Pilots, guns and political philosophy

When people seem tenaciously irrational it’s usually a sign that basic philosophical presuppositions are in play. Paul Greenberg finds it “impenetrable, if not just plain contrary” that the Department of Transportation won’t arm pilots. The reasons they give do sound unbelievably stupid: “Pilots need to concentrate on flying the plane,” or “We have just spent the last eight months purging the airspace of potential weapons. It would be unwise to suddenly flood the system with 100,000 lethal weapons.”

Greenberg suggests antigun animus, but that’s not it exactly—air marshalls and national guardsmen have guns and no-one minds. The real reason is conceptual: if the man with a gun is a specialist employed by the government, then the violence the gun threatens is wholly subjected to the legal system, at least in thought, so it stops being violence. If it’s not a government employee then that shows violence can’t be subjected to the legal system completely but has to be allowed into the world as part of the life of ordinary people. And that’s something liberals can’t concede no matter what the consequences. It would admit that conflicts are real and deadly serious, an impossibility for a philosophy that in theory bases politics on individual consent.

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