Friday, January 15, 2010

The Tea Party Coalition: A Right-Wing Extremist Movement?

The popular image of the Tea Party movement propagated by the opinion-molders in America is that it is a right-wing extremist movement within the neo-conservative ranks of the Republican party. More properly understood, it is a grand coalition of American conservatives in the traditional framework of political theory.

The epithet "right-wing" is reflexively hurled by progressives and Democrats more broadly at any party, movement, faction, or individual who opposes the left-wing agenda. The smear tactic is intended to conflate those people who support the traditional American tenets of liberty, limited government, and individual rights with fascists and ultra-nationalists of the European kind.

The terms "right-wing" and "left-wing" are derived from the French Revolution; the nationalists who supported the Ancien Regime (monarchy, or "Old Regime"), the church, and the aristocracy sat in the right-wing of the French assembly; while the radical democrats, whose egalitarian ideals implied a "leveling" of institutional, traditional, political, and economic barriers to absolute freedom sat in the "left-wing."

Those who supported the maintenance of the right-wing status quo were known in that period as "conservative"; their preferences for perpetuating the spoils of privilege must be delineated from the philosophy of men like Edmund Burke, who was a proponent of incrementalist reform; and American conservatives, whose adherence to tradition often springs from a deep-seated belief in the truth of the country's founding principles.

Though the term "conservative" is historically associated with monarchist, statist, and etatist political orders, personified by absolutist rulers like Louis XIV and Henry VIII, it is the antithesis of the philosophy that animated the nation's founders. Absolutism, or what has been referred to more broadly as "despotism," was specifically rebelled against by such fundamental thinkers that paved the path to the American Revolution as John Locke, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson.

The influential political theorist Baron de Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws explains despotism and compares its animating principles against those of republicanism and monarchy in a manner that evokes immediate comparisons to the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century:

As virtue is necessary in a republic, and in a monarchy honour, so fear is necessary in a despotic government: with regard to virtue, there is no occasion for it, and honour would be extremely dangerous.

Here the immense power of the prince devolves entirely upon those whom he is pleased to entrust with the administration. Persons capable of setting a value upon themselves would be likely to create disturbances. Fear must therefore depress their spirits, and extinguish even the least sense of ambition.

The signature animating principle of fear drives both the despotic regimes of the past, and has been testified to ad nauseum by those who lived through them, the fascist and communist regimes of recent times. In a direct challenge to the assumptions of historicism (or the idea that all history is unique and no generalizable assumptions can be drawn from it) and Hegelian and Marxist progressivism (or the teleological idea that history is propelled toward a definable end of its own inherent design, or "Idea," respectively) it is justified to question whether or not the more powerful technological means of political administration of modern times grossly alters the nature of a state or regime.

It is my contention that there is no discernible difference in essence, or raison d'etre, between the absolutist and monarchist regimes of the past, whose paradigm was shattered by the American and French revolutions, successively, and the fascist and communist (in practice, as opposed to in fantasy) totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. The means of ruling or administering a political regime do not alter that regime's essence; if the goal of politicians in a coercive government (as all governmental Leviathans are in essence) is social, economic and political control, reductively, that is that government's ordering principle.

If we may dispel the Marxist-generated illusion that the Industrial Revolution fundamentally altered the characteristic make-up of men, and likewise the notion developed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau that men in the state of nature are "noble savages" and civilized society a corrupter that must itself be managed, [1] we are receptive to the genius of the founders of the United States, who set their constitutional republic upon a sound foundation of properly understood human nature.

To follow up on our conjecture, too weighty in its implications to fully flesh out here, but rich enough to seriously ponder and explore at our own leisure, that despotic regimes of the more distant past and totalitarian regimes of the more recent past [2] share the common animating principle of fear and ordering principle of control, then we can appreciate that there is something in human nature, or at least a tendency among some human beings that must be guarded against, to control others.

This appreciation of the often-times darker side of men [3], is a bedrock principle of the founding of the American republic, as can be illuminated by the indispensable Federalist No. 51:

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

It is imperative that we follow the logic of Madison's propositions:

There are, moreover, two considerations particularly applicable to the federal system of America, which place that system in a very interesting point of view:

First. In a single republic, all the power surrendered by the people is submitted to the administration of a single government; and the usurpations are guarded against by a division of the government into distinct and separate departments. In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.

Second. It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority -- that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable. The first method prevails in all governments possessing an hereditary or self-appointed authority. This, at best, is but a precarious security; because a power independent of the society may as well espouse the unjust views of the major, as the rightful interests of the minor party, and may possibly be turned against both parties. The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. [...]


Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.

