More than 200 years have passed since the sons and daughters of liberty fought to cast off the yoke of British oppression. In those 200 years America has become powerful and prosperous—but also, her memory has grown dim. Whether one considers the bailouts and regulations which began under Republican office, or the massive, debt-ridden state programs now being pursued by the Democrats, the same fact is evident: America has lost her way…To have an impact, the Tea Party protests must advocate a moral revolution, not just political change.
The date is December 16, 1773. A ship has just entered Boston Harbor. In its hold it carries the chains of a foreign government. American colonists, increasingly rebellious under the weight of British oppression, board this ship and as a symbol of defiance seize these chains and throw them overboard. This event has come to be known as the Boston Tea Party.
More than 200 years have passed since the sons and daughters of liberty fought to cast off the yoke of British oppression. In those 200 years America has become powerful and prosperous—but also, her memory has grown dim. Whether one considers the bailouts and regulations which began under Republican office, or the massive, debt-ridden state programs now being pursued by the Democrats, the same fact is evident: America has lost her way.
Consider—if the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were present today, what kind of reaction would they have to seeing the fate of their noble experiment? They would stand amazed to find that individualism is no longer the watchword of America; that the pioneer, the producer, the achiever are no longer glorified; that industry and self-reliance are no longer seen as the gold standard of virtue. They would cringe to discover that government and society seem to be embracing that old world, paternalistic impulse that they had pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to forever banish from the land of the free.
Something is changing in America—something that manifests itself in the political ideals animating government, but is itself deeper than politics. The modern-day Tea Party movement is driven, at least partly, as a response to this change. People are indignant at the Obama administration—not simply frustrated by misguided political and economic policies. There is a very real sense among the protesters that what the government is doing is wrong—morally wrong.
It is for this reason that when bewildered reporters enter Tea Parties and remind protesters—but, you are entitled to some of the stimulus money—the protesters defiantly respond: We don’t want government money! We want our freedom!
To much of the popular media, such a statement is incomprehensible. Just as historians dismiss the original Boston Tea Party on the basis that the demands for freedom were only a guise to oppose taxes, so the modern day Tea Party movement is dismissed on the basis that it’s just “rich people trying to stay rich.”
As much as one might like to scoff at the ridiculousness of such an accusation, nothing productive can be achieved without a well-reasoned response. Feelings are not an argument—a sense of outrage is not persuasive—indignation alone is ineffectual. To defend ourselves from the charges laid at our door, we must take the challenge head on by identifying and declaring the moral justification for the rightness of liberty.
Therefore, let us be unabashedly explicit. We who claim the right to keep for ourselves the product of our labor are characterized as selfish—as unwilling to sacrifice in a time of great need. The proper response to such an accusation is not to sidestep the moral issue and focus on empty pro-freedom rhetoric. To do so is to concede the moral high-ground at the outset. No—the proper response is to proudly declare—indeed, I am self-interested, and I do not apologize for my desire to spend my time and money pursuing my own values. We must, like our forefathers, embrace the pursuit of happiness, not as a political excuse, but as a moral virtue.
The argument that has to be made if the modern day Tea Party movement is to succeed—the only argument that offers a moral defense of freedom—is the propriety of self-interest. We must understand and defend the idea that pursuing one’s own life for one’s own sake is not something for which one should apologize. Rather, the fulfillment of personal happiness should be proudly upheld as good.
The opposite view, which was temporarily thrown aside by the American Revolutionaries, is the moral ideal of self-sacrifice, i.e. altruism. For centuries people have been told that the good consists of sacrifice—of giving up personal ambitions, of serving those in need, of putting others first and yourself last. This view, rejected implicitly by our Founders, is today at the root of every argument justifying trillion-dollar budget deficits and the nationalization of industry. It is the sine qua non of every government program and policy that seeks to restrict, to redistribute, to dictate, to tax—in essence, to subvert the freedom enshrined by the constitution. When the government requires you to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage, it is acting on the premise of altruism—that we are morally each our brother’s keeper. Every liberty-violating policy enacted by our leaders is premised on the idea that altruism is good, and that it is morally proper for the government to impose self-sacrifice on the American people.
But far from being a noble, progressive idea, the sacrificial code of altruism is actually a perverse, destructive, anti-life philosophy that has plagued mankind for millennia. The Boston Tea Party represented, symbolically, the first time in history that man awakened and realized that this moral servitude had to be rejected if a life of freedom were to be possible. The American Constitution was, finally at last for mankind, that awakening realized as a system of government.
We now once again face the question: Do we stand for the idea that the government has no business taxing us because it is morally proper for an individual to act in his own self-interest—or are we merely protesting out of a financial frustration we know not how to morally justify? Are these tea parties, like the glorious Tea Party of December 16, 1773, a symbol of a coming moral revolution, or are they the rhetoric of a to-be-dismissed minority?
Before our Founders pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor against an oppressive power, they won their fellow Americans’ hearts and minds. Let us today do the latter actively, so that we never again have to take the step of doing the former.
Zev received an honours B.A. from the University of Toronto. He is currently finishing his M.A. in literature at George Mason University.