The Tundra Tabloids applauds the overall message of Lee Harris’ article on the US Tea Party movement, and the imposition of a “cultural hegemony” by the ruling elite through the “allocation of prestige “, (which allows the ruling elite to conform society according to its own narrow views and agendas) but disagrees however concerning the Tea Party lacking “ideas”.
At the core of the Tea Party movement is a strong appeal of, and the demand for, the return of the Republic to being governed by politicians that both understand and accept the restrictions of the US Constitution (something of which he only mentions once in passing). That is the most supreme idea any US movement within the modern era ever had, to say that they (the Tea Party) lack ideas, is rather near sighted.
But Harris’ take on the thinking behind the present ruling elite, Democrats and RINO Republicans and those who rule them both, is spot on. The US citizen’s Don’t Tread On Me attitude is one significant phenomenon that the ruling elites will find hard to counter. KGS
The Tea Party vs. the Intellectuals
Lee Harris…”Intellectual critics of the Tea Party movement most often attack it for its lack of ideas, especially new ideas — and these critics have a point. But the point they are making reveals as much about them as it does about the Tea Party. Behind the criticism lies the implicit assumption that comes quite naturally to American intellectuals: Namely, that a political movement ought be motivated by ideas and that a new political movement should provide new ideas. But the Tea Party movement is not about ideas.
It is all about attitude, like the attitude expressed by the popular poster seen at all Tea Party rallies. Over the head of a hissing rattlesnake threatening to strike is inscribed the defiant slogan so popular among our revolutionary ancestors: “Don’t tread on me!” The old defiant motto is certainly not a new idea. In fact, it is not an idea at all. It is a warning.
For Orwell the basis of cultural hegemony was terror. For Gramsci, on the other hand, it was prestige. Cultural hegemony, according to Gramsci, did not have to be imposed on the people through threats and intimidation. It didn’t need to be imposed at all. Conquered subjects sought to emulate the prestigious language of their conquerors, while they simultaneously came to look down on their own native tongue as gross, defective, and inferior.
In modern liberal societies the same principle has been at work, but with different players. As education became the ticket to worldly success, it naturally became a source of prestige. Prestige no longer came from conquest by arms, but from earning a Ph.D. In modern secular societies, the eminence of the intellectual elite allowed it to unilaterally allocate prestige to select ideas, thinkers, and institutions.
Objects imbued with the magical glow of prestige did not need to be pushed on people — on the contrary, people eagerly vied with each other to obtain these objects, often at great personal sacrifice. That is why prestigious institutions, such as major universities, well-endowed foundations, and posh clubs invariably have far more candidates for admission than can possibly be accommodated — a selectivity that makes them even more desirable and prestigious. That is the beauty of prestige: It doesn’t need to lift a finger. It can just sit back and relax, confident that people will flock to its feet, begging for the crumbs from its luxuriant table.
The only truly effective check on elite rule is the fear that the people will become fed up with it. When the people decide to try to rule themselves, their first step toward self-government will be to toss out the old elite. True, the people may simply end up by bringing in a new elite, but this is little consolation to the elite that has been replaced. Hence, any ruling elite that wishes to maintain its hold on power will learn to exercise its power within prudent limits, not overreaching and creating dangerous resentment and backlash among the people.
This formidable check on elite power does not arise from flimsy constitutional safeguards, which can always be circumvented, but from the suspicious, even paranoid attitude of defiance displayed by ordinary citizens, which is much harder to get around.
The lesson of history is stark and simple. People who are easy to govern lose their freedom. People who are difficult to govern retain theirs. What makes the difference is not an ideology, but an attitude. Those people who embody the “Don’t tread on me!” attitude have kept their liberties simply because they are prepared to stand up against those who threaten to tread on them. To the pragmatist, it makes little difference what ideas free people use to justify and rationalize their rebellious attitude.
The most important thing is simply to preserve this attitude among a sufficiently large number of people to make it a genuine deterrent against the power hungry. If the Tea Party can succeed in this all-important mission, then the pragmatist can forgive the movement for a host of silly ideas and absurd policy suggestions, because he knows what is really at stake. Once the “Don’t tread on me!” attitude has vanished from a people, it never returns. It is lost and gone forever — along with the liberty and freedom for which, ultimately, it is the only effective defense.