It is this appreciation of naturally arising conflicting interests in a free society that led to the innovations of the Constitution; divided powers and checks and balances were designed to safeguard people against abuses by either an absolutist ruler with centralized authority, or a tyrannical democratic majority seeking to despoil its prey of property, life, or freedom. The requirement of legislation by majority, and the requirement that changing the Constitutional mandates for authority demanded a super-majority, were but two safeguards. One of the most important barriers to tyranny was the Bill of Rights, a firewall of individual rights intended to be used as an ultimate trump card to be played against tyrants of any variety, should all precautions fail. [4]

Ultimately, the Constitution, the embodiment of those founding principles that tea party movement adherers cherish most, is specifically designed to protect American citizens from political threats arising from both the right and the left.

The numerous precautions against the accumulation of power in a central authority in the United States when combined with Constitutional principles for political administration of the republic, provided America with a stability of political rules that gave men the psychological security needed to feel safeguarded from government tyranny and the predatory behavior of adverse interests. This established a framework for a vibrant "civil society," and the prosperous economic order of free market capitalism. These "spontaneous orders" are not conservative in nature, but allow for "progress" (in specifically designated terms, such as technological improvements, or the enhancement of human understanding). They are also not chaotic in nature, as "progressives" tend so often to misapprehend out of their inner craving to control other human beings. Men and women by their very nature are self-interested, though with the potential of flashes of altruistic behavior. Systematic altruism, on the other hand, is unsustainable because it is a misunderstanding of human nature, and therefore not conducive to political order, long-term human happiness, or the prosperity of human beings. In other words, altruism is not a sound animating principle.

The animating principle that brought America forth from fledgling island nation to world power over the course of two centuries is the love of liberty. [5] The ordering principle is Constitutionally limited government.

Those who hold that the tea party movement is "extremist" have the false conception that "noble" men can be placed in government and they can lead a "virtuous" government that will give them and their clients everything their hearts desire. Their accusers fail miserably to account for the historical track record of consolidated governmental authority, which is always justified by appeal to presumably lofty sentiments. The American government must inevitably disappoint and frustrate progressives, because it is designed to spur men to manage themselves and become productive members of society. Progressives who therefore believe that the assumed free market system is naturally chaotic, do not appreciate that it is in reality ordered by the drive of men to better their own lives. This is not the same as anarchy; the wants and desires of men are naturally limited by economic scarcity as reflected in a free pricing system. The wages of labor, just as the prices of goods and services, are also set by the market. Those who develop sought-after skills, prosper; those who do not, are less prosperous. [6] Thus American government is designed for those who value liberty and opportunity over the illusion of security provided by a powerful government. The drive for a paternalistic form of security undermines the political and economic order of safe-guarded liberty, on which only a long-term form of security, from tyranny and from predatory interests, is conceivably possible. [7]

Those in the tea party movement neither desire to rule over their political opposition, whom they perceive as tyrannical democrats (small d) or oligarchic violators of Constitutional authority, or otherwise impose their will on their fellow citizens. Instead, they want to restore the nation to its Constitutional foundations; establish fiscal responsibility in government; re-establish the economic principles that allow the preponderance of the nation to prosper, namely, free market economics; and replenish the virtue among citizens to see each other as individual human beings in and of themselves, and not as means to some political end. These goals are justified by a rationally understood self-interest that holds that the long-term good of any society requires mutual respect among individuals and the freedom that naturally follows.

[1] No empirical evidence to the contrary of Rousseau's "noble savage" theory is more immediate than the behavior of men following natural disasters, such as those of Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

[2] Totalitarianism, by insinuation of our thesis, being an absolutism with more advanced technological means.

[3] A consideration of the darker nature of some men is no doubt as a thorn in the minds of the true believers of secular religions like Marxism, leading far too many men of the academic cloth to support mass brainwashing, a lack of respect for objective reality, and a disregard for the truth. It is also a widespread cause of progressives' antipathy for the U.S. Constitution.

[4] Yet the Bill of Rights should not be understood to be self-enforcing; but rather a thermometer that a vigilant people can use to understand if and how their natural rights are being violated. See: The parable of the boiling frog.

[5] Liberty should not be taken to mean license, or the freedom to do what one wills with the life or property of another human being.

[6] It should be mentioned that Marx's supposition that wages in a free market tend toward subsistence was completely false due to his failure to account adequately for competition in the labor market.

[7] Bearing in mind our earlier discussion of human nature.

2 comments:

James said...

Do you keep changing the title of this or is that my imagination?

Reasonsjester said...

Somebody said the earlier titles were confusing, so I had to keep thinking up better ones. But that still doesn't mean it isn't your imagination.