Tea Party Thinking (Part 2)

Dan Liechty | October 28, 2011

"Normal Dan" Dan Liechty

note: this contribution is continued from the previous one – it will make most sense if you read the previous one first. Thanks! Normal Dan

Now, it helps to understand this process of internal dialogue and the relative strength of its voices as a continuum. At the extreme ends, one voice snuffs out the other and the dialogue disappears entirely. In those few people in whom the voice of personal desire totally snuffs out the voice of social beneficence, we have the recipe for a sociopath. In those few people in whom the voice of social beneficence totally snuffs out the voice of personal desire, we have the recipe for a quite different set of problems. Such people may well get along with everyone and are certainly no danger to society, but on the other hand they are so far on the “masochistic” end of the spectrum that they make people uncomfortable, and may well become targets of abuse by others. In both cases, there really is no sustained internal dialogue at all, but only a tyrannical monologue.

Only a very small percentage of people inhabit the extreme ends of the continuum, however. The rest of us inhabit places along the continuum, maintaining the inner dialogue, hearing the voices, though in different relative strength. A significant amount of research suggests that Liberals and Progressives  tend to congregate on this continuum toward the side that gives the voice of social beneficence equal or stronger weight than the voice of personal gain (call this, the Center/Left position) whereas Conservatives and the current advocates of “libertarianism” (the internal contradictions there is a topic in its own right!)  tend to congregate on this continuum toward the side that gives the voice of personal desires equal or stronger weight than the voice of social beneficence (call this, the Center/Right position.)

This is in itself no judgment on either side. Both positions maintain and are maintained by the continuing healthy dialogue. In fact, we might say that the very strength of American Democracy is that, for the most part, we have been able to sustain that dialogue at the level of social and political policymaking. If there is a signal of “sickness” at present in our system, it is exactly that the Center, the very meeting ground for dialogue, is softening and our policymaking is increasingly characterized by the meeting of raw special interest power on both sides rather than genuine dialogue.

Given this framework for interpretation, how can we better understand the thought processes of our fellow citizens of the Center/Right in general, and within the Tea Party movement more specifically?

1. While genuinely supporting the ideals of personal freedom, they also have very high respect and admiration for power, law and authority, because they recognize that this is what they (and others) need to be kept in line, to maintain the choice of social beneficence over personal desire in their actions.

2. This high respect for traditional power, law and authority (the “strong state,” especially in its policing and military functions) is combined with an exaggerated contempt for appeals to sociability (the common good, social conscience) as adequate motivation for maintaining socially beneficent behavior in society (which is the appeal the “liberal state”) that downplays the centrality of the State’s policing and military functions.

3. The high respect for traditional power, law and authority in the State (its policing and military functions) easily combines and blends with high respect for traditional social institutions of power and authority, especially the family, social taboos, patriotism and religion. They are likely to see the “liberal state” as unfriendly toward solid social institutions such as family, taboos, patriotism and religion, just as much as they see it unfriendly toward the policing and military functions of the State.

4. In their view, at the conscious level, to downplay the centrality of the State’s police and military functions seems abjectly absurd and even immoral, because they genuinely don’t believe people are really governed by strong concerns for social beneficence. Rather, certain people have learned to manipulate the social dialogue, proclaiming such high ideals while actually pursuing their own self-interested purposes just like everyone else (“doing well, doing good,” we might say.) Such people (currently labeled by the catch-all designation “liberals”) are morally contemptible, in their view, because their rhetoric of social conscience replacing the traditional institutions of coercive social power directly undermines the actual moral conditions of society itself (of “law and order.”)

5. At a less conscious level, the very idea of society moving towards less coercive mechanisms for maintaining sociability frightens them, because they are not at all sure that, push come to shove, they would so consistently choose social beneficence over personal gain were it not for the ongoing presence of strong coercive, ritualistic institutions to keep them in line, step by step (in “lock step with others,” we might say) along the way.

Perhaps in a future blog, we can employ this same framework for outlining and understanding the internal contradictions of Center/Left Progressives. But in the meantime, my general hope is that we all continue to try to understand each other in the best light, and work to maintain the dialogue. Ironically, given the state of polarization we see in our social dialogue, the fact that each side contains fundamental internal contradictions if one of our best signs of hope!

One Comment

  1. Please blog now rather than later on applying the same analysis to the Liberal/Left. There has been recent discussion of underlying similarities between the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements, and a “compare and contrast” piece on Beckerian lines would be most helpful.

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