University of Illinois student Stephen Spector recently published an op-ed that chides the Tea Party, somewhat condescendingly, for having no clear political principles. Spector’s claim is that the essence of the Tea Party is discontent with the way things are now:
Your party’s catalog of blunders is as infelicitous as it is lengthy. Your fumbling retractions from some wild statements and failure to recoil from others demonstrates to the American public that you lack the necessary values to govern responsibly. We get it; you’re upset with the establishment. But do you want to be remembered as a group that obsessed over Obama’s birth certificate? In the context of American history, your tendency to carp will tarnish your legacy.
Spector does raise a legitimate point: any attempt at meaningful political change has to be based on something more than dissatisfaction with our current leadership. However, the Tea Party is not entirely unprincipled. The current Tea Party—like its Revolutionary progenitor—is a popular backlash against the overreach of government power. This is the essential point that Spector misses: the Tea Party’s rallies have expressed, if only in nascent form, the principle that the government has a specific, limited role, and the conviction that its recent actions have wildly exceeded those limits.
But what the Tea Party still needs is an answer to the question, “To what should the government be limited?” Behind the sentiments of the Boston Tea Party of 1773 were men of ideas like Adams, Jefferson and Madison who were able to elucidate the proper role of government. It was this combination of passionate outrage at English tyranny and leaders who had a clear, rational conception of the purpose of government that forged the American nation. Leaders of the contemporary Tea Party will need to grasp that as an institution of force, the only role of government is to protect individual rights. The government should not use its power to provide services, promote morality or save people from the consequences of bad decisions. In her essay, The Nature of Government, Ayn Rand explains what happens when it tries to go beyond these limits:
Today, when a concerted effort is made to obliterate this point, it cannot be repeated too often that the Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals—that it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government—that it is not a charter for government power, but a charter of the citizens’ protection against the government.
Now consider the extent of the moral and political inversion in today’s prevalent view of government. Instead of being a protector of man’s rights, the government is becoming their most dangerous violator; instead of guarding freedom, the government is establishing slavery; instead of protecting men from the initiators of physical force, the government is initiating physical force and coercion in any manner and issue it pleases; instead of serving as the instrument of objectivity in human relationships, the government is creating a deadly, subterranean reign of uncertainty and fear, by means of nonobjective laws whose interpretation is left to the arbitrary decisions of random bureaucrats; instead of protecting men from injury by whim, the government is arrogating to itself the power of unlimited whim—so that we are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.
A grasp of how and why government should be limited is the weapon that the Tea Party needs to pick up if they want to have any hope successfully combating the ever increasing governmental tyranny in America.
The Undercurrent is a magazine distributed at college campuses and communities across the country. We release a print edition once per semester, and in the interim, regularly post additional articles, blog entries, and campus media responses reports to our website.
The Undercurrent's cultural commentary is based on Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Objectivism, which animates Ayn Rand's fiction, is a systematic philosophy of life. It holds that the universe is orderly and comprehensible, that man survives by reason, that his life and happiness comprise his highest moral purpose, and that he flourishes only in a society that protects his individual rights.
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