Tea Party Protests Sweep the Country: But What's the Message? (Updated)

With protests taking place all around the country, there should be no doubt that the Tea Party movement is something real (see PJTV's coverage of the Tea Party protests here). The voices are loud -- and becoming louder with each successive demonstration. Disapproval of the stimulus/spending bill continues to grow, and I expect the crowds in places like Nashville, Kansas City, and, of course, Washington, D.C., will also continue to grow.

Still, if you've been unable to hear a message other than "We're not happy," you're not alone. The objection to the spending bill is real, but other than objecting, what is the purpose of these protests?

An unscientific poll at Instapundit suggests we're mostly protesting in order to elect fiscal hawks. I don't know about you, but it seems like it would have been more effective to simply run fiscal hawks as candidates, rather than protest their absence less than five months after the election. Still, let's say that is the driving factor for most Americans taking part in the Tea Party protests. Will we continue these protests until the 2010 elections? What if we don't get what we want?

More importantly, what if the events taking place are momentous enough to be worthy of more than just our scattered and somewhat incoherent cries of protest? Is our only response a loud proclamation of opposition to the trampling of our rights? Are we allowed to protest with our voices as long as our bodies acquiesce? History tells us that is an empty freedom. Voices that have no force of authority behind them are weak weapons against the soft bondage of socialism and totalitarianism, and hollow voices of protest mean nothing when bodies willingly enter into a state of servitude.

It may be that we're nowhere near that point, but the fact remains that far too many of us remain oblivious to the idea that we could ever face the reality of our individual liberty being subsumed by the State. Why? It's not as if this concept of a servile nation is some heretofore unknown idea. More than 400 years ago, the philosopher Etienne de la Boetie wrote of this phenomenon in his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. Speaking of Rome in the time of emperors, he said:

Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, "Long live the King!" The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them. ... The mob has always behaved in this way -- eagerly open to bribes that cannot be honorably accepted and dissolutely callous to degradation and insult that cannot be honorably endured.

A centuries-old philosopher describing a society that has been extinct for nearly 2,000 years, and yet it bears a remarkable similarity to the entitlements of our own generation. But bread and circuses are not for us, and neither are the promises of "new and saved jobs" if only we hand over unheard of amounts of money and power to our most distant form of government. We are not a mob. We are reasoned people. We are learned people. We have the ability to make our own decisions, and if we ever choose servility we will have no one to blame but ourselves.