Sheldon Richman's article The Anti-anti-authoritarians is the best summary and analysis of Tea Party-related events and commentary that I've read. I first read it some time ago, but the combination of the recent elections and the subject of my last post brought it back to mind. As Richman puts it:
It’s easy to point out flaws in the Tea Party. What is getting old quickly is the political elite’s criticism, which exhibits an intolerance and bad faith that it often attributes to the Tea Partiers. You don’t have to read too much of this criticism to see that the powers that be and their fawning admirers in the media and intelligentsia dislike one thing in particular: the movement’s apparent anti-authoritarianism. To be sure, at best it’s an imperfect anti-authoritarianism...
But let that go for now. What’s noteworthy is that the movement’s anti-authoritarian tone has establishment statists so upset. They seem really worried that this thing could get out of control. Any legitimate criticism they may make of the Tea Party movement is undermined by their abhorrence with anti- authoritarianism per se. They are anti-anti-authoritarian.Richman then goes on to cite some choice examples that nicely demonstrate the traits that have characterized establishment response to the Tea Party phenomenon: the authoritarianism, the sneering elitism, and the baffled, almost panicky inability to comprehend the idea of actually wanting to reduce state power. Towards the end, he sums it up perfectly:
Here, apparently, is the Tea Party’s greatest offense: it resents the elites who presume to run their lives. How dare these know-nothings resist our good intentions and earnest efforts?I would describe my own attitude towards the Tea Party movement as positive but not strongly so, due to the mixture of good and bad traits Richman describes in the article, and due to my memories of the Clinton years. I've seen these bursts of anti-statism on the Right rise and then fizzle out before, so I remain skeptical.
As I’ve said, the folks who identify with the Tea Party are far from consistent about this. Some of the contradictions are stunning. Still, it’s revealing that their critics are so concerned that through the Tea Party, anti-authoritarianism, anti-elitism, and anti-corporatism appear to be on the rise.
Still, they are vastly more attractive then their typical opponent in politics or the media. If nothing else, they've provided a valuable lesson by getting the mainline Left to drop the "Dissent is patriotic" pretense of the Bush era and show its fascistic true colors again. The snarling contempt and berserk, hysterical rage and hatred with which so much of the political and media establishment has responded to virtually any serious opposition or defiance, the relentless smearing, vilification, dehumanization, and demonization of dissenters, and the open calls for censorship and prosecution of Obama critics have been most instructive.
The Right in America did not cover itself in glory with the way it approached political disagreement in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to put it mildly. However, I'll say this in their defense: when conservatives started responding to anyone who disagreed with them by shrieking like the Daleks on Dr. Who, it was in the aftermath of a terrorist attack that utterly destroyed two of the most prominent buildings in America's largest city, blasted a gaping hole in the side of the Pentagon, and killed nearly 3,000 people. Liberals are doing it with equal or greater intensity because citizens are holding peaceful rallies against deficit spending, health care nationalization, and corporate welfare, there's a cable news channel where people say unpleasant things about Dear Leader, and an ultimately unsuccessful minority in Congress caused sweeping legislation desired by the Democrats to take slightly longer to get through Congress by having the outrageous temerity to actually not vote in favor of it.
On a related note, there have been good recent posts at The Agitator (Progressives for State-Sanctioned Corporate Monopoly) and Coyote Blog (Fiat Garbage), both talking about the relationship between progressives and wealthy, privileged business interests. Warren Meyer at Coyote Blog sums it up pretty well:
If you can understand why progressives attack any corporation that they voluntarily do business with for having too much power, but defend any corporation backed by government authority, you will start to figure out exactly what progressives are really after.
What they say in their posts about the present day is also true historically: progressivism/left-liberalism/moderate statist leftism has never been nearly as hostile to Big Business, socioeconomic privilege, concentrations of wealth, or powerful megacorporations as the popular image suggests. All of those things are fully compatible with an ideology based on elite management of society- what isn't is an economy overrun with independent, competing enterprises that arise, change, grow, shrink, and die according to voluntary consumer choices that the ruling elite can't control or predict. Speaking of which, at the Center for a Stateless Society's site Kevin Carson has a relatively recent paper, "The Thermidor of the Progressives" (PDF file), that is very interesting reading on this and related subjects. Probably my favorite quote:
Concurrent with the conventional liberal model of industrial organization there is, in every aspect of life, a managerial-professional priesthood controlling the range of services available and reducing the average person to client status. Mainstream liberalism extends beyond a Schumpeterian affinity for large organizations to an affinity for the professionalization of every aspect of life even in the realm of individual exchange and social relations. As with large-scale organization, the affinity seems to a considerable extent to be aesthetic: regulation and licensing—any regulation, any form of licensing, as such—is “progressive,” and any opposition to it is “right-wing.”
I've said it before, and I'm sure I will again- statism and control is not progressivism's means to some other end. It is progressivism's end. If it conflicts with the supposed goal of aiding and defending the poor and underprivileged, it's the latter who are expendable. Few of the rank-and-file would be on board with this if they really understood it, I'm sure- but no successful statist ideology is short of people good at making sure it isn't understood.