A thought

Allan Ramsay, "1776 Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

A thought: The Tea Partiers, and in fact all populists, those who appeal to common sense and the people who have spoken are intellectual stepchildren of Rousseau. Their narrative pits the elites against Mainstreet and Everyday Americans. The Everydays are the Real Americans, which is to say the authentic peopleTheir thinking is unclouded by the false-consciousness cultivated by bourgeoise education. W. characterized most introspection as “self-pitying,” and Sarah Palin talks about goin’ with her gut. They have no need of self-criticism when they have certainty that their feelings will put them in touch with their true nature, their common sense and bedrock values. Any discipline of thought (or certain kinds of thoughts) or theoretical training (or certain kinds of training) necessarily lead to errors and false values, uncommon and nonsensical. The rural–which is to say, the pastoral–is better and more authentic than the urban and cosmopolitan. Distrust the cities and their decadence; only one who is close to the earth and its salt and its divine bounty and shootable animals can really understand people.

Both Rousseau and the Tea Partiers are radicals. Taking any idea to its logical conclusion is always a dangerous thing to do. Any conservative ideology is no different. Any conservatism taken to extremes ceases to be conservatism. The distance between its ideals and the world-as-it-is becomes so great only a new and total revolution, a complete transformation of society can bring the two into alignment. If conservatism purifies its ideas too far, it will find nothing in society worth conserving, but must innovate to bring about its order. The Tea Partiers and Ron Paul-fans, with its broken but still loud calls for abolition of The Fed, the abolition of the income tax, for the secession of individual states, is innovation. They would do well to remember Burke, for they have obviously forgotten him is 1796 Letter to a Nobel Lord:

It cannot at this time be too often repeated; line upon line; precept upon precept; until it comes into the currency of a proverb, To innovate is not to reform.  

In brief: We are to believe the Tea Partiers when they call themselves “revolutionaries” and “minutemen,” but call them out as scoundrels when they call themselves “conservative.”

I find fault with both Rousseau’s and Burke’s modes of politicking. But under a self-described Burkean, I would feel safe.*  Under a disciple of Rousseau, I would find myself waiting for a reign of terror.

*My ideal politician is a liberal comfortable with Burke, or a liberal of Burkean temperament. In politics, wisdom trusts its own skepticism, and, when the occassion calls for it, can call upon the courage to do nothing. I can think of no politician fitting into this mold, but by way of political authors, Forster, Popper, and Berlin come to mind.


2 Responses

  1. Interesting thoughts. I do not agree with your view of the Tea Partiers. They are very far from Ron Paul. Their sheer numbers indicates this. While surely some are kooks, the body of them are simply reacting to what is actually radicalism — the radical leftism that has dramatically shifted the direction of this country in the course of 12 months.

    Also, a tangential thought… why income tax? Why not eliminate everything but a sales tax? I can think of a lot of reasons why this would be a great idea. Interested to hear the arguments against.

  2. Being an existentialist it’s funny reading what you wrote Bento.

    Being authentic and not some mindless drone…refreshing

    now to figure out how to control these drones for my own ends: forcing them all to be educated


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