Back to Guns: Kant vs. Saint Augustine
If you haven’t seen it yet, you certainly should look through the exchange that the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates are having about Jeff Goldberg’s story on guns and gun control, which appeared just before the Newtown massacre. Their main discussion is here. TNC has follow-ups here and here, and Jeff Goldberg here and here.
An important part of their discussion turns on what Jeff Goldberg calls the “Saint Augustine question,” about when and whether those who forswear violence may justly use violent means to prevent a greater evil from taking place. As he puts it in one part of the exchange:
Let me ask the Augustinian question: Let’s say you’re in the mall with me, or another friend, and a psychopathic shooter is approaching us, AR-15 in hand. In this situation, my life is at stake, as well as yours. I’ll ask the question again: Would you want a gun in hand to help keep us alive, and to keep the strangers around you — each one a human being created in the image of God (I know you lean atheist, but you get my point) — alive as well?
TNC has his own comeback to the Saint Augustine issue, here. Since we’re rolling out the big-time thinkers, I’ll say that the reason I prefer the Coates side of the argument (more guns are not the answer), over the Goldberg side (in the right circumstances they can be), is well expressed not by Augustine but by Immanuel Kant.