Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Flavor of the Tea Party

In a revealing little editorial today, conservative columnist George Will explored the character, motivations, and philosophical underpinnings of Ron Johnson, a tea party candidate running for Senate in Wisconsin.

I'll admit that "I'm Ron Johnson from Wisconsin" does have a rather nice rhythm to it.

Johnson seems a straight shootin', matter of fact, no-nonsense sort of guy. He's a businessman, with a practical, matter of fact, no-nonsense...wait...I already said that. Well, that's the general idea. He thinks government is the problem, and that taxation at any level represents an impingement on his liberty.

What is most interesting about Johnson is what he says is the most important philosophical influence on his life. He's a Christian, of course, and pro-life. That goes without saying. That's pretty much a default. But the specific teachings of that strange guy from the middle east don't provide the foundation of his political philosophy. His "foundational book" is Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged."

This is a sign of the character of the Tea Party. For just as you can't claim to be an atheist and simultaneously a Christian and maintain even the tiniest semblance of intellectual cohesion, you can't simultaneously be an authentic follower of Jesus Christ and think Ayn Rand is the bee's knees.

The reason for this is rather simple. The core of Ayn Rand's philosophy, which is made clear in John Galt's monologue near the end of Atlas Shrugged, is intentionally and diametrically opposed to the Great Commandment. The beating philosophical heart of Atlas Shrugged is the rejection of Christ's message to love God and neighbor. For Ayn, the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself was a command to be weak. To be a parasite. This is not me being mean to Ayn. If you could straight up ask her, I'm sure Ms. Rand would agree.

For the Tea Party, which does draw inspiration from Ms. Rand's ferocious worship of the individual and yet is purportedly very Christian at the same time, this is a bit of a problem. Or it would be, if anyone bothered to make them think about it.

Just who in the Sam Hill pastors these people, anyway?


  1. Considering Johnson's age, his formative work years took place during the "greed is good" 80's. (As opposed to the greedy tech-IPO 90's and the uber-greedy subprime-bubble Aughts.)

    My pastor employs the phrase "There's nothing wrong with that," which frustrates me a bit. Since he can't say, "God wants you to own a BMW 750i," he leads us to believe that God doesn't disapprove of us spending $80,000 on a luxury car.

    And who knows? Perhaps our conspicuous consumption is a blessing to thousands of men and women whose livelihoods dangle tenuously from the BMW supply chain.

  2. I can see Nietzche and Rand holding hands quite nicely (She may not have gone for the moustache though). Her Objectivism and his nihilism, strangely enough, actually compliment one another, most especially in their mutual disdain for "weakness" and the aiding of those "less fortunate".

  3. Can only the State render (or does it actually coerce?) fair and equitable assistance to those in need?

    Voluntary Christian charity does an astounding amount of work to alleviate suffering. I've encountered a few liberal minded folks in my time, who seem to think that the churches efforts just aren't enough and that the State can actually eradicate poverty. Not possible nor is it meant to, I say.

  4. @ Jonathan: It depends on the depth of the need. Charitable organizations do some amazing, amazing work. But there are crises that require significantly more intervention.

    Historically, the Great Depression was such a crisis. Churches were simply overwhelmed by the need. I read a fascinating dissertation several years ago by a U.VA. historian exploring the way charitable organizations pressured government to respond to economic need with material support in the 1930s.

    In more recent history, major crises like Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami or the earthquake in Haiti are fine examples of events where alleviating suffering is simply beyond the ken of nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations.

  5. Amen. If the money in my pocket is my greatest value, and if people in pain who may need it is anathema, then I may be many things, but a follower of Christ, a Christian, is not among them.

  6. @GulfShoreStevens:
    I don't think anyone here has a problem with individuals, Christian or otherwise, voluntarily giving of their means to aid those in need. Nor do I think anyone not a fan of the State views people who are hurting as "anathema".