Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Individual Rights and The Houston Tea Party Society

To date I have been an avid supporter of the Houston Tea Party Society (HTPS). I attended an organizational meeting and have participated in two tea parties in Houston.

At the organizational meeting I expressed concern that the tea party movement would become irrelevant if it did not explicitly embrace individual rights. Without this unifying principle, the movement would become nothing more than a collection of interest groups, each promoting some specific cause under the banner of "liberty".

It appears that HTPS has not taken my advice. Their web site states:
We’re not contained by any particular ideology or party, but strive to be a pluralistic and populist movement committed to Liberty, especially economic liberty.
This might sound appealing to those who are disgusted by politicians in both parties. However, its deeper meaning is very troubling. "[Un]contained by any particular ideology" really means not guided by any particular principles. It can be appropriate for an ad hoc movement such as HTPS to include individuals who do not necessarily agree on every issue. But without a unifying principle there is no unity--there is only a collection of individuals rallying against a common enemy.

HTPS might claim that its unifying principle is "liberty". But what does this mean? Some claim that "liberty" means a government that responds to the "will of the people". Others claim that "liberty" means an absence of government. Still others claim that "liberty" means limited government--but limited to what? Each of these has entirely different meanings, and leads to vastly different results.

With no point of central agreement--other than the undefined "liberty"--anyone with a bone to pick with the government is perceived as an ally. But the truth is, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my ally.

For example, the "will of the people" means unlimited majority rule--that the majority may do as it pleases simply because it is the majority. This is nothing more than a tyranny of the masses, which is no friendlier to liberty than a tyranny of Washington bureaucrats. An absence of government is anarchy, which means gang warfare. This too is inimical to liberty.

Liberty--or freedom--means an absence of coercion. It means that each individual has the right to act according to his own judgment, free from interference from others (so long as he respects their mutual rights). Government's only legitimate purpose is the protection of this right. This is the proper meaning of "limited government"--government limited to the protection of individual rights.

HTPS should reconsider its position of being "[un]contained by any particular ideology". It should require that anyone who wishes to operate under the HTPS umbrella embrace the principle of individual rights. For while individuals may disagree on many issues, if they agree on that principle, they can work together and deliver a unified message. The principle of individual rights is not a "particular ideology", but the recognition that each individual should be free to think and act according to his ideology. (Again, he must respect the mutual rights of others to do the same.)

If the tea party movement is to remain relevant it must do more than fight against expanding government. It must fight for something. It must fight for the inviolate moral right of each individual to his own life, his own liberty, his own property, and the pursuit of his own happiness.

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