Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Very Angry Tea Party Nihilism.

A nice bit of analysis from Professor Bernstein at the New School.

The Very Angry Tea Party - Opinionator Blog - NYTimes.com

Bernstein's basic view is that the anger flows from discovering that the radical individualism grounding American self-consciousness isn't entirely true.

Tea Party anger is, at bottom, metaphysical, not political: what has been undone by the economic crisis is the belief that each individual is metaphysically self-sufficient, that one’s very standing and being as a rational agent owes nothing to other individuals or institutions. The opposing metaphysical claim, the one I take to be true, is that the very idea of the autonomous subject is an institution, an artifact created by the practices of modern life: the intimate family, the market economy, the liberal state. Each of these social arrangements articulate and express the value and the authority of the individual; they give to the individual a standing she would not have without them.



Kevin Scheunemann said...

Interesting post,

"...that one’s very standing and being as a rational agent owes nothing to other individuals or institutions."

And your argument is to impose that duty with laws, regulation, penalties, fines, etc?

I think its great to help out social and charitable activities...I do it all the time, willingly.

When you impose obligation on someone, you erode the essence of a free society. That is the problem with modern day liberalism...imposing obligation without permission.

We called that slavery in the early 1800s.

Angry. Probably. Don't you get angry when obligation is imposed on you without permission?

But Nihilist? Not even close. I'm only nihilist about all the ignorant people running around willing to spend other people's money, time, and talent without asking!

Mpeterson said...

You're begging the question about what a 'free' society *is*. You start from the assumption that free means each member is capable of being fully autonomous. If that assumption is correct, so is the nihilism at the other end of the author's argument.

Now, if you'd like to argue that the Tea Party's underlying assumptions about human beings does NOT include the desire for complete autonomy for humans, then fine.

But I'm unable to see how you can claim that.

Kevin Scheunemann said...


I don't think anyone is arguing for complete autonomy.

However, 100% obligated servitude is not a free society.

National health Care would be a perfect example. Obligating doctors to perform their services at the rate dictated by government as a simple example. This will cause doctors to quit, retire, and discourage some from enetring the profession. This causes shortages, rationing, and long lines. Yet that is the system advocated by Democrats. Its a simple case in point where the social slavery hurts all.

Mpeterson said...

I think you're wrong about that Kev. I think 100% autonomy is precisely what so many of these people believe they have ... or should have... or actually can have.

But nobody is arguing for 100% servitude either... the point of the article is that the assumption set among the Tea Partiers has been upset.

Do you believe Americans accept the notion that they can't have everything they want? Frankly, the last 30 years has been nothing but the gospel of greed and immediate self-gratification. It's the entire basis of marketing, public relations, and -- starting most explicitly with Reagan -- politics.

Kevin Scheunemann said...


"greed and self gratification" as defined by you? by D.C. politicians? by Madison politicians?


So is it "greedy" to work 60-80 hours a week for 30 years and retire wealthy? I think people on the left side of the aisle say it is.

"Greedy" leftists (people coveting other people's money) are the big threat to achievement, production, jobs, and wealth creation. If you put enough tax and regulatory obstacles in our way, many of us business owners will just say "screw it" and live off the dole like everyone else. Then we can be Greece and France, a social cesspool.

Mpeterson said...

I would have been happy with the dictionary definitions... or Jesus's. :^)

But looking back here, the difficulty is that you never addressed the actual question. No one is "arguing" for complete autonomy or whether people are greedy. The question is whether people have assumed autonomy as a presupposition.

The other conflation is your usual one. You've identified yourself as a businessman with the oligarchy. You aren't a member of their club Kevin and you never will be. Your economic loyalty, despite the satisfyingly romantic conviction that you too will one day be a billionaire, belongs more with your own employees and their economic reality, rather than with Steve Forbes. Your enemy is not the government you can actually organize to help vote out of power, but the economic plutocracy current in control of the government.

I understand your resentment just as the article suggests: you're a jilted lover who didn't get what he wanted out of the relationship.

Move on. ;^)

I'll buy you beer if it'll help.

Kevin Scheunemann said...

So your solution is:

Autonomy has to be destroyed no matter which side you fall on?

Autonomy has to be sacrificed to take on the corporate plutocracy you say our government has been reduced to?

In the process, to take out the "corporate plutocracy", government has to be given more and more control, which continues to erode everyone's autonomy?

So I need to fully assimilate into the (borg) "collective" no matter what?

Don't "progressives" argue against that kind of heavy handed cultural assimilation?

Why can't tea partiers be part of the mutlicultural hue that "progressives" advocate and fiercely defend for every other crazy leftist group out there?

(I bet progressives would defend the left handed bowlers of America, why not the tea party?)

Or is it simple "progressive reality" that tolerance does not extend to those that advocate a high degree of freedom and autonomy for the individual, especially in economic arenas?

Fascinating. So instead of praising the multicultural diversity, the tea party culture represents, it is to be demonized, mocked, and ridiculed.

Could I get the "progressive" memo on which "cultures" are acceptable? Meanwhile, I'll check for sale prices on my monocultural "progressive" borg implants:).

Mpeterson said...

None of the above. I'm saying your ideal of autonomy is an illusion and that your real autonomy has already been coopted by the economic system.

The other problem is that your economic notion of autonomy seems to me to be grounded in what people desire rather than in what they think. If the American economic system really depended on people making rational decisions it wouldn't work.

So, you've confused the definition on two counts, and you're still not treating the matter of whether it's a founding assumption in the faux libertarian right. You make it sound like a result of action rather than the ground of action.

Kevin Scheunemann said...

So the answer is: "NO, there is no room for tea partiers in your narrow world view."

Even if we take your absurd assumption that tea partiers are delusional and "coopted by the economic system"...there is no room for unique reality in the political system?

"Democracy" is purely about serving the collective?

"Progressives" are an unique reality upon themselves. I just don't understand why you aren't willing to extend some of that famed "liberal compassion" to tea partiers?

Just a thought.