Silence of the Wise

Washington Times 6.02.99
Balint Vazsonyi

Astonishing but true: The academic year just completed has elicited few howls of anguish about the rising level of incompetence threatening to engulf this land, whereas near-hysterical attacks on prayer and guns have become our daily bread.

Is it rational to be against both prayer and guns?

Perhaps it is. Together, the rejection of divine providence and the prohibition of guns will surely place the citizenry entirely at the mercy of the commissar state.

In the coming weeks, much will be heard about constitutional authority for these positions. Would that journalists and television anchors, as well as Americans everywhere, reacquaint themselves with that singularly magnificent document - our sole defense against an ominous future.

A careful reading will reveal not only words of great precision, but also the significance of boundaries not crossed - silences of the wise. That which is not there speaks as clearly to us as that which is.

Musicians learn early about that. During one of my many unforgettable sessions with a great master, he suddenly exclaimed: "What about the rests? Don't you know Beethoven composed the most wonderful rests?! You are not performing the rests!"

The Constitution of the United States is full of wonderful rests. For starters, we may look to my own field: the arts.

Article I: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

In other words, the needs associated with the "useful" arts were very much on the Framers' mind, leading to the highly successful practice of patents. It would be preposterous to presume that the Framers simply "forgot" to provide for the fine arts, given their well-known interest in that area.

In any case, even with regard to the useful arts, they clearly sought to protect the rights of ownership, as opposed to encouraging a federal subsidy.

Thus silence strips the National Endowment for the Arts of constitutional legitimacy.

Next, we look for the word "education" in vain - the deep commitment of the Framers to the topic notwithstanding. Could they have overlooked a matter of such importance?


We find "education" where it belongs - in the state constitutions. Already in 1787, with only 13 states and merely a fraction of the expanse the United States came to be, the Framers must have known instinctively that uniform rules and central direction would cause education to stultify and atrophy.

Thus silence strips the Federal Department of Education of constitutional legitimacy.

And so we come to prayer and guns as addressed in the first two among the ten initial amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." How these words - simply directing Congress to keep out of it altogether - came to be interpreted by mature adults as a constitutional bar against prayer in schools is a subject worthy of a subsidized psychiatric study; perchance the National Endowment for the Humanities could fund it.

Of course, if offering a prayer at the outset of proceedings is unconstitutional, then all members of the Congress of the United States are guilty of violating their oath of office every day Congress is in session.

The scholarly debate about guns homes in on the use of the word "militia" in the language of the Second Amendment. "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

The dictionary offers a wide range of meanings for "militia," and the word appears in the introductory clause - not in the primary statement. (Is syntax still taught in American schools, or has it gone multicultural?) The operative phrase is clearly "the right of the people..." Had the Framers had a national defense force against the British in mind (as some like to argue), the people would not have been granted such individual rights.

And that, fellow-Americans, brings us to the crucial point.

The Framers did not presume to grant rights. They affirmed rights which, in their view, pre-existed the writing of the Constitution. That is the unequivocal message in phrases such as "the right of the people shall not be infringed," or: "Congress shall make no law...abridging...the right of the people..." Those rights had been there; they could not be given to the people by other people.

Nor can they be taken away.

For the past 30 years, however, non-existent, bogus rights have been demanded, enacted and enforced day in, day out. Each one deprives some Americans of the genuine rights which the Declaration of Independence held to be unalienable.

I do not now and never did own a gun. But I am glad millions of decent Americans do. And it is troubling that people who push for more gun control tend to be the same ones who stripped our military bare, and who agitate against protection from missiles. The Framers were decidedly not silent about providing for the common defense.

As for prayer, it is just possible that in a school where the day begins thus, children would behave as they used to when I arrived here 40 years ago. That was before metal detectors, drug tests, "self esteem," and political correctness.

Entirely too many of us regard devout Christians and the National Rifle Association as sources of greater concern than our daily diminishing liberties, our disintegrating public schools, the loss of our universities to political activists, nuclear threat from China, Korea and Iran, or the impending end of guaranteed passage through the Panama Canal.

A few moments of silence might help us regain wisdom.