When I see black clad professor from Harvard discussing emergencies, I don’t normally think of someone who is going to make a compelling argument for de-Federalizing and de-centralizing portions of our government, and who will make compelling (if very different at times) arguments in favor of the rights of the citizenry to bear arms.
The occasion of the interview, was the release of Elaine Scarry’s new book: Thinking in an Emergency. In it she made some arguments that struck me as very odd by the usual establishment-liberal thinking found commonly at Harvard.
For sixty years, modern democratic governments have undermined democracy and increased executive power by invoking the idea of emergency. They have bypassed constitutional provisions concerning presidential succession, the declaration of war, the use of torture, civilian surveillance, and the arrangements for nuclear weapons. In the desire for swift national action, we citizens devalue thinking and ignore ways to check government power, plunging our countries into a precarious state between monarchy and democracy.
She illustrates her thinking further in the interview.
Thinking in an Emergency: An Interview with Elaine Scarry
David V. Johnson, Boston Review, 13 July 2011 (hat tip: The Browser).
David Johnson: What inspired your interest in the topic of emergencies?
Elaine Scarry: I have been working for many years on the problems that arise from the population being willing to suspend its own responsibility for self-governing actions. One of the things that has seduced people into giving up on their own actions is the claim of emergency—the government will often make the spurious claim that because certain things require very fast action, there is no time for ordinary processes of deliberation and thinking, and therefore we have to abridge our normal protocols.
I find exactly the opposite to be the case. Thinking and emergency action are deeply compatible. Sometimes that thinking takes the form of very recognizable deliberative processes, and many other times that thinking takes a form that may be less easy to recognize—protocols, procedures, laws that we deliberate about in advance, and we build all the deliberation into the protocols, and then that allows us to act very quickly.
DJ: In the book you’re quite critical of the United States, and how we prepare for emergencies, and how our government is structured to cope with emergencies.
ES: Right now I feel that we in the United States have let these abilities lapse, though I think that traditionally it was something we, along with other countries, were very good at. For example in the book I talk about the incredible mutual aid contracts on the plains of Canada’s Saskatchewan region, and then I look at mutual aid pacts in countries as different as Japan, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. Does the United States have mutual aid? Does it have the kind of neighborhood groups Japan had that allowed its civilian population to respond so effectively in the 1995 Kobe Earthquake? I think the answer’s no, and we can see that from Katrina and other disasters. But, in the past—let’s say in the nineteenth century—I think we did. Tocqueville in his account of America just marvels at the number of voluntary associations in the United States.
.... We use the term grassroots, but mutual aid or self-defense really is highly local—it requires knowledge of local ground, the concrete texture of civilian life, the gradient of the hillside of your street, the kind of trees that are there If we go all the way back to the Revolutionary War, we see that people could defend the country because they knew the exact terrain; they knew the bend in the forest and contours of the farmland. If you go out to Concord, Mass., and follow the Battle Road of the Revolution, or read the great descriptions that we have from historian David Fisher of Paul Revere going house-by-house, street-by-street, you see that acts of protection are highly concrete.
It’s important to recognize the capacity that ordinary citizens, today as in the past, have for self-defense. The book I did for Boston Review, Who Defended the Country? [at Amazon here], shows that on 9/11 it was the ordinary citizenry that was able to protect the country by bringing down Flight 93—whereas all the military arrangements did not enable the Pentagon to bring down Flight 77. The Pentagon was not able to protect even the Pentagon, let alone the rest of the country. And there are many other examples that show the ordinary citizen as very crucial to American defense. For example, the Shoe Bomber in December of 2001 was stopped by ordinary citizens on the plane. The Christmas Bomber—the Christmas would-be suicide bomber on Northwest Airlines in 2009—was stopped by citizens on the plane. The vendor in Times Square in 2010 who noticed something was amiss and alerted the police, and it turned out to be a potential car bombing.
At this point, I am thinking to myself “I wonder what her thinking on gun control is?” It is fairly obvious that she would normally be framed as being on the left side of the spectrum. But this sounds like a strange non-Federalist approach from someone from the establishment-left.
Well after a little online searching, I came up with the following “controversial” paper from Ms. Scarry. I have only quoted a very small portion. She makes a number of other interesting points, tying together the rights of women, and minorities to the right to bear arms and serve, and a very compelling anti-nuclear missile argument tied in directly with the original right-of-the-people-to-bear-arms argument.
Elaine Scary, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, May 1991.
The charge of disarming recurs constantly during the ratification debates. The enslavement of the population that Luther Martin envisioned in Maryland would come about, he argued, through the standing army's attempts "to disarm" the militia."  At the Pennsylvania Ratification Committee, the minority report counseling against ratification attributed its dissent in part to the need for a constitutional provision stipulating "no law shall be passed for [Page 1283] disarming the people."  The fact that Pennsylvania muskets were called in for repair during the period of debate led those opposing ratification to suspect military suppression of their dissent. In an address entitled To the People of Pennsylvania, Centinel asked, "What otherwise is the meaning of disarming the militia, for the purpose as it is said of repairing their musquets at such a particular period? Does not the timing of the measure determine the intention?"  Aristocrotis, too, charged that a recall of the public arms "upon the pretence of having them cleaned" was a way of "disarm ing " the militia in order to discredit and disempower all objections to ratification. 
The verbal reflexes of "invasion" and "disarming" consistently reveal that a nondistribution of military power is perceived not as a secondary or tertiary attribute of a given contractual society, but as something so profoundly incompatible with it that the form of the government itself dissolves: contract disappears, and it is replaced by latent despotism. Conversely, "militia" is understood to mean "a distribution of military power," and this "distribution of military power" is recognized as essential to the preservation of the social contract itself. It is for this reason that nineteenth century legal philosophers like William Rawle identified the militia "as the palladium of the country"  and political leaders like Governor Brooks of Massachusetts called it "the palladium of . . . civil rights."  Joseph Story, explaining why the right to bear arms is "justly" considered "the palladium of the liberties of a republic," said that the militia provides a free country with a defense "against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers."  At the opening of this triad, [Page 1284] physical invasiveness is attributed to the foreign power, but by the end it has migrated to the ground of internal inequity, as standing armies "afford a facile means to ambitious and unprincipled rulers to subvert the government or trample upon the rights of the people." 
The center of the collective case against the standing army is precisely its being nonsentient, severed from the knowledge of the sentience of the population. "A standing army is still a standing army by whatever name it is called; they are a body of men distinct from the body of the people."  The idea of the standing army as cut off from the feelings of the citizenry--separated from any base in sentience--recurs constantly.  It eventually gives rise to the most frequently invoked trope associated with the standing army: the image of the nonsentient "engine," a word that passes up and down the Atlantic coast during the ratification period in the letters of Luther Martin, the letters of Centinel, the Essays by a Farmer, and the writings of Brutus.  The mute nonsentient missiles of the twentieth century, almost wholly independent of the human population they are empowered to destroy, are a vast magnification of this most dreaded attribute of the standing army.
As a note, the late Joe Bageant, and old school socialist also made strong pro-Second Amendment arguments, but I would not say he was within the mainstream establishment- liberalism.
Either we ourselves can bear arms and change the situation by revolution, or as seems more plausible and desirable, we can bring into view the pre- revolutionary situation and call for judicial recognition of the distributive intent of the right to bear arms