Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Tea Party: A show about nothing?

The Tea Party: A show about nothing?

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Not too long ago I gave you a link to Mark Lillia's epic piece in the New York Review of Books about the Tea Party, which he described memorably as "a libertarian mob." Comes now J.M. Bernstein of the New School with an online opnion piece for the New York Times (h/t Greg Mitchell) who counters Lilla by going a step further, calling the Tea Party a movement about...nothing -- that is potentially violent for just that reason.

Bernstein writes:

The Tea Party rhetoric of taking back the country is no accident: since they repudiate the conditions of dependency that have made their and our lives possible, they can only imagine freedom as a new beginning, starting from scratch.  About this imaginary, Mark Lilla was right: it corresponds to no political vision, no political reality.  The great and inspiring metaphysical fantasy of independence and freedom is simply a fantasy of destruction. 

In truth, there is nothing that the Tea Party movement wants; terrifyingly, it wants nothing.  Lilla calls the Tea Party “Jacobins”; I would urge that they are nihilists.  To date, the Tea Party has committed only the minor, almost atmospheric violences of propagating falsehoods, calumny and the disruption of the occasions for political speech — the last already to great and distorting effect.  But if their nihilistic rage is deprived of interrupting political meetings as an outlet, where might it now go? With such rage driving the Tea Party, might we anticipate this atmospheric violence becoming actual violence, becoming what Hegel called, referring to the original Jacobins’ fantasy of total freedom, “a fury of destruction”? There is indeed something not just disturbing, but  frightening, in the anger of the Tea Party.

Read the whole thing -- his ideas are fascinating but I'm not sure I totally agree with its conclusions. One thing that sets the Tea Party and fellow travellers apart from radical movements of yesteryear is a lack of youth, which I think diminishes the chance for large-scale violence. However, individual acts of domestic terror have already happened and could get worse if radicals aren't happy with that happens in November, and given the extemism of GOP nominees like Sharron Angle and Rand Paul, that disappointment may come.

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Will Bunch
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