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The Electric Tea Party Acid Test

October 11th, 2010 - 3:40 pm

About That Vertical Axis…Bill Whittle to the Rescue

I was scouting around with some frustration trying to find an existing concise encapsulation of the Tea Party movement when, as if on cue, Bill Whittle released “What We Believe, Part 1,” a pitch-perfect summation of the Tea Party’s core belief system, brilliant in its brevity. And in the process Bill just happens to solve my other problem: He lays out in crystalline tones an explanation of the “Human Nature” vertical axis of my political spectrum. Since I can’t top Bill’s calm and reassuring demeanor, I’ll just let you watch him yourselves; the full video is several minutes long, but the part relevant to this essay begins at 0:52 into the clip and ends around 5:21:

I realize not everyone wants to interrupt their reading to watch a video, so here’s a transcription of the key section of Bill’s monologue, with the passages explaining what I mean about the difference between “constructed” and “innate” human nature highlighted in bold:

Let’s recap for our conservative friends, and introduce to our liberal ones, some of the key points of what we conservatives, especially Tea Party conservatives, would call our core beliefs. And we’ll start with the two biggest ones: Small government, and free enterprise.

OK — why do we like small government? Well, the first and most important thing you need to know about us is that we don’t believe that human nature can fundamentally change. You may not hear this a lot, but when you get down to it, it really is the basis for conservatism in general.

We don’t think people are perfectable, if only they could make the right laws and rules. We believe that human beings, like every other creature on the earth, are motivated primarily by their own self interests.

Now, many modern people see this belief that we have — that human nature is fundamentally flawed and selfish, and essentially unchangeable — as cynical and pessimistic. On the contrary. It is this belief that generates a society with the checks and balances against the natural human bastardliness that basically wants to tell other people what to do.

These checks and balances prevent the accumulation of too much power in the hands of too few people. And that defiance of these checks and balances by the current political class, of both parties, is the real threat that the Tea Party movement is a response to.

Because all you have to do is open a history book with just the most basic sense of fairness and you will discover time and time and time again that the very same ideas being tried by big government today — ideas which we call “progressive” — have been tried in one form or another all the way back through recorded history, and have always failed. Because they’re based on what people hope and wish that human nature is, instead of what it really is.

Y’know, the British tried Big State Socialism in the ’60s and ’70s. It was a disaster. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was about remaking human nature into the new “Soviet Man,” who would share everything: “From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need.”

…[Litany of communist atrocities]…

The French Revolution was fought for the belief that they could make what they called “The New Man,” perfect and virtuous, once free of religion, income disparity and all the rest. Now, in order to bring about that paradise, thousands of people had to be guillotined each week, in what was called the Great Terror.

And on and on and on it goes. The Romans, in 150 BC, were promoting these same “progressive” ideas.

There’s nothing progressive about progressivism. The belief that you can get something for nothing, that you can get the government to take something by force from other people and give it to you — like, the money for your health care, for example — has been tried many, many times before and it has failed every time.

No, my friends, there’s only one really progressive idea. And that is the idea of legally limiting the power of the government. That one genuinely liberal, genuinely progressive idea — the Why in 1776, the How in 1787 — is what needs to be conserved. We need to conserve that fundamentally liberal idea. That is why we are conservatives.

Is it clearer now? Artificially constructed collectivist utopias require that human nature be altered for any new society to work, because elements of existing human nature — greed, jealousy, lust for power, a need for privacy, and so on — would render the system unfeasible. So utopian collectivists necessarily believe that humans must be changed and can be changed (for the better, of course). This may seem like a minor detail to the collectivist program, but actually it’s the main sticking point, one which the collectivists have never been able to solve (because, as any sane person knows, it’s unsolvable; human nature can’t be changed). But that hasn’t stopped them from trying, again and again, with ever-increasing levels of coercion, to mold the human spirit into the desired shape. Entire fields of philosophy have been devised to prop up “constructionism,” but reality is a stubborn thing.

(As an aside: If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend Stephen Pinker’s 2003 masterpiece The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, which gloriously demolishes the foundational assumptions of those on the top half of my political spectrum.)

The earliest proto-hippie protests against the Vietnam War were overtly anti-LBJ

But aren’t hippies inherently pro-Democrat and anti-Republican? Hasn’t it always been that way?

Au contraire. In fact, as the photos sprinkled throughout this page show, the mass-movement hippie era first arose during the Johnson administration, and was explicitly hostile to Johnson’s Democratic Party agenda — in particular his foreign policy agenda. Despite a fair amount of after-the-fact revisionism in which Nixon has been retroactively cast as the villain of the Vietnam War, remember that Nixon did not become president until the end of January, 1969, and that for the vast majority of the anti-war protests of “the sixties,” LBJ was president and LBJ was consequently the target of the protesters’ wrath.

This 1967 hippie poster depicted President Johnson’s big-government “Great Society” programs as hell on Earth.

The truth is: Hippies didn’t particularly like Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats, or their ’60s-era “Great Society” big-government programs. Look at the poster on the right for a typical opinion, untouched by the revisionism of later historians.

A popular hippie chant at the time, as you may remember, was “Hey, Hey, LBJ, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?” Now — does that sound like the kind of thing Johnson voters would say?

But above all it was LBJ’s interventionist foreign policy which most outraged the hippies, primarily because they — selfishly, but understandably — didn’t want to get drafted (or have their boyfriends get drafted). So they opposed the war out of self-interest, not really because they wanted the communists to take over Vietnam. (At least not at first — more on that later.)

In fact, which candidate ran as the anti-war candidate in 1968, at the height of the hippie movement? Why, it was Republican Richard Nixon, who won the election in part because of this issue — despite himself being totally disconnected from hippie-dom and having no grasp whatsoever of the counterculture. (Of course, the fickle electorate, having up until that time held the Democrats responsible for the war, rapidly turned on Nixon after 1969 and blamed him for not ending our involvement in the conflict as quickly as he had promised.)

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