Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tea leaves

To the best of my knowledge, the United States is the only country that was founded on the basis of limiting and reducing the influence of government in the daily lives of its citizens. This occurred first through the break with Great Britain and secondly through the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

In the Mother Country, the Magna Carta of 1215 ranks, falsely, as an icon of limitation of government powers. Yet that document only limited the power of the king, while greatly enhancing that of the barons. With the advent of the Hanoverian dynasty in 1714, the power of the British monarchy was definitively contained. But the power of Parliament became untrammeled. As Walter Bagehot famously said, Parliament can do anything except make a man a woman or a woman a man. Surely it can do those things too nowadays.

Another example is modern Italy, which arose only in 1870, when the individual states of the peninsula were melded into a unitary state. With that change came an all-powerful bureaucracy which has risen to impossible heights of arrogance and indolence, so that it is currently reducing the country to the status of a banana republic.

Since the Tea Party movement taps into this foundational strain of American sentiment for limiting the power of government, it is likely to remain with us in some form or other for a long time. To be sure, academic pedants and censorious pundits in the MSM like to point out the historical errors made by Tea Party adherents. So what? With the rise of the blogosphere, the mainstream media are on the way out. Newspapers are downsizing and closing down, and viewers are deserting the TV network news services. Good riddance to all of them.

Of course, there is the allegation that the Tea Party is mainly a group of white people. We are, I think, past the period in which mere allegations of political incorrectness could make their targets run for the hills. The whiteness of the Tea Partyites is something one has to get used to. A century ago, Max Weber pointed out that modern parliamentary democracies function as places where various interest groups can negotiate settlements among themselves without going to war with each other. Since blacks, Hispanics, Catholics and all sorts of other groups are represented at this colloquy, why not white people? Sometimes. bizarrely, we hear that Wall Street represents white people. Well, it certainly does not represent me.

As Tuesday's election results show, a fire is ablaze in the land, and it is certain to blaze brighter. Many corrupt politicos in DC and the state capitals will lose their jobs. That prospect is now clear.

I hasten to add that I am not a Tea Partyite, and the cure could well be worse than the disease. But something is happening and the permanent government in DC is powerless to stop it.

As a final note, we gay people have common cause with the Tea Party folks because our most important effort has been the dismantling of the sodomy laws, a forty-year campaign concluded only at the beginning of this millennium. Getting the government out of the bedroom should be part of any program of limited government. We seem to differ from them, though, in our advocacy of hate-crimes legislation and ENDA. It is not clear to me, however, that the latter two are truly a good thing.



Blogger Arsinoe said...

I have been trying to figure out whether the Tea Party movement has any common thread with 19th- and early 20th-century Anarchism, which mostly evolved from a socialist context.

Unfortunately, my patience for reading or listening to the current crop quickly falters.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

An important forerunner of the Tea Party was Lysander Spooner (1808-87), an American lawyer and theorist. He first came to prominence when, as an uncompromising abolitionist, he maintained that slavery was Unconstitutional. He also favored jury nullification in order to help black fugitives.

These views notwithstanding, Spooner opposed the way that Lincoln prosecuted the Civil War, because it involved suspending the Constitution.

Spooner is more correctly termed an individualist than an anarchist, as the latter term seems anachronistic in his case.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Arsinoe said...

And, purely coincidentally, 'spoonerims' (named after Reverend William Archibald Spooner)and malapropisms are deeply entrenched in the rantings of their modern spokespersons.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Too many Christianists to claim the mantle of the authors of the Constitution, and how many want to reign in presidential power, as the Founding Fathers sought to do?

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, there is a good argument that America was not the first such country. See for instance Roger Congleton's "America’s neglected debt to the Dutch, an institutional perspective," in which he describes the Dutch Republic precedents for much of the American founding ideology, and in particular the Act of Abjuration.

1:25 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

This comment by Anonymous is indeed astute. Living in New York State as I do, I have long been impressed by the Dutch heritage, which is in many ways the foundation of our prosperity and freedom. Unlike the other colonies, which mostly had a religious foundation, New Amsterdam was, in the opinion of many scholars, predominantly secular from the start.

The coming of William of Orange to England was also important in placing limits on the monarchy in that country.

The United Provinces of the Northern Netherlands, with their decentralized union, are also a good example, it seems, of starfish organization (rather than the spider model), according to a recent book in business studies.

Even the Dutch language, which is not rigidly controled by a central Academy offers a good model.

Comments like those of "Anonymous" bring out the value of blogging as a way of arriving at important truths collectively.

5:31 AM  

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