, an alarming example of feeling without thinking.
First the former: Ross Douthat writes sagely in the New York Times about that part of the Christmas story most overlooked and yet also most relevant to our “general woe” (Lear, again). I won’t try to paraphrase or summarize his post; he writes so well, I can only urge you to read what he has written.
Now the latter: George Kenney writes in the Huffington Post that mass murder is too high a price for our constitutional system. He recommends, first, amending Article V to make constitutional amendments easier and “more democratic,” then repealing the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms.
It happens that I know George and regard him as a friend, but sometimes you have to tell your friends to get a grip and start thinking and acting like a man and not like a frightened schoolgirl. Never mind the Second Amendment. Think — don’t just feel — think what would happened to our constitutional system of government if the people now in charge got their hands on Article V, which says:
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
Think also about how important stability is for any constitutional system, and about the importance of having broad popular support for changes to the system. Law is law only when it doesn’t change; when it changes, it is will, and when it changes easily and often, it is whim.
Our Founding Fathers understood this. That’s why they wrote Article V to require two thirds of both Houses of Congress and three quarters of the States to amend the Constitution. Murder doesn’t confound the wisdom of that requirement — not on the scale of 9-11, not on the scale of Oklahoma City, and certainly not on the scale of Sandy Hook.