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The current Tea Party concept of “liberty” to mean “what’s mine is mine” was most eloquently articulated by John C. Calhoun in Union and Liberty, in which he argued that any attempt to deny southern slave owners of their right to own slaves was an infringement on their (the slave owners’) “liberty,” and should be opposed as such with arms (which, of course, happened a couple of decades after he published it). Calhoun also argued for the protection of “minority” rights, by which he meant the rights of southern slave owners to own slaves.

There is a direct and unbroken line connecting those who opposed ratification of the U.S. Constitution, through those who advocated “nullification” doctrine (that each state has the right to ignore the federal government at will), through the southern secessionists, through the southern opponents to Civil Rights legislation and jurisprudence, to the modern Tea Party.

They are, happily, the losers of American history, whose loss has meant real freedom and real opportunity for hundreds of millions who would otherwise have been denied it. But those whose ideology keeps getting thankfully relegated to the dust heap of history are relentless, incessantly trying to “take back America,” by which they mean a return to some semblance of previous eras characterized by Jim Crow, slave ownership, and the completely dysfunctional Articles of Confederation, not to mention the onset of The Great Depression.

The connection to slavery and Jim Crow is a historical continuum, not a current identity. Virtually no one today identifies themself as an advocate of slave ownership. Relatively few, but some, state opposition to the federal engagement which put an end to Jim Crow. Many oppose current federal efforts to address the legacy of that history still extant today.

My point is not that by being a modern Libertarian you are an advocate of slave ownership, but rather that the history of modern Libertarianism belongs to those who were advocates of slave ownership. Those who succeeded to slave owners defended Jim Crow. Those that succeeded to defenders of Jim Crow oppose any federal commitment to social justice.

It is a logical continuum, with a shared underlying philosophical thread: “What’s mine is mine, as a matter of basic principle, regardless of the injustice of that distribution of wealth and power, regardless of the historical violence implicit within it, and regardless of how politically and economically dysfunctional the belief is.”

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

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(This is the first in a series of four posts which discuss Tea Party “Political Fundamentalism”, comprised of the unholy trinity of “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, and Small Government Idolatry.)

Every now and then, you encounter an argument you’ve been making for years, made far better than you’ve ever made it. And such was my pleasure a few moments ago, when I read this week’s “Lexington” column in The Economist (Lexington is the weekly column about America), titled “The Perils of Constitution Worship: One of the Guiding Principles of the Tea-Party Movement is Based on a Myth”  (

Among the many sage observations made by the author, was one I’ve repeated in at least a dozen “debates” with tea-partiers: The Constitution was not drafted to check central government and preserve state or individual rights, but rather to do the exact opposite, to create a central government with teeth. And, of course, the Constitution doesn’t actually contain all the answers to all of the challenges we face as a society, nor all of the information necessary to define the scope and range of our federal government. The notion, as the author notes, is simply infantile.

George Lakoff, in The Political Mind, notes that while both conservatives and progressives rely on a metaphorical narrative of “family” to understand government, what distinguishes them is that conservatives rely on a metaphor of the authoritarian, patriarchal family, while progressives rely on the metaphor of an empathetic and nurturing family (thus “the nanny state”). Ironically, the claim to be rooted in a commitment to individual liberty is belied by the deference to some ultimate authority that deprives us of responsibility to meet the challenges of our own day as free individuals. Like the fundamentalist religious zealots that so many of them are, thumping the Constitution with the same blindly dogmatic fanaticism that they thump the Bible, they are relieved of their responsibility to know or understand anything by the presence of an infinitely wise and infallible final authority, one in print, one that answers all questions and resolves all disputes, the final word from on-high.

Of course, the Constitution is a brilliant document, made more brilliant by what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t address the minutia of how we must govern ourselves, but rather sets out the general principles. And, as is so often the case, those principles are rarely more egregiously violated than by those who most zealously claim to be the defenders of the faith.

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