In Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto, Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe write that “We just want to be free. Free to lead our lives as we please, so long as we do not infringe on the same freedom of others.”
But a generalized love of liberty doesn’t distinguish tea partiers from liberal and libertarian Americans. For social conservatives, who make up the bulk of the tea party, the tea party is less about liberty than it is an American notion of karma, which says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction.
Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it’s just a law of the universe, like gravity.—Jonathan Haidt
Liberals and leftists in the 1960s and 1970s were intent on protecting the American people from the punitive side of karma and reduced the incentives for work and marriage among the poor.
Premarital sex was separated from its consequences (by birth control, abortion and more permissive norms); bearing children out of wedlock was made affordable (by passing costs on to taxpayers); even violent crime was partially shielded from punishment (by liberal reforms that aimed to protect defendants and limit the powers of the police).—Jonathan Haidt
Tea partiers see that the people and politicians guilty of corruption and irresponsibility for today’s ongoing financial and economic crises have escaped the punitive consequences of their wrongdoing. In fact, the very people who brought calamity upon the country have been rewarded with billions in bailouts and bonuses of taxpayer money. The wicked have gone unpunished!
To understand the anger of the tea-party movement, just imagine how you would feel if you learned … that politicians were devising policies that might, as a side effect of their enactment, nullify the law of karma. Bad deeds would no longer lead to bad outcomes, and the fragile moral order of our nation would break apart. For tea partiers, this scenario … is the last 80 years of American history.—Jonathan Haidt
A major disagreement between the left and right is their conflicting notions of fairness. Liberals see fairness in terms of equality and conservatives see it in terms of karma. As the tea partiers see it, karma has been weakened by the federal government’s attempts at social engineering.
The Protestant work ethic (karma’s Christian cousin) holds that hard work is a duty and will bring commensurate rewards. Yet here, too, liberals have long been uncomfortable with karma, because even when you create equal opportunity, differences in talent and effort result in unequal outcomes. These inequalities must then be reduced by progressive taxation, affirmative action and other heavy-handed government intervention.—Jonathan Haidt
The tea party is a mixture of conservative and libertarian ideals, but libertarian morality lines up more with liberals than conservatives.
Libertarians are closer to conservatives on two of the five main psychological “foundations” of morality … But on group loyalty, respect for authority and spiritual sanctity—libertarians are indistinguishable from liberals…. [When it comes to] … the three “binding” foundations [that] … bind people together into tight communities of trust, cooperation and shared identity … libertarians (who prize individual liberty above all else) part company with conservatives.—Jonathan Haidt
The tea-party movement is partially funded and trained by libertarian and pro-business groups such as Armey and Kibbe’s FreedomWorks, who are concerned mainly with increasing economic liberty. As libertarians, they “just want to be free” from regulations and taxes, but social conservatives want to reverse the changes of the 60s and restore the land that karma forgot.
Although a rift is coming, let’s pray that it holds off until after the November mid-term elections.
For more on the story, see What the Tea Partiers Really Want by Jonathan Haidt.
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