15 June 2010

Tea Party Philosophy

There has always appeared something a bit unhinged about the Tea Baggers (as they first wanted to be called). Too much anger, too much hate. Two emotions I don't deal with either internally or externally very well. There is a lot of racism involved, though that supplies only part of the electric force running through the synapses to motivate the limbs of the creature. To some extent they are channeling age old populist anger at the elites. Now that is something I have more sympathy with, but it is exceeding dangerous for the Repubs, and not much better for the Demos. It is a force that is destructive to the political process itself because the process is seen as in the hands of elites that are inimical almost by definition to popular forces.

Is the movement coherent, does it have a sane agenda past the inane slogans and cheers? I doubt but we will see. In the meantime, J M Bernstein, a professor of philosophy, has a smart take on the deep motivating forces behind the movement in a little essay in today's NY Times. You should read it all, but here is some of it:
The seething anger that seems to be an indigenous aspect of the Tea Party movement arises, I think, at the very place where politics and metaphysics meet, where metaphysical sentiment becomes political belief. More than their political ideas, it is the anger of Tea Party members that is already reshaping our political landscape. ..

... In a bracing and astringent essay in The New York Review of Books, pointedly titled “The Tea Party Jacobins,” Mark Lilla argued that the hodge-podge list of animosities Tea party supporters mention fail to cohere into a body of political grievances in the conventional sense: they lack the connecting thread of achieving political power. It is not for the sake of acquiring political power that Tea Party activists demonstrate, rally and organize; rather, Lilla argues, the appeal is to “individual opinion, individual autonomy, and individual choice, all in the service of neutralizing, not using, political power.” He calls Tea Party activists a “libertarian mob” since they proclaim the belief “that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone.”

... Where do such anger and such passionate attachment to wildly fantastic beliefs come from?

His conclusion seems to fit the odd contradictions seen in most comments from Tea Baggers:
My hypothesis is that what all the events precipitating the Tea Party movement share is that they demonstrated, emphatically and unconditionally, the depths of the absolute dependence of us all on government action, and in so doing they undermined the deeply held fiction of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency that are intrinsic parts of Americans’ collective self-understanding.

Well, as Chou-en-Lai once said, too soon to tell. But I think there is something to Bernstein's analysis, though it seems incomplete. As of yet the movement has not budged out of its low numbers and has not demonstrated any electorial clout beyond primaries which can be swung by the oddest little things (Alvin Greene!)

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At 15 June, 2010 14:25, Blogger jack perry said...

Haven't read the rest of your post yet (no time at the moment; have to run) but the first sentence strikes me as definitely wrong: There has always appeared something a bit unhinged about the Tea Baggers (as they first wanted to be called).

Actually I understand they never cared for that. The Tea Party folk always called themselves "Tea Partiers" if anything; the epithet was first applied by Anderson Cooper with a smirk, then taken up with gusto by journalists who enjoyed the double-entendre. Which makes you wonder about the sort of emotions that color the synapses of modern journalism (but I need only read Joe Atkins' occasional column in the Mississippi papers to see how unhinged journalism can be).

Of course, what I heard could be wrong, but it would be useful for someone to trace the etymology. Surely there's an earmark available somewhere for that.

NB: I don't like the Tea Party myself. Orly Taitz? JD Hayworth? Rand Paul? Glenn Beck? No thanks; that's a bit too much emotion for me.

At 15 June, 2010 20:37, Blogger jack perry said...

So here's a Salon article that definitely credits liberal bloggers with the invention of the term.

At 15 June, 2010 21:36, Blogger Clemens said...

I'll stick by that first sentence - both parts of it, though I have taken the time to try to explain how I remember the movement using it in exactly that way in a separate post. It certainly did not originate with Cooper (though I can imagine the smirk). I am almost certain that it was already all over the liberal blogs.

The interesting thing about the Tea Party movements (they don't seem to be ONE) is that they do not seem to stand for what the Republican party does, even in its peculiar 21rst century form. They are not opposed so much to 'liberal government' however angry they are with liberals. They seem to have a populist fury against 'government' per se. Hence my fascination with Bernstein's attempt to find a unifying thread to their agenda. I am not sure he is right but it makes a lot more sense than most of what I have read (or thought, for that matter). Of course, there is always the theory that they are simply irrational nutcakes.

Stay tuned.

At 15 June, 2010 21:37, Blogger Clemens said...

PS: Who is Joe Atkins?

At 15 June, 2010 22:11, Blogger jack perry said...

Who is Joe Atkins?

Journalism professor at Ole Miss. I'm trying to find a polite way to summarize his usual themes, but I'm not succeeding.

I think that's his name, anyway. If I'm wrong, all the better. I don't think he has much of an audience beyond the op-ed pages of Mississippi newspapers.

At 15 June, 2010 22:15, Blogger jack perry said...

Ack. Forgot something.

Of course, there is always the theory that they are simply irrational nutcakes.

I prefer "ignorant, misinformed n00bs" myself. Shrug. But I don't think they're generally violent or dangerous (don't go and prove me wrong guys) and I find it odd that someone would quote Chou En-Lai's remark, which of all things was about the French Revolution nearly two centuries prior, and not about a contemporary movement.

But what do I know; I'm a mathematician who works hard to make ends meet.

At 01 July, 2010 19:32, Blogger Clemens said...

That was the point.


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