Both the L.A. Times (March 11) and the NY Times (March 12) ran articles on the secularism of the Tea Party movement. Both said that the leaders and the grass roots base of the movement are concerned with economic issues much more than the “social” issues of God and family, such as abortion and gay marriage.

The NY Times article is clearer:

“For decades, faith and family have been at the center of the conservative movement. But as the Tea Party infuses conservatism with new energy, its leaders deliberately avoid discussion of issues like gay marriage or abortion.

“God, life and family get little if any mention in statements or manifestos. The motto of the Tea Party Patriots, a large coalition of groups, is ‘fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.'” 

Amen.

Incidentally, the phrase “limited government” has suddenly become prominent. This is not exactly an Objectivist term, but Ayn Rand did use it in “The Roots of War,” (in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal), and its growing use is a good sign. Still better would be if those using it recognized that what limits the proper sphere of government action is individual rights. So far, they get only that what should limit our government is the Constitution. That’s not a bad first step.

Returning to the NY Times, here are some excerpts from later in the article:

“As the Tea Party pushes to change the Republican Party, the purity they demand of candidates may have more to do with economic conservatism than social conservatism. . . .

“Jenny Beth Martin, the leader of the Tea Party Patriots, complained that she spent the days after the convention answering questions about social issues.

” ‘When people ask about them, we say, “Go get involved in other organizations that already deal with social issues very well,” ‘ she said. ‘We have to be diligent and stay on message.’

“Many Tea Party members do embrace those issues. The subset of Tea Party organizations known as 9/12 groups, founded by Glenn Beck, asks members to embrace seven of nine principles, the second of which is ‘I believe in God and he is the center of my life.’ “

I checked Beck’s 9/12 group website, and it does indeed say that, alas.

The penultimate paragraph in the NY Times story is this:

“At a candidate forum sponsored by the Kitchen Table Patriots in suburban Philadelphia in January, nine candidates, mostly first-time politicians seeking office after getting involved in the Tea Party, were asked whether they believed that Roe v. Wade should be repealed. Only one said yes.”

The L.A. Times article is about the reaction of the religious right to the secularism of the Tea Partyers. The headline is “Social conservatives put religious twist on ‘tea party’ message.”

The article documents how the religionists are trying to get on the Tea Party bandwagon and steer it in the direction of faith, even if only by implication.

The Tea Party movement (and it is a mass movement, not a political party) is a good development and a good sign. But in the end, morality trumps practical concerns about spending, taxes, and debt.

That’s why it is important to inject as much secular individualism (and Objectivism) into the movement as we can. The best we can hope for, near term, is to get across the idea that religion is not the *only* moral basis available for supporting limited government.

In this regard, the following paragraph from the L.A. Times article is auspicious:

” ‘The reason why social conservatives and economic conservatives can play well together . . . is the guy who wants to go to church all day just wants to be left alone. So does the guy who wants to play with his gun all day, and the guy who wants to make money all day,’ said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. ‘They don’t agree on how to spend their time, but they do agree on their central issue: They want to be left alone.’ “

Yes, but it should not merely be “They want to be left alone” but rather “They demand the right to be left alone.” And that right must, eventually, be seen as based on the moral principle that each individual’s life is his own, that man is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others nor of an imagined supernatural being.

In sum, the Tea Party movement is a far better thing than one could have expected to see. The significant number of Objectivism-influenced placards at the rallies, the tripled sales of Atlas Shrugged, and the entrance of “Going Galt” into the language are truly remarkable signs of Ayn Rand’s growing influence.

I only hope the movement’s secular nature will last.

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Harry Binswanger

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is a professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an instructor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute, and a Senior Contributor at RealClearMarkets.com. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free one-month trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

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