Monday, August 16, 2010

Progressives and Tea Party Activists Should Join Together

I am the President of a Tea Party chapter and my doctorate in history focused on the Progressive era.  As such, I can tell you that modern progressives belong in the Tea Party.  Furthermore, the Tea Party has a lot to learn from the progressives.

            Glen Beck is only half right.  Leaning heavily on Jonah Goldberg’s excellent book, Liberal Fascism, he argues that progressive government programs inexorably lead to totalitarianism.  This may be correct.  The fallacy comes from not recognizing that historical progressives themselves wrestled with the question of how they could have government programs without undermining local community participation.  What Beck does not acknowledge is that progressives themselves were very worried that a tyranny of Washington experts could exclude the voice of the common man.

            Tea Party participants often make the fatal error of considering the opposite of big government to be Laissez Faire individualism.  They demand zero government and to be left alone.  As Alexis De Tocqueville documented in his amazing 1830 classic, Democracy in America, before progressivism local control and heavy levels of civic participation, not unmolested individualism, defined America. The opposite of big government is local citizen participation, not anarchistic individualism.

            Prior to the industrial revolution small ‘island communities,’ as the historian Robert Wiebe called them, dotted America’s landscape.  In these communities you knew the mayor, the teacher, and everyone’s business. But the emerging large transnational industrial interests could not be regulated by town halls.  And ma and pa could not be participants in national affairs.  As De Tocqueville before them, progressives largely defined America as the land of political participation and worried that the masses would become passive.

The progressives’ concern for local participation is evident in their implementing the initiative process.  This got the common man a voice in State politics and weakened powerful politicians.  To foster local control progressives fought for the direct election of Senators.  They worried about cronyism between big powers and powerful men.  The progressives also got women the vote in order to get more Americans involved in political affairs.  While they wanted national systems, progressives also counterbalance distance from the powers that be with increased channels for democratic participation.

            My dissertation focused on Frances Kellor’s quest for participatory democracy.  As the head of national Americanization efforts, rather than creed, she sought to get immigrants involved in local politics.  For her, such participation was the sin qua non of being an American.  She got Roosevelt’s Progressive Party to create local activist chapters to guide national policy.  And, she wanted civilian training camps, like Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, to foster civic engagement in the populace.  All of these projects sought to foster the participation she saw in the island community she grew up in.

            Progressives, your heritage demands that you celebrate and attempt to foster local political participation.   As it is the greatest popular movement in recent times, you should laud the political activism of the Tea Party members and join them in their activism.  Tea Party folk should recognize that smaller government equals local government. Rather than simply seeking to be left alone, we must strive to run our communities locally.  That means an interest in civic organizations as well as straight politics.  We all, as Americans, must become engaged in our communities again.

            For such a revolution to happen, both sides must change their mindsets.  Liberals cannot continue to call all those who wish to lower the deficit ‘racist.’  This does not foster the civic participation your progressive forefathers sought.  And my Tea Party brethren, instead of simply fighting government, you must demand local control of programs.  We need, for example, to quadruple the tax exemption for giving to local charities.  And, whether you agree or disagree on the specific programs, please do welcome your progressive fellow-citizens’ help in striving to take care of our communities locally.



Anonymous said...

(...) Another variant is geoanarchism, in which people would live in contractual communities whose public goods are financed from land rent. These would include land trusts, condominiums, residential associations, proprietary communities (such as shopping centers and hotels), and apartment buildings. Membership in a community would be voluntary. These communities would associate together in networks and leagues. The members would share the belief that the land rent should be collected and distributed to all members equally or else used for public goods.

Under “geo-archy,” communities would create higher-level associations to provide public goods with a wide scope such as defense. Most communities would be members of the greater association, which would provide for a uniform rule of law at the highest level of association. Individuals and communities who are members would receive a package of goods, including security and access to public works, which makes membership advantageous. Members could secede, but would lose the package, so secession would be limited. Folks would therefore have the advantages of a state, but without the tyranny.

The greater association could include “anarcho-capitalist” communities that do not use land rent for their public finance. Economic theory indicates that the geoanarchist communities would have greater prosperity, since communities that do not use land rent for public goods would find that their public works get capitalized into higher rents, making the residents pay double for public goods, once as fees and then again as higher rent. Most folks would rather pay once than twice, so they would move out of anarcho-capitalism into geoanarchism.

Small-group democracy would prevent the tyranny of a minority, while secession would limit the tyranny of a majority. Geoanarchy would be compatible with communist anarchism, as communities could be workers’ cooperatives or communes, if these communities would tolerate others which are not communal or worker-owned....

Culturist John said...


While I can't follow all of the details of your community model, and can't believe it would really work, I like the general thrust of the goal; Local, smaller, government.

Today I was thinking, the country isn't broke. The country is far from broke. It is the Federal Government that is broke. If we got rid of them, we'd be out of debt and doin' alright.

Thanks for the comment,