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Tea and Anarchy

There’s a Jeffersonian rebellion afoot, one that rejects the elite media as much as our political overlords. Jacob Weisberg isn’t happy about that. By Thomas E. Woods Jr. According to Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg, a specter is haunting America: the specter of anarchism. Not real anarchism – that’s Weisberg’s emotional hypochondria at work – but […]

There’s a Jeffersonian rebellion afoot, one that rejects the elite media as much as our political overlords. Jacob Weisberg isn’t happy about that.

By Thomas E. Woods Jr.

According to Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg, a specter is haunting America: the specter of anarchism. Not real anarchism – that’s Weisberg’s emotional hypochondria at work – but merely a growing skepticism of authority.

This won’t do at all. Americans were born to be ruled by people and ideas of which Jacob Weisberg approves, and they are supposed to like it, or at least shut up about it. If they absolutely must complain, their complaints and modes of resistance must be kept within bounds approved of by Slate, a division of the Washington Post Company.

In other words, if these uppity peons would just stick to ideas and strategies chosen for them by their enemies, it would be easier for our betters to tolerate them.

Let’s hear from Weisberg himself. “The Tea Party movement has two defining traits: status anxiety and anarchism…. [It’s] a movement predominated by middle-class, middle-aged white men angry about the expansion of government and hostile to societal change.” I like Lew Rockwell’s reply: “Weisberg, need I mention, is a middle-class, middle-aged white man angry about any opposition to the expansion of government, and hostile to societal change not directed from the top. Oh, and no intellectual important in the current order is anxious about losing his status.”

The “Tea Party” designation refers to a diverse lot, and Weisberg is exaggerating its anti-establishment features. Some Tea Partiers speak of “taking our country back” while looking forward to pulling the lever for Mitt Romney in 2012, or think Sarah Palin, a complete nonentity, is a “maverick” despite being in Bill Kristol’s hip pocket. This branch of the Tea Party poses no threat to any established interest, and in fact strengthens the regime by misdirecting justifiable anger into officially approved channels.

But there is a sliver of genuine rebelliousness to be found here and there in the Tea Party, and it is this that Weisberg finds so awful and scary. “What’s new and most distinctive about the Tea Party,” he writes, “is its streak of anarchism – its antagonism toward any authority, its belligerent style of self-expression, and its lack of any coherent program or alternative to the policies it condemns.” Perhaps worst of all, Weisberg huffs, the peons don’t trust the experts, a designation they insist on preceding with the adjective “so-called”!

They don’t trust the experts? I can’t imagine why. Could it be that the experts told us the economy was fine in 2006? (James Galbraith admits this: only about a dozen economists predicted the financial crisis, according to him, though – natch – he pretends the Austrian economists do not exist.) Or maybe it’s because economist Paul Krugman said in 2001 that what the economy needed was low interest rates to spur housing – the very thing that gave rise to the housing bubble. Or maybe because Ben Bernanke denied there was a housing bubble, said lending standards were sound, denied that the subprime problem would spill over into the rest of the economy – there’s no real need to go on, since one of those uppity anarchists has collected these and other whoppers into one of those authority-undermining YouTubes that are destroying America.

I can’t resist one more example: Just two months before Fannie and Freddie collapsed and were taken over by the government, then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson told reporters not to worry: after all, he said, their regulator reported that they are adequately capitalized. When called on this two months later, Paulson denied having misled anyone: “I never said the company was well-capitalized. What I said is the regulator said they are adequately capitalized.”

See, Jake, people don’t trust someone like that.

Want to hear an “expert” (a law professor from Duke) discuss nullification with me? Be my guest. Want to see an Ivy League professor discuss the subject, and then see what he mangled or left out?

And the masses are losing confidence in the experts. Imagine that.

You know what also might be turning people off, Jake? The implication that they may adopt only those views that have been vetted in advance by people who despise them, and that they must be deranged losers if they choose not to avail themselves of this kind solicitude from their betters.

I happen to be the author of a new book making the historical and moral case for state nullification of unconstitutional federal laws and urging that it be resuscitated as a live option, given the complete failure of all other efforts to limit the federal government. Weisberg will have none of this crazy talk, of course. No one consulted him before advocating this, and since none of his friends at Newsweek or the New York Times have given nullification the seal of approval as an officially permitted position, we are breaking all codes of gentlemanly conduct by speaking about it anyway.

