Illiberal Americans & Diverse State Governments

Salon assistant editor Elias Isquith recently published a dour piece that portrayed Tea Party adherents as anti-freedom utopians, and conveniently ignored the illiberal tendencies of many progressives.

From Isquith’s perspective, a “childish” desire for sameness, and an uncomfortable relationship with “ambiguity,” has simultaneously led many conservative Republicans to favor homogeneous neighborhoods, and quasi-independent state governments. He makes a fair point. Nevertheless, Mr. Isquith’s description of a Tea Party utopia is seasoned with unintended irony: unadventurous progressivism is strikingly similar —

Teatopia is a place where one never has to wonder about the veracity of her basic assumptions…It’s a place where no one ever has to grapple with the uncomfortable reality of other human beings living full, rewarding lives while concurrently making major decisions one thinks are self-evidently incorrect. It’s a place where one need never acknowledge that there are people who dream vastly different dreams and, what’s more, believe they have just as much right as anyone to make those dreams come true.

Like their conservative counterparts, many politically progressive individuals and communities largely refuse to question their political “assumptions” about abortion, marriage, firearms,  income inequality, gender inequality, taxes, environmental protection, and the war on terrorists.

If the would-be denizens of “Teatopia” are uncomfortable with individuals making “major decisions one thinks are self-evidently incorrect,” progressives are equally uncomfortable with an individual’s right to make minor decisions progressives find  socially unacceptable.

For example, citizens in progressive states often cannot buy certain popular firearms, religious bakers and photographers cannot act upon their religious scruples, and parents who “dream vastly different dreams” for their child, and consequently desire to educate their child at home, are looked upon with concern, and perhaps suspicion.

In the process of describing “Teatopia,” Elias Isquith has described traits that are also found in progressive circles; progressives are utopians too. Competing utopian visions only serve to underscore the inherent realism of a decentralized approach to government: rarely are broadly divergent views happily reconciled at the national level of government.

Imperfect though they were, the founders chose to embrace a form of government that reserved enormous governing power “to the States respectively, or to the people.” Hence, contrary to what Mr. Isquith seems to believe, many Tea Party affiliated citizens want a return of the 10th amendment, not the Articles of Confederation.

Furthermore, only the most anti-freedom Americans desire a return of the legal debilities that states once bestowed according to a person’s class, race, and gender. Instead, many tea party supporters happily echo Thomas Jefferson –

“No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him. Every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him.”

Regrettably, many conservatives and progressives long for their own particular utopia – a place where the federal government, fueled by moral certitude, will self-righteously enact laws that stifle state-level diversity in the name of democracy.

America’s cultural, political, and religious diversity makes agreement in Washington DC difficult. Leaders rarely identify problems without contentious debate; solutions are even more troublesome. A decentralized approach to government is not a rejection of the democratic process, but rather an admission that a large, diverse, country can benefit from robust, localized, self government.

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