While teaching on Aristotle in my ethics class last week, I noted that he was a “teleologist.” A teleologist is simply one who thinks that everything in the world has an essential purpose that makes it the kind of thing that it is. This is what most people held up until the advent of modern science.
An astute student then attempted to tie Aristotle’s analysis into the current debate over the Second Amendment. He observed that those who favor ever more oppressive restrictions on the Second Amendment—the proponents of “gun control”—sound very much like teleologists when it comes to guns. Guns kill, we are told. This is their purpose.
That cars, knives, fists, and many other things other than guns also kill is neither here nor there for Second Amendment deniers. Cars, say, aren’t meant to kill. Guns are.
My student was correct. When it comes to guns, the enemies of the Second Amendment do indeed speak as if they were teleologists. Forget that when it comes to almost everything else, their teleology goes out the window.
But let’s play along and see whether these cafeteria teleologists are willing to follow their reasoning to its logical term.
The purpose of a free press is to safeguard our liberty against corruption. Those who rely upon the First Amendment to peddle their wares in the media can constitutionally justify their existence by alluding to this purpose. Without our media “watchdogs,” we are lead to think, those in power—those in government, particularly—could all too easily trample our liberties under foot.
Freedom of the press, we are told, is the always precarious line separating liberty from tyranny, citizens from subjects or slaves.
If this is so, however, then it is not unreasonable to think that if those in the media are not doing their job, if they are not serving as watchdogs, then maybe they should no longer be permitted to hide behind the First Amendment.
And they are not doing their job.
Journalists and pundits in publishing and broadcasting far too often protect, not the liberties that government office holders are busy away eroding, but the government office holders themselves. In exchange for access to politicians, the tireless champions of the press’s sacred right to freedom of speech reduce themselves to public relations tools for these same politicians.
So, this being the case, we should ask of the First Amendment absolutists in the media: Do they really need their freedom of speech?
If we are in turn accused of wanting to repeal the First Amendment, or at least that part of it that guarantees freedom of the press, we should deny the charge: No one is talking repeal here, we must insist. Rather, we are only talking about “common sense” restrictions or regulations.
Those in the press can maintain their freedom of speech—but only if they really need it. That is, if they are exposing or otherwise challenging those in government—and not acting as their propagandists—then and only then should they be free to continue doing so. However, freedom of the press will not extend to those media figures intent upon serving as apologists for the powerful.
To make sure that we apply the First Amendment in a “common sense” way, those who own and manage media organizations—and possibly those in their employment—will be required to submit their coverage of the events and people of the day every so often to a bi-partisan, independent Congressional commission.
If it is established that their networks and publications have taken an insufficiently adversarial stance toward the government, then a penalty will be leveled. This is what will happen the first time around. If it is subsequently discovered that those who are supposed to be pit bulls are actually poodles, then their business will be extinguished.
The First Amendment is not violated here, we can remind our critics. Quite the contrary, in fact, for these “common sense” restrictions will preserve and strengthen it. They will make sure that its purpose is fulfilled.
Somehow, I doubt very much that those who are all too eager to apply these arguments to the Second Amendment will be so eager to accept them when it comes to the First Amendment.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.