Episode III: The Right of Self Defense
The definition of the right of self-defense is for people to be able to use reasonable force or defensive force, for the purpose of defending one’s own life or the lives of others, including, in certain circumstances, the use of deadly force.
The early theories of self-defense make no distinction between defense of the person and defense of property. Whether consciously or not, this builds on the Roman Law principle of dominium where any attack on the members of the family or the property it owned was a personal attack on the pater familias – the male head of the household, sole owner of all property belonging to the household, and endowed by law with dominion over all his descendants through the male line no matter their age.
Some scholars believe that the right to self-defense is referenced in religious texts as a God given right to protect oneself, family, and property. Among God’s first words to Noah after the Flood subsided was this declaration of the importance of human life and the price paid for spilling human blood: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6) This statement is not made to a nation-state or to a police force but instead to a small band of people who are rebuilding human society from the ground up. The principle is clear: Human life is precious, and God mandates the ultimate penalty for taking life. Going forward, the morality of the right of self-defense is presumed. Nehemiah, when he was rebuilding Jerusalem in the face of hatred (not in wartime, but when tribal neighbors were seeking to carry out vigilante attacks on Jews) instructed his people: “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:14).
In the climax of the Book of Esther it is told that Jews gathered together in an act of self-defense, when a despotic king was persuaded to allow them to fight against their attackers: “the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods.” (Esther 8:11). The Jews then “struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those that hated them.” (Esther 9:5). Before Esther’s intervention a king would have denied the Jews their right of self-defense. After Esther’s intervention, the Jews didn’t merely look to law enforcement for salvation but took matters into their own hands for their self defense.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is one of England’s most influential political philosophers. In his book Leviathan (published in 1651), Hobbes (using the English term self-defense for the first time) proposed the foundation political theory that distinguishes between a state of nature where there is no authority and a modern state. Hobbes argues that although some may be stronger or more intelligent than others in their natural state, none are so strong as to be beyond a fear of violent death, which justifies self-defense as the highest necessity.
Castle doctrine, also known as a castle law or a defense of habitation law,( 17th century English common law that was eventually brought to all states in the U.S.), is a legal doctrine that designates a person’s abode or any legally occupied place (for example, a vehicle or home) as a place in which that person has protections and immunities permitting one, in certain circumstances, to use force (up to and including deadly force) to defend oneself against an intruder, free from legal prosecution for the consequences of the force used.
In earlier times before the development of national policing, an attack on the family home was effectively either an assault on the people inside or an indirect assault on their welfare by depriving them of shelter and/or the means of production. This linkage between a personal attack and property weakened as societies developed but the threat of violence remains a key factor in exercising the right of self-defense.
The right of self-defense is a constitutional right. The Second Amendment grants us the right to keep and bear arms for personal protection and protection from government or other entities that want to impose their will over an unarmed populace.
Self-defense in today’s litigious society carries many issues of concern, those being the obvious chance of criminal prosecution if not all particulars are adhered to that are defined by law, civil lawsuits from the perpetrator involved in the incident or the family of the offender seeking financial remuneration, to the biggest personal issue that of the morality of the act and the ability to “live with the decision” of using violence to protect oneself that may include up to the taking of the life of another.
The adage of “I had rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6” is bravado at best, and is a simplistic way some justify the possibility of the act of taking another’s life in self-defense. The use of self defense requires hours of pondering on the ramifications morally, financially, and emotionally of engaging in this act, along with seeking education on how to prepare one self to properly execute a means of self-defense the individual feels adequate in using.
Essentially self-defense has been an inherent right that has existed throughout the history of civil society. All rights, of course, are subject to some limits (the right of free speech is not unlimited, for example), and there is much room for debate on the extent of those limits, but state action against the right of self-defense is by default a violation of the natural rights of man, and the state’s political judgment about the limitations of that right should be viewed with extreme skepticism and must overcome a heavy burden of justification.
I personally believe every man, woman, and child should be motivated to seek education in the ways of personal self defense while being well grounded in their moral, emotional and mental states regarding its use. I believe that a person that is confident in their ability to defend their self is the cornerstone of a well-rounded individual, and that this in turn creates the foundation of a strong capable individual that translates into the possibilities of a stable family, secure community, and better world.