Why Tea-Party Individualism Has a Basic Flaw

By Shlomo  Maital


The extreme right-wing of the Republican Party, known as the Tea Party, demands maximum  individual libertarian freedoms, lower taxes, less government, less or no social welfare.   It is named after the Boston Tea Party, which initiated the American Revolution when Bostoners refused to pay taxes levied by the British on imported tea, and dumped tea overboard.  But Tea Party is no party.  It has disrupted American politics, divided the Republican Party and elected substantial numbers of House members and Senators.   

    The best refutation I’ve found of the Tea Party ideology comes not from an economist or political scientist, but from an anthropologist named John Terrell, the Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History and professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois in Chicago.   His basic argument, presented in an Op-Ed in the New York Times: 

    “The basic unit of human social life is not and never has been the selfish and self-serving individual.    Philosophers from Aristotle to Hegel have emphasized that human beings are essentially social creatures, that the idea of an isolated individual is a misleading abstraction. So it is not just ironic but instructive that modern evolutionary research, anthropology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience have come down on the side of the philosophers who have argued that the basic unit of human social life is not and never has been the selfish, self-serving individual. Contrary to libertarian and Tea Party rhetoric, evolution has made us a powerfully social species, so much so that the essential precondition of human survival is and always has been the individual plus his or her relationships with others.”

Human beings have evolved for over 50,000 years.  We survive by joining with other people, to support them and receive their support. This happens within the key family unit,  within neighborhoods, cities, places of work, organizations, schools and  indeed   in  our social networks.   We thrive when we love others and receive their love.  We thrive when society works smoothly to provide mutual support, emotional physical and financial. 

     The Tea Party arose from the ashes of Ron Paul’s  failed Presidential Campaign in 2008, so it is only 6 years old.   It was strengthened by the disastrous financial collapse of 2008, which the Tea Party blamed on government rather than on greedy individualism rampant on Wall St.   There is a social evolution of ideas, not just people and societies. The failed, failing and refuted ideas of the Tea Party groups will be dumped on the trash heap, by the evolutionary process of ideas.