The dictionary definition of 'militia' is a group of citizens who are organized or capable of providing paramilitary or policing service, namely:
(a) An army reserve composed of part-time soldiers (organized militia).
(b) A nation's able-bodied citizens who can be called upon to defend it (unorganized militia).
(c) A non-government military force (private or public militia).
(d) The national police forces in Russia and other CIS countries.
In all of these cases a militia is distinct from the full-time professional soldiers paid by the government. In modern times the militia normally serves to supplement a standing army (e.g., help it resist an invasion) and act as a safeguard against it (i.e., deter a military coup). In some cases the 'enemies' against which a militia has been mobilized are political opponents of the government like strikers. Some so-called militias are small bands of criminals working for oppressive regimes as proxies, like the Janjaweed militias that helped the Sudanese government ethnically cleanse the Darfur region.
The term originally described ordinary citizens (able-bodied male citizens of military age) who were armed and trained to protect their community before the creation of standing armies and police forces. They generally consisted of every able-bodied male of military age. As they were made up of many ordinary citizens they would not oppress the people, who were in fact themselves, whereas standing armies are notorious for doing so. The term 'militia' has been corrupted by elites who want to redefine it to mean a small group of state employees like police and army reservists or a pool of untrained and unarmed citizens who are merely eligible for military service.
A distinction needs to be made between the different types of non-government militia, namely private and public. A private militia group is essentially a private army (albeit manned by part-time members who are employees or unpaid volunteers) whose primary allegiance is to the private interest of the people who man or run that organization (invariably acquiring money or power), typically drug barons or extremists with an ideological, religious or racist agenda. A public militia group consists of unpaid volunteers whose primary allegiance is to the public interest (much like volunteer fire brigades), not the private interests of the people who man or run it. Although a private and public militia may have many similarities in structure and outward appearance they are very different ethically, like the difference between the FBI and the Gestapo.
Public militia groups are invariably depicted negatively by governments and media organizations due to the perceived threat they pose to their self-interest (power and wealth), even though most members simply want to participate in the defense of their community much as their ancestors did before the rise of standing armies and police forces, but are denied the opportunity to do so in a state run equivalent. Depicting members of public militias as dangerous rednecks reveals much about the inherently undemocratic and abusive nature of the elites who perpetuate these stereotypes, and the truism that power corrupts. Thus all the more need to join a public militia group if you are unable to join a state run equivalent.
In a democracy legitimate power stems from the people, not a political, aristocratic, religious, military or business elite, so ordinary citizens should retain the practical means to defend their democracy by being an active part of their nation's armed forces, and in so doing helping to deter crime, tyranny and crimes against humanity like genocide. We believe democratic governments should encourage law-abiding adults to join a Swiss style citizen army or British Home Guard style militia. If their government declines to do so we believe citizens should join a public militia along the lines of Australia's version of the British Home Guard, the WWII era Volunteer Defense Corps, initially a non-government public militia founded and initially run by the RSL which had government permission to do so (taken over by the Australian Army when its role expanded).
A large part-time people's army reduces the likelihood of war as members derive the great bulk of their income from civilian employment thus are less than enthusiastic about interrupting their civilian lives and careers by marching off to an unnecessary war, while many citizens are far less likely to support a war of aggression if it is likely a family member will have to fight it, factors which help explain Swiss neutrality and the fact that it has not fought a war in almost 500 years (not counting a very brief civil war in 1847 with few casualties that did away with the last vestiges of feudalism). Being a member of a military organization promotes discipline, comradeship and self-reliance, which fosters social cohesion and an egalitarian, democratic mindset thanks to the mixing of people from different social classes and cultural groups who would otherwise have little if any close contact with each other.
RIGHT OF REVOLUTION
In political philosophy the right to revolution (or 'right of rebellion' or 'right to resistance') is first articulated by the Monarchomachs in the context of the French Wars of Religion, and is essentially the natural right of preservation. It was later taken up by John Locke in Two Treatises of Government as part of his social contract theory. Locke wrote that the people could instigate a revolution against the government when it acted against the interests of citizens and replace it with another. The right to revolution was cited in the US Declaration of Independence:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is in the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.
The right to revolution helps explain the purpose of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right of "the people" to bear arms as part of a well regulated militia. It follows that if the people have a right to overthrow a despotic government then they have a right to possess the practical means to do so. The great advantage of a well armed and regulated militia is the deterrent effect, which greatly reduces the likelihood that the people will ever need to exercise their right to revolution, thus preserving liberty without bloodshed.
