People who want to be left alone are racists! And Jacobins!

As I have pointed out in a number of posts, what I most like about the Tea Party movement is that it consists of largely of people who want the government to leave them alone. That's a new phenomenon in American politics, because traditionally, political activists tend to be people who want to tell others what to do. That is why they enter politics. But the American people have finally wised up to the fact that the only way to defeat activists is by becoming anti-activist activists.

In a long intellectual criticism of the Tea Party Movement in The New York Review of Books (titled The Tea Party Jacobins"), University of Chicago professor Mark Lilla explains that wanting to be left alone is the driving force behind what he calls the "libertarian mob":

Many Americans, a vocal and varied segment of the public at large, have now convinced themselves that educated elites--politicians, bureaucrats, reporters, but also doctors, scientists, even schoolteachers--are controlling our lives. And they want them to stop. They say they are tired of being told what counts as news or what they should think about global warming; tired of being told what their children should be taught, how much of their paychecks they get to keep, whether to insure themselves, which medicines they can have, where they can build their homes, which guns they can buy, when they have to wear seatbelts and helmets, whether they can talk on the phone while driving, which foods they can eat, how much soda they can drink...the list is long. But it is not a list of political grievances in the conventional sense.

Historically, populist movements use the rhetoric of class solidarity to seize political power so that "the people" can exercise it for their common benefit. American populist rhetoric does something altogether different today. It fires up emotions by appealing to individual opinion, individual autonomy, and individual choice, all in the service of neutralizing, not using, political power. It gives voice to those who feel they are being bullied, but this voice has only one, Garbo-like thing to say: I want to be left alone.

A new strain of populism is metastasizing before our eyes, nourished by the same libertarian impulses that have unsettled American society for half a century now. Anarchistic like the Sixties, selfish like the Eighties, contradicting neither, it is estranged, aimless, and as juvenile as our new century. It appeals to petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that. This is the one threat that will bring Americans into the streets.

Welcome to the politics of the libertarian mob.

Obviously, Lilla does not believe in the right to be left alone, and thinks that someone simply has to be telling us how to wipe our asses. To his way of thinking, you'd have to be estranged, aimless, and juvenile not to want help with such things.

What he misses about the Tea Partiers is that they're sophisticated enough to understand why ordinary activism has failed, and why they are not being left alone. Simply electing the right people to political office cannot fix the problem of entrenched bureaucracies which were designed to be politically bulletproof, and which basically dictate terms to the legislators whose job is to pass legislation endlessly expanding their power, while increasing the size and scope of their irreversible demands on taxpayers' money.

And I do mean irreversible. Just get elected to even the lowest city council and try cutting staff positions or wages. They're unionized and they will simply take the city to court, where enforcing the terms of their union contracts is a legal slam-dunk. As to government pensions (which drain huge amounts of money), they are more of a legal entitlement than Medicare or Social Security, because the latter are not "entitlements" but acts of Congress which can in theory be revised or repealed. Government pensions are legally enforceable obligations. People who are legally owed money will demand and get it, regardless of whether the people who have to pay it ever consented to pay it, and regardless of whether they want to be left alone.

The Tea Partiers have seen past the game of pretending the legislature really runs things when in reality they are obsequious scriveners for unelected elites. Unlike conventional politicians, this "libertarian mob" is actually willing to say "no more" to the bureaucratic ruling classes and mean it.

This scares the crap out of them.

posted by Eric on 05.07.10 at 03:33 PM


Could he talk about middle-aged adults in a more condescending way? Lilla, as is common for the modern day statist, confuses society and government; they are not the same.

You're right Eric. What scares them is the fact that people neither want nor need their sage guidance in living their own lives.

Lastly, could there be anything more guided by naked self-interests than the welfare state? I mean, it is based on the forcible expropriation of money from one person for the benefit another. The poster child of the welfare state would be a teenager with their hand out going "Me, me, me!"

RickC   ·  May 7, 2010 4:40 PM

Dear me. Somewho who writes -- with a straight face -- of an increase in "an astonishing—and unwarranted—confidence in the self." thinks we do not have the right to be left alone.

What a shock.

Mary   ·  May 7, 2010 10:03 PM



The busy-bodies of the nanny state are essentially the same Wilsonian "progressives" who passed prohibition, demanded that American "make the world safe for democracy," and passed sedition laws during WWI that made it a crime to criticize the Wilson administration. One of the biggest lies of the last half century is placing fascism on the political right; it is in reality a variety of socialism, c.f. Goldberg's book "Liberal Fascism." These types can't abide by people who wish to mind their own business, and live their lives without interference, and expect the same from others. Like fascists, they use violence to enforce their edicts upon others; only it is (usually) delivered not by jackbooted thugs, but by bureaucrats in suits, carrying briefcases full of documents that restrict your freedom, drain your bank account, and tell you what to do. The essence of an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Georgiaboy61   ·  May 8, 2010 2:40 AM

"It fires up emotions by appealing to individual opinion, individual autonomy, and individual choice, all in the service of neutralizing, not using, political power."

This was a way too long and tedious piece, but the above quote is accurate...provided we replace that "It" with "The internet".

The language of the "ANGRY POPULOUS" is becoming remarkably similar, regardless of your horizontal persuasion... left to right, right to left.

While Obama would have us go forward to read "news" on both right and left sites, let me suggest you go forward and read the comments.

Just for the fun of it...haha...note that IT...start replacing pronouns with your choice of nouns.

Are we ALL angrily "neutralizing" because we can't be, or chose not to be, more specific?

I say "YES"!

Not sure about you, meaning Classical Values' readers, but there is nothing I hate more than feeling "neutralized in the height of my anger".

Penny   ·  May 8, 2010 7:36 PM

Post a comment

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits