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The peasants are revolting

Initially, when I saw the article, I wondered what on earth the editorial honchos at the Spectator Coffee House blog were doing in allowing this piece of invective to be published about the Tea Party movement in the US. But maybe those guys are actually being very smart, since the article is so bad, so unhinged, that it bears out the truth of what this Daily Telegraph columnist argues, which is that a large chunk of liberal (in the US sense) opinion is in total denial about what the Tea Party movement is about. It is just not within their mental frame of reference to comprehend ordinary voters rebelling about having to pay higher taxes for higher spending. (“But darling, how can the little people be so ungrateful?”).

The Coffee House article tries to dismiss the TP movement is nothing more than a front for religious extremism. Now I don’t particularly care for religion and as regulars will know, I tend to regard the separation of church and state as being one of the good things about the US, although the idea of such separation is not explicitly called for in the US Constitution.

But what the author of the Spectator Coffee House piece does not ask is this: if some of the Tea Partiers are playing fast and loose with American history, then are not the supporters of Mr Obama, and the bailouts, and the money printing of the Fed, also taking liberties with the intentions of the Founders? And that, surely, is what this is all about. The anger that is felt across the US among ordinary people is that their country is being bent out of shape by a group of people who hold them in contempt.

33 comments to The peasants are revolting

  • Historical narratives are fun. Theo Hobson’s is astonishingly imaginary.

    After much soul searching, I have to conclude that I do not believe in Theo Hobson.

  • John B

    He means what he says.
    One could drive trucks through his argument but that will not stop it being received by many people as the truth.
    Calls to mind passengers on a sinking ship calling the rescue service a bunch of fascist pigs because they wear heavy boots.

  • There will always be ‘landowners’ and ‘peasants’. I would always tend to side with the latter group, in a metaphorical or literal sense. Once I’m in charge, ‘nouveau riche’ will be a compliment, not an insult.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mark, on that we are agreed, at least as far as lauding wealth creation is concerned.

  • Gib

    About your comment on separation of church and state – do you mean that states are allowed to be religious, but the fed isn’t ? Or something else ?

    Just curious – it’s the first time I’ve heard someone non-religious say that separation of church and state isn’t in the constitution.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Gib, from my understanding, the Establishment Clause in the Constitution prevents Congress making a law establishing a religion; there is not, however, an explicit “separation of church and state” law per se, although de facto, that is what exists in the US.

    It is true, of course, that some relgious types try to argue that America was founded by Christians and should be a Christian nation in explicit legal terms, but that is to ignore the secular, as well as religious, views of the Founders, and to ignore how the likes of Jefferson, Adams and the rest were very much men of the Enlightenment, with all that that entailed.

  • bgates

    Gib – even the wiki page on separation of church and state acknowledges that there were churches funded by states after the Founding. The First Amendment forbids any “law respecting an establishment of religion” by Congress.

    Being Wikipedia, it goes further, claiming support for the modern position in an 1879 Supreme Court case which describes Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists (the origin of the phrase “separation of church and state”) as “authoritative”. The problem with using that case in this context is that it concerned a bigamy trial in Utah, which in 1879 was not yet a state.

    There have been several unambiguous Supreme Court cases dating since 1947 that have found that the restriction on Congressional power in the First Amendment now applies to the states as well through the incorporation doctrine.

  • Gib – even the wiki page on separation of church and state acknowledges that there were churches funded by states after the Founding.

    Yes. People tend to forget that the Constitution only applied to the Federal government as written- of course it did, as they only had the power to write one for themselves at the federal level. So, Congress shall make no law…

    Same with freedom of speech. As written the clause only says Congress cannot be a censor of the press- it says nothing about what the States can do.

    I think this tends to confuse us who live in non-federal nations cough The EU cough about the poltiical debate in the USA; libertarian/conservatism/constitutionalism often becomes a discussion purely of limiting federal power and not State power. Thus there might be a discourse about how the Federal level should get its nose out of bortion law, so that the States can make their own laws about it. Which in fact is not dissimilar to the attitude of many Eurosceptics, who want out of the EU so they can ban tits and bums on the telly, as Sean Gabb memorably put it once.

    Which is why Constitutionalism and small federal governmentism isn’t always very libertarian, since of course the libertarian position is the restraint of all levels of government, not reducing the higher level to empower local tyrannies.

    So anyway, after all that waffle, to be paleo-constitutionalist, the States have the right to set up a one true church and a State press censorship office and so on. The re-imagining of the Constitution by the Supreme Court to apply it to the States has in fact often made for a more libertarian position- e.g. freedom of speech at all levels, rather than just a restriction on Congress curtailing it, kind of thing.

    As an aside, here in Theeu, I sometimes in darker moments wonder if we’d be better off abandoning the attempt to leave it, and concentrate on getting the ECHR rewritten to gurantee absolute rights like the US Con/BoR does (or supposedly does anyway), by campaigning to get the get-out clauses in it scrubbed out. In a way, the problem with the ECHR is it contains too many “States Rights” and thus can’t be used as a libertarian sledgehammer against government as the US one can be used in some circumstances.

  • Gib

    Thanks all – I knew about the constitution still allowing religious states, but hadn’t considered the “establishment” wording in the first amendment. I’m happy it’s often being interpreted to mean a separation of church and state though.

  • “They’re racists!
    “oh, okay, I guess maybe they aren’t. Darn it.
    Ooh, wait, I know…

    “They’re religious nutters!”

  • Jerry

    OK, one large can of worms coming up !!!

    ‘only says Congress cannot be a censor of the press- it says nothing about what the States can do.’

    Not quite.
    The Constitution is a LIMIT on what the Federal government is ALLOWED to do ( or, in any case, it is supposed to be that ). It states the duties and responsibilities of the federal government and says that ANYTHING else is up to the states to decide.
    However – Since ‘Federal law’ trumps ‘state law’, the Constitution is essentially a limit on what the states can do as well although somewhat indirectly
    ( for instance, states cannot print their own money ).
    So to say that states COULD establish a ‘State of Iowa religion’ for instance is not quite correct. THere would be a challenge to that at the Federal level which, IMHO would succeed !!
    If you really want to start a riot among some groups, start with the fact that the 2nd Amendment nullifies EVERY other state gun law in this country!! Just STATING that causes some peoples’ heads to
    explode !!

  • The reporting on the tea party movement in the UK has been nothing short of a disgrace. They really don’t have a clue and don’t bother to talk to people who actually know about it and have been involved since the beginning (like me).

    Even the Telegraph piece(s) was lacking in basic research about who the major players are.

  • Jerry, I quote-

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

    It doesn’t set up federal law as a higher power on the issue. The wording is quite clear- it simply states that Congress cannot make such laws. If they’d wanted it to apply to the State constitutions, there are numerous other wordings that could have embodied such an intention. They could have said something like, “no legislature in these United States, nor Congress, shall make any law…” but they didn’t. It applies only to the Federal Congress quite clearly.

  • Brad

    I’m happy it’s often being interpreted to mean a separation of church and state though.

    I am too, up to a point. Unfortunately so many use the separation of Church and State as a means to infest the Federal level with their own brand of philosophical control. That is the main thrust the founders had in the first place – to prevent the stultifying and freedom robbing effect of imposing a closed philosophy upon a people. Does it really matter if it is a religion proper or a collectivist/centralist version shorn of a God? Imposing violence and Force on a peaceful population because a group is being chased by a “hell hound” of its own manufacture cannot be borne in any form. A healthy slice of those pushing so hard for separation of Church and State isn’t because they love freedom, it’s because they want to impose their own freedom killing philosophies; the classic situation that an enemy of an enemy is not necessarily a friend.

  • Sorry to wander a bit off topic, but having mentioned the ECHR myself, and this being about Constitutions and Bills of Rights and all, I can’t resist posting Article 10, possibly the most ridiculous useless “right” ever “guranteed” by a political power.

    It starts off with the best of intentions-

    Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

    Then it starts going noticably downhill-

    This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

    Then we get to this glorious universal cop-out-

    The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

    If it stopped after the first paragraph, it’d be a pretty good clause. Even so it’s worth noting it’s only a right to “information and ideas”, so it’s not a freedom of general speech anyway.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Just to be difficult, let me point out that the First Amendment doesn’t forbid Congress from declaring America to be a Christian country, it forbids it from declaring it to be, for instance, a Methodist country. An ‘establishment of religion’ is a state-sponsored church, which is not at all the same thing as a religion.

    OK, OK, but what are gnats for, if not for straining after?

  • Laird

    IanB’s points are quite accurate. As originally written, the US Constitution (including the Bill of Rights) were essentially limitations on the power of the federal government (there are a few tiny exceptions to this, but none worth discussing here). The 14th Amendment (as interpreted by the Supreme Court, anyway) extended many of those limitations to the states (although, frankly, from a reading of its plain words it’s hard to stretch the 14th Amendment to prohibit a state from establishing a state religion). Jerry is simply incorrect; federal statutes are, indeed, the “supreme law of the land” (that’s from Article VI), but only within the proper scope of Congress’ powers. Thus, if Congress were to pass a law prohibiting a state from exercising one of its lawful powers (such as, originally, creating a state religion) it would simply be ultra vires and void.

    IanB raises an important point which is frequently overlooked by US libertarians: being a constitutionalist and being a libertarian are far from the same thing. All libertarians I know want to severly limit the role of the federal government (constitutionalism), but even if that were to be accomplished it says nothing about the proper role of the state governments (which, in our constitutional scheme, have plenary authority in all matters not specifically delegated to the federal government). When that halcyon day arrives that the federal government is pruned back to its proper Constitutional limits, we’ll really start having a fight about state powers.

  • As I understand it, they are not called ‘states’ for nothing: they posses a large degree of sovereignty. The Constitution decentralizes the power (a good thing), but it is still a real, existing power. It’s a trade-off. The bright side is that if you don’t like the state you live in, you can move to a different one relatively easily.

  • Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

    The title is wrong. It should say:

    “The Gentry are revolting. The peasants have taken up arms.”

  • llamas

    Lot of nonsense being talked about the US Constitution here. Most of those talking nonsense seem to believe that the Constitution has been unchanged since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.

    Most of it can be resolved by a simple reading of the 14th Amendment. It says, in relevant part:

    ‘No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States . . . ‘

    In other words, State laws must comport themselves to the Federal constitution. So it’s sheer nonsense to sugggest that individual States could establish a religion, or apply restrictions to freedom of speech – if the US Constitution forbids that power to the US Congress, it is likewise and simultaneously forbidden to the States also.

    The 14th Amendment is not the 14th Suggestion – it is embodied in the Constitution and has the same power and effect as any other part. Suggestions that the 14th Amendment has to be ‘stretched’ to prevent States from doing these things are simply inaccurate – the plain language speaks for itself. Your right to be immune from the imposition of a State religion is your right as a US citizen and no mere State legislature can trump it. Your right to speak your mind (peacefully) is your right as a US citizen and no mere State legislature can abridge it. If the US Congress can’t do it to you Constitutionally, then neither can the States – whatever ‘it’ is.

    The fact that States may have had these powers prior to the ratification of the 14th Amendement is historically interesting but no longer of any effect. That was 150 years ago.



  • Laird

    Llamas, I agree with you that that is indeed how the Supreme Court has interpreted the 14th Amendment. However, I don’t think those words are quite as clear as you make them out to be, at least with respect to such things as establishing a state religion. “Privileges and immunities” is a pretty ambiguous phrase; it requires interpretation. If a state were to establish an official state religion, as long as it didn’t prohibit the worship of other religions, or in general limit the “free exercise thereof”, you really do have to stretch those words to turn them into a blanket prohibition.

    Still, this is merely an interesting philosophical argument, like arguing over “compact” theory of the Constitution. The fact remains that the Court has so decided and they’re not interested in my opinion.

  • mckracken

    the consistent use of us vs them is very tired, yet a go to for media. david vs goliath sells papers and defuses others interest in participating as they can vicariously be pepper sprayed/rubber hosed without the need for drycleaning or a shower; their lives are ‘good enough’.

    i would liken this particular time to the period a few years before the french revolution. a variety of grass roots interests fed and financed by disgruntled or power seeking nobility to foment disruption allowing them to make a grab for assets/riches in the transition.

    of course, it ended much differently than intended didn’t it?

  • Gary

    Scanning the thousands of hopped-up faces in the crowd, I am immediately struck by two things. One is that there isn’t a single black person here. The other is the truly awesome quantity of medical hardware: Seemingly every third person in the place is sucking oxygen from a tank or propping their giant atrophied glutes on motorized wheelchair-scooters. As Palin launches into her Ronald Reagan impression — “Government’s not the solution! Government’s the problem!” — the person sitting next to me leans over and explains.

    “The scooters are because of Medicare,” he whispers helpfully. “They have these commercials down here: ‘You won’t even have to pay for your scooter! Medicare will pay!’ Practically everyone in Kentucky has one.”

    A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can’t imagine it.

    Alot of them are Medicare scroungers and welfare spongers, sucking on the teat of Medicare. Why should the US taxpayer pay for their stupid scooters?

  • Alasdair

    Gary – just because *you* chose not to see any folk other than white at the Tea Party rallies doesn’t make that accurate … you assemble an interesting straw-Medicare-abuser that (surprise, surprise) doesn’t comport with the reality of the rallies …

    For specific non-white stuff, just look on YouTube … start with this video

    At a guess, you sound like a proud member of the Projective Party …

    Am I close ?

  • jsallison

    And if the peasants bathed more frequently they’d be less so.

  • Congratulations, Gary, you’ve added a new image to the description of what the Tea Party isn’t.

    What the Tea Party is is a noisy populist expression of the intellectual frustration voiced by the quietly insightful voices of Samizdata, the Cobden Center, the Cato Institute, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and other similarly underappreciated groups.

    Like most noisy, boisterous sorts, the Tea Party lacks a certain intellectual depth, although its heart is in the right place. What it certainly doesn’t lack, thankfully, is votes. So we better beat the Glenn Becks and the Pat Robertson’s of the world at the enviable task of providing the Tea Party with it’s intellectual compass.

    You, Gary, are not helping.

  • T M Colon

    Calling American states “states” is something of an anachronism. Originally they were thought of as more autonomous. The United States were like a league under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution changed all that. Now they’re more like provinces or jurisdictions.

    The Tea Party Movement is not a solid block or uniform constituency. There are your old style small government Republicans, which includes a dose of the religious right. There are also Libertarians. Unfortunately the Libertarian element is shrinking and the Republican influence is growing.

    I wouldn’t matter if the Tea Party were all white men. It’s about principles, not who you are. To criticize for lack of diversity borders on a genetic fallacy, that something is correct or not because of the makeup of the adherents rather than the facts or principles.

  • I want to get back to this whole Constitution thread derailment. 🙂

    What we have are a mix of factors which contribute to the legal climate of America: what the Founders originally intended; what the Constitution embodied when initially passed; what it embodies since amended; how the Supreme Court (with its internal political winds blowing to and fro) interpret it; and finally how well the States and the People honor all of the above.

    Our behavior in all cases lacks consistency. For instance, consider the question of Slavery… it seems obvious to me (though maybe not to anyone else) that intentional holes were left in the original Constitution pertaining to slavery, because to have attempted to abolish it at that time would have destroyed the union of the States before it had even been established. It took a war, a lot of untidy pacifying, a constitutional amendment, and Supreme Court decisions to make the principle stick.

