Friday, September 17, 2010

Tea Party Leviathan

I think it is instructive to hear Tea Partiers hurl out as some menacing threat to politicians the trope that "the sleeping giant has awoken." I have been thinking about this kind of rhetoric coming out of the Tea Party, and I am becoming more and more convinced that this meme is less about the enlightened liberalism of John Locke who saw the state as an engine to bring about freedom and more about the medieval fear of Thomas Hobbes who saw the state as a monstrous and oppressive leviathan that needed to be tolerated as a necessary evil to keep a minimum of individual rights protected from the predations of other individuals. The "sleeping giant" reference I see as really being about rustling up the leviathan -- or at least calling for some of its dormant tentacles to get back into gear -- to render some kind of harsh justice against the direction of its predations. It's not the leviathan they actually seek to avoid in principle, but a leviathan that seems to have shifted its gaze on them, the wrong people, the "real" Americans, and needs to resume its proper role of preying on the other, "non-real" Americans. They may not like the feeling of being tread upon, but they certainly seem willing to do a bit of treading on others. And their push to "take back America" -- by which one can only mean harness the leviathan of the state to their own ends even if it means doing so at the expense of the liberties of another -- is rooted in a kind of fear. A fear of the leviathan as they perceive it to exist, not a fear of the leviathan itself. Put Sarah Palin in the Oval Office and watch the leviathan redirect its tentacles back at those in this country who need to be kept in their place.

1 comment:

eric said...

What I like about Hobbes is that he does the best job explaining the philosophical foundations of the social contract. The government's sole reason for existing is to keep us all from living in a state of complete and total anarchy. To the degree that Locke and Rousseau and even John Stuart Mill (whose writings I love dearly) argue that the government can rightly be applied towards higher goals, however lofty they may be, I find their arguments much more porous and malleable than Hobbes.