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In the last few days, I have been made aware of an article written by Garry Wills (note this is not George Will).

He believes the 2nd amendment was put in place to accommodate Southerners who wanted to keep slaves in their place:
“I am now even more convinced that Madison added the Second Amendment under pressure from his Virginia foe Patrick Henry, who opposed the Constitution without protection for the militia as a slave-compelling power and for arsenals (‘keep and bear arms’) to store military resources against slave rebellions, a deep and constant fear in the South.”

He also believes the time has come for Elizabeth Warren to be in the White House, an opinion with which I wholeheartedly agree.
On 9/7/2019 10:00 AM, The New York Review of Books wrote:
On the NYR Daily this week
This week we published an essay by the historian, writer, and longtime Review contributor Garry Wills titled “The Rights of Guns.” After the recent series of mass shootings—in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso and Odessa, Texas—one might say that it was timely. But there’s a sense in which a reflection on the hold that guns and gun rights have on American society is never not timely.
Wills’s piece this week ends with the observation that the Second Amendment worship that enables this cycle of death is akin to religious idolatry—taking us back to the mordant piece he wrote for the Daily on this theme in 2012, “Our Moloch,” in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting. It is a melancholy fact that, with every new mass shooting, we see an uptick in people sharing and reading that piece.

Over a career well into its sixth decade, Garry Wills has written so prolifically on so many subjects—religion, politics, theater, history, the Founders, the art of rhetoric, and more—that there is an entire, separate Wikipedia page dedicated to his bibliography. The distortion of “gun rights” has been a long-running theme, dating back at least to a learned 1995 essay for the Review on the constitutional debate over the right to “bear arms.”
There, he explains that Madison granted the Second Amendment essentially as a compromise, co-opting anti-royalist rhetoric to win acceptance for the rest of his Bill of Rights. But in our email exchange this week, he offered an even darker interpretation of this compromise:
“I am now even more convinced that Madison added the Second Amendment under pressure from his Virginia foe Patrick Henry, who opposed the Constitution without protection for the militia as a slave-compelling power and for arsenals (‘keep and bear arms’) to store military resources against slave rebellions, a deep and constant fear in the South.”
That evolved, more radical view reminded me of Wills’s own political trajectory. He started out writing, on theater, for William F. Buckley’s then-new National Review, and his first book was about the Catholic intellectual G.K. Chesterton—no one’s idea of a leftist firebrand. But I caught myself in danger of making a simplistic assumption here.
“When I met Bill Buckley, he asked if I was a conservative,” Wills told me. “I said, Is ‘Distributism’ conservative. He said no—too opposed to capitalism. He was right.” Wills’s Distributism, which he defines with characteristic succinctness as “against both unchecked capitalism and socialism, respecting property but distributing it,” was from Chesterton. Soon, Wills was reporting for Esquire on the civil rights and antiwar movements—“and [that] led me to write things like ‘Martin Luther King Is Still on the Case’ (August 1968).”
Another prolific Review contributor, Murray Kempton, who was a man of the left, was also a friend and an influence—though not, perhaps, on Wills’s writing style, which tends to proceed in a muscular way with a succession of clipped, declarative sentences. Responding to this observation, Wills reflected: “I don’t know why I sound different from my favorite prose stylists—Edward Gibbon, Samuel Johnson, John Ruskin, Murray Kempton (Murray once told me, ‘You and I are eighteenth-century people’). They were all periphrastic.
“Perhaps I leaned against that when writing myself,” he added. “Agere contra, as St. Ignatius said.”
And as with St. Ignatius, one can also expect Wills to deliver some pithy, well-turned dictum. When I asked him to compare Donald Trump with Richard Nixon (the subject of his 1970 classic Nixon Agonistes), he elaborated this far: “The difference between an evil man and the devil.”
Naturally, I wanted to know from such a deep and experienced observer of American politics how he saw the prospects for exorcising that demon. In particular, I was interested to note that back in 2015 he’d written a piece for the Daily urging Elizabeth Warren not to run. (His point there was that her best work was championing people’s interests against those of bankers and using her influence to pull Hillary Clinton further from the clutches of Wall Street.) But what about now?
“Warren was useful in the Senate before Trump. She is essential in the White House after Trump,” Wills said. “Who does the government work for?”

For everything else we’ve been publishing, visit the NYR Daily. And let us know what you think: send your comments on articles or this newsletter to Lucy McKeon and me at daily@nybooks.com; we do write back.
Matt Seaton
Editor, NYR Daily

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