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Analysis of the Tea Party from a Lockean Perspective

October 26, 2010

The Tea Party movement is perhaps the most polarizing and flagrant example of civil discontent in modern America. Emerging in 2009, the Tea Party consists of a loose collection of people that span a wide range of the political spectrum. Despite this, supporters of the Tea Party seem to agree that the federal government needs to lower taxes, reduce the overall size of the government, and adhere closely to the Constitution. While it is difficult to pinpoint the Tea Party’s agenda, it is clear that the movement has manifested itself as a popular uprising of the people in response to perceived transgressions of the federal government, specifically the Obama Administration. I believe that it is possible to view the modern Tea Party movement as one that draws heavily upon the ideology of John Locke and therefore can be analyzed in Lockean terms.

Members of the Tea Party commonly claim that the United States government has, in the recent past, distanced itself from the Constitution in unprecedented ways. They argue that the federal government has assumed more power than it was originally intended to and begun to impede on the freedoms of the citizenry. Most also believe that the current administration in Washington has digressed from the free market principles that the country was supposedly built upon. Do the American people, therefore, have a right to rise up and rebel against the federal government?

The legislative branch of the government is bound to abide by the Constitution; failure to do so would qualify as transgression of the law and therefore tyranny under Locke. “Wherever law ends, tyranny begins.” According to this, rebellion appears to be justified as long as the legislative has actually gone further than is prescribed by the Constitution. This is the reason for the heated political debate over the constitutionality of certain laws and government actions. Members of the Tea Party believe that the federal government (Obama Administration) has gone beyond the limits mandated by the Constitution. For this reason, they argue, it is just to rise up and attempt to change the government.

Despite this, Locke also believes that hostile force is only warranted where the ruling power “leaves not the remedy of …an appeal.” In our political system, elections act as our primary mechanism of appeal to the government. The people have the power to elect candidates they support and ensure that unpopular candidates do not reach office. The argument can be made that, because the Obama Administration was elected through an election and received the majority of both the popular vote and votes in the Electoral College, they are acting within the bounds of their power. One of their most important objectives, according to Locke, is to serve the best interests of the people. As long as they receive large-scale support for their policies, rebellion is not warranted.


An argument can be made both for and against the Tea Party’s right to rebel using Lockean viewpoints. Do you believe that the Tea Party is justified in attempting to rise up against the government? Why or why not.


  1. blanchc permalink
    October 26, 2010 10:11 PM

    I believe that it is unfair to say that the Tea Party is rebelling against the federal government. As a party, they have made no attempts to “rise up against the government”. This implies a certain use of force or illegal tactics. Certainly, they have made an attempt to organize and protest in order to bring about social change, but the reason they do so is to impact future elections, which, as you mention in the article, “elections act as our primary mechanism of appeal to the government”. Therefore, this appeal to the government on behalf of the Tea Party is certainly a justified one.

  2. joshuacy permalink
    October 27, 2010 12:25 PM

    You fail to mention exactly HOW the legislature has gone “further than prescribed by the Constitution.” While I feel that the problem is with your argument as to the legitimacy of the Tea Party, I think the actual purpose for this absent information is that the Tea Party never specifies their grievances. Saying that the government (Obama Administration) is raising taxes is simply not true. Saying that government spending is WAY UP is simply not true (the National Debt is back to where it was when Obama entered office [everything has paid itself off, he has “broken even]). Saying that the government (Obama Administration) is taking away our rights is simply not true (repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell vs. Bush’s Patriot Act).

    The Legislative Branch, as I understand it, is to create new laws to keep the citizens safe, protecting their lives and property, not to abide by the Constitution. Altering the Constitution is their job. Interpreting the laws belongs to the Judicial Branch. Nice try, though.

    Not only do I completely disagree with the idea that the Tea Party is a legitimate (just) rebellion, I completely disagree with everything that the Tea Party stands for: small government, lower taxes, and ignorance.

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