In any case, says Weisberg, we all know nullification was “settled” in 1819, with McCulloch v. Maryland. McCulloch held that when the federal government exercised a constitutional power the states could not interfere with it. That of course begs rather than settles the question, since a nullifying state contends precisely that the federal government is not exercising a constitutional power. But in Weisberg’s world, everyone leaped to accept John Marshall’s ridiculous and unsupportable nationalist rendering of American history, a rendering completely at odds with what people had been told about the nature of the Union at many of the state ratifying conventions, and indeed at odds with the most obvious facts of American history. Back on planet Earth, states continued to resist the national bank for years afterward, “settled law” to the contrary notwithstanding, until its charter went unrenewed in the 1830s. Spencer Roane, the chief judge of Virginia’s Supreme Court, completely dismantled Marshall and his reasoning in a series of unrelenting critiques. James Madison said Virginia would never have ratified the Constitution had anyone thought the federal government’s powers to be as expansive as John Marshall was proposing, given that exactly the opposite view of the new government was expressly promised to the people at the Richmond ratifying convention (where Marshall sat mute instead of correcting this impression). Thomas Jefferson wrote the following year: “The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated republic. They are construing our constitution from a co-ordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone.”

Oh, and I suppose someone forgot to tell Wisconsin it was violating “settled law” when it declared the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 unconstitutional in 1859 and acted accordingly.

For Slate, a “settled” issue is simply one they don’t want discussed. Normal people consider an issue “settled” when the arguments for both sides have been exhaustively heard, and with reason as the arbiter one side emerges triumphant. That has not occurred in this case. Contrary to popular belief, Daniel Webster was judged the loser of the Webster-Hayne debate at the time. Littleton Waller Tazewell crushed Andrew Jackson’s convoluted proclamation on nullification, as I note in my book, but no one hears or knows about this exchange today. Nationalism is the best way to organize human society, students are told, and that’s that. Anyone who thinks otherwise is too perverse to be worth mentioning.

“The tricorn hats and powder horns carried by Revolutionary re-enactors,” Weisberg continues, “point to the most extreme libertarian view: a Constitutional fundamentalism that would limit the federal government to the exercise of enumerated powers.” That’s not even close to “the most extreme libertarian view,” of course, not that Weisberg actually knows anything about libertarianism, but it does happen to be what one state ratifying convention after another was told would be the guiding rule of constitutional interpretation. This is now “wacko,” fashionable opinion at Slate having supplanted the state ratifying conventions as the arbiters of matters constitutional. This would also make Thomas Jefferson “wacko,” but Weisberg prefers (surprise!) not to mention Jefferson.

I had a bit of fun at Weisberg’s expense in my book Meltdown, where I quoted his impatient lecture to libertarians – why, don’t these people realize that their stupid commitment to the free market is what got us into this mess in the first place? Libertarians should just shut up and let the grownups put things right. Not a word about central banking and the teensy-weensy role it might have played in the financial implosion. He need not deign to acknowledge this line of argument. Criticism of central banking didn’t make it onto the three-by-five card on which Weisberg has written out all allowable opinions, so that view doesn’t really exist in any sense that matters.

What makes nullification so much fun is (1) that opponents of the idea almost invariably know none of the relevant history, so they find themselves reduced to stomping their feet and shouting (or trying to win arguments by dumb-guy smears); and (2) the sheer horror of the political and media classes when confronted by people who refuse to be force-fed the two feckless alternatives that Slate and the rest of the establishment want them to choose from.

Weisberg then speculates that people whose political views do not fall along that compendious spectrum from Hillary Clinton to Mitch McConnell may be mentally deranged – these people’s views are “nutball.” But the main problem with the people Weisberg identifies is that they refuse to be told what to think, and they shun media outlets that insult them. They’re not interested in debating what Slate wants them to debate – e.g., whether the top marginal income tax rate should be 39 percent or 39.8 percent. They want to discuss matters a smidge more significant than that. They refuse to read from the script Slate keeps trying to hand them. That is what makes them so troublesome.

Of course, the people Weisberg has in mind do not read Slate in the first place, so they won’t even see his funny article. Even worse, how do you insult people who don’t care what authority says about them? It’s enough to drive a commissar crazy.

Weisberg thinks the problem with the Tea Party is that it’s too unpredictable. That sure isn’t Weisberg’s problem. His first book was called In Defense of Government.


Thomas E. Woods Jr. is the author of ten books, including the just released Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century. This essay originally appeared at LewRockwell.com. Copyright © 2010 by LewRockwell.com.