DUTY OF DISLOYALTY
Like Locke and Thoreau, Gandhi believed that the quest for freedom incurs an obligation to oppose an oppressive government, which he called the "duty of disloyalty", when the state fails to represent the people's interests and needs: "Disobedience of the law of an evil state is therefore a duty". Gandhi moved beyond Thoreau by contending that the freedom struggle demands active participation in community action to stop said evil, primarily through non-violent action as he believed citizens had a duty to preserve order and peace to prevent bloodshed. Outside the chambers where India's new federal constitution was being written, Gandhi spoke urgently to his "Brothers and Sisters":
What I am about to tell you today [June 28, 1947] will be something very special, I hope you will hear me with attention and try to digest what I say. When someone does something good he makes the whole world partake the good. When someone does something bad, though he cannot make the world share his action he can certainly cause harm. The Constituent Assembly is discussing the rights of the citizen. As a matter of fact the proper question is not what the rights of a citizen are, but rather what constitutes the duties of the citizen. Fundamental rights can only be those rights the exercise of which is not only in the interest of the citizen but that of the whole world. Today, everyone wants so know what his rights are, but if a man learns to discharge his duties. . . if from childhood we learn what our dharma [sacred duty] is and try to follow it our rights look after themselves. . . The beauty of it is that the very performance of a duty secures us our rights. Rights cannot be divorced from duties. This is how satyagraha [non-violent political action] was born, for I was always striving to decide what my duty was.
Gandhi believed violence should only be used as a last resort in cases of legitimate self-defense, such as when the state committed crimes against humanity like politicide and genocide, and was well aware of the danger to life and liberty that civilian disarmament posed: "Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest." He also stated that rights should be earned through the fulfillment of civic responsibility, which includes the duty of the majority to protect minorities. This was in stark contrast to the view of some fellow Hindus who justified the oppression of Muslims by arguing that in their newfound democracy a majority had the right to do as it pleased, as this is what popular sovereignty meant, a view that resulted in a brutal civil war in which over a million Hindus and Muslims were killed and many more displaced.
The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide requires all UN member nations to actively work to prevent and stop genocide. Sadly, little or nothing is often done as governments usually decide the cost of intervention is too high, thus the need for potential victims and their friends in the wider community to arm themselves to deter this crime against humanity. History has shown us that a genocide can occur unexpectedly and quickly while victims cannot rely on outside help, as the Rwandan tragedy amply illustrated, where the corpses were literally piling up for all to see and the governments of the world looked the other way. It is therefore up to a nation's citizens to ensure that they are capable of stopping genocide, and in doing so deterring this crime.
WELL REGULATED MILITIA
The 18th century American term 'well regulated militia' refers to members of the unorganized militia who have obtained and maintain the knowledge, equipment and skills needed to be effective members of an organized militia. In the 18th and 19th centuries Americans inclined to prepare themselves for service in the militia would hone their skills alongside other like-minded citizens in their area, it being necessary to work together to practice group skills such as flanking tactics, as distinct from individual skills like marksmanship. The leaders of the American Revolution had hoped organized militias and a [well regulated] unorganized militia would do away with the need for a standing army (as standing armies are notorious for being misused by self-interested elites), but this turned out to be impractical as relatively few Americans were interested in any kind of militia service or preparation for such service. Thus a permanent standing army (US Army) arose in the 19th century and was later augmented by the US National Guard (nominally controlled by state governors during peacetime). The later organization consists of a state based military reserve that is effectively controlled by the federal government which funds and regulates it (and directly controls it in wartime), but also serves as a democratic safeguard against the standing army, if not an especially democratic one as relatively few civilians can join it (as is the case with the US Army Reserve).
With every right comes a responsibility. Citizens have a right to possess arms to protect their rights and freedoms, and a commensurate duty to help defend the rights and freedoms of fellow citizens. The defense of your nation, democracy and essential rights is too important a task to be left to a few government employees, thus the need for civilians to take on the burden of armed vigilance, ideally via a public militia run or approved by your government. If no such organization exists, and it is illegal to set up a public militia, then the next best thing is a military service club which prepares members of the unorganized militia for military service by helping them obtain the essential knowledge, equipment and skills needed to become functional soldiers (thus members of a 'well regulated militia'). Such a club would not exercise any command and control over members as would a government controlled military organization like the US National Guard. We believe every competent, law-abiding adult should obtain a military type rifle and pistol like those commonly used by soldiers in their nation's armed forces and use them regularly (target shooting, hunting, etc.) in order to become proficient with them.
The militia is "...the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers... The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them."
- Justice Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1833.
© Human Rights Coalition (Australia)