    Other than a very small mouth-breathing minority, most people in America agree that slavery is an abomination the likes of which we’ll have nothing of. (Hopefully that last sentence made a few grammar nazis shriek!)

    The same can be said for the principle of Freedom of Speech. The original intent has been twisted all out of proportion, I am sure, but, we find that a most liberal interpretation of it makes our society stronger. Perhaps America is, collectively, socially liberal, but, as we are finding out, discovering fiscal conservatism as we start looking at all the receipts piling up.

    Hence the Tea Party.

  • Paul Marks

    The elite (including establishment “conservatives”) are a lot less learned than they think they are.

    Normally it is THEM who are playing “fast and loose with history” (and they do not even know they are doing).

    My favourate recent example is when the elite all sneered at Sarah Palin for saying “let us party like it is 1773”.

    “How ignorant” said the university professors and high brow newspaper and magazine writers.

    The Boston Tea Party was (of course) in 1773 – not 1776 (as the elite thought).

    The Spectator people do not actually check the claims of Tea Party people or their books (yet another book has just come out – “Broke” by Glenn Beck, millions of people will read it, but none of the elite will).

    That is why so many elite members know less about American (and British) history than someone selling car parking tickets in an amusement park.

    And I am willing to test that claim – because the guy selling car parking tickets (and sending off e.mails with information for X, Y, Z,) is ME.

  • Paul Marks

    I have put a few comments up on the Spectator site. Most likely they will be taken down – the elite (including the “conservative” part of the establishment elite) do not like being contradicted.

    But I am not going to type the stuff all again here.

  • Laird

    I have a bumper sticker on my car which says “Time to party like it’s 1773”. Most people get it.

    (And no, that’s not related to Palin. It’s the motto of the Boston Tea Party, a splinter group which separated from the US Libertarian Party in 2006 and thus long predates the current crop of “Tea Parties”. Just sayin’.)

  • Gary

    The truth is that many of these protesters are NIMBYs, who, hilariously, want the government to “keep its hands off my medicare”. Like Daily Mail readers, they whine about “scroungers” while greedily collecting their WInter Fuel Allowance and Child Benefit.
    Its populated by the Chistian nutters, people who think its the state’s job to ban gay marriage. Marriage is nothing to do with the government, people’s sex lives are no business of the state. Homosexuality should be completely legalized and the state stripped of any responsibility in such matters, completely.

    Does it not bother you that the likes of O’Donnell and her ilk think there should be no separation between Church and State?

    I also find it very odd how the corrupt, pork-happy Pentagon gets such a free pass. Ron Paul, to his immense credit, has rightly identified the Pentagon as a Corporate Welfare whorehouse, which exists purely to provide welfare to Lockheed and Arab corporations like Halliburton.
    Ron Paul has rightly condemned the CIA’s expansion of the US government across the world. The fact is America’s meddling in foreign nations, is the ultimate in Big Government. But the paranoid and cowardly, because they are such wimps, accept the ludicrous notion that expanding the US government is defending the nation.
    Government beyond national borders is Statism of the most monstrous kind. Isolationism is the best foreign policy, as no one has any reason to attack you.

    The Corporate Welfare culture, whereby incompetent US companies are protected from competition (see Americas rubbish, and thoroughly disgusting drug companies), is largely uncommented on by the Tea Party.

    Seeing as the Tea Party is funded by people with connections to the Nazi party, the Koch brothers descending from a “woman” who made Jews bodies into furniture.

    What’s needed, in America, is the complete banning of donations to elected representatives, Senators are elected to serve the people, ergo they should only act in the interests of the people.

  • Laird

    Well, Gary, you make a few reasonable points, but it’s mostly gross (and unfair) generalizations and, by the end, has degenerated into irrational raving. So much utter dreck (and rank stupidity) there it’s not worth rebutting. Troll.