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Locke vs. Tea Party

October 31, 2010

Revolution is no stranger to the United States.  The American Revolution was how our country came to be in the first place!  Many Americans revolted during the 1960s and 1970s in protest of the War in Vietnam and for civil rights.  Goodness, the Beatles even wrote a song about it!  However, a new rebellion has come about: the Tea Party Movement.  Are their reasons for revolt justified?

Is this revolt justified?

During the American Revolution, the patriots were infuriated by the taxes King George was imposing on them without giving them representation under the law.  King George was a tyrant.  President Obama, on the other hand, is not acting in a tyrannical manner (according to Locke in paragraph 199).  He is following the laws, and not exercising power beyond his legal right.  He is holding up his end of the social contract.  Whether he is doing it well is not the question at hand.  It is only when the contract is broken that Locke grants the people the right of revolution (paragraph 168).

Regardless of a lack of tyranny, the Tea Party Movement is against Obama and his government.  According to their website,

“The impetuses for the Tea Party movement are excessive government spending and taxation. Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.”(

Basically, they want to keep their money to themselves, vest all the power of the government into a few people, and strip the government’s ability to regulate trade and business.

If Locke were still alive today, I do not think he would have approved of the Tea Party and their mission.  By living in the United States they are entering into a social contract with the government.  I think it is safe to assume that many of these people have drivers licenses and registered to vote; two actions that demonstrate their agreement to adhere to laws and statutes set forth by the constitution.  The government is currently not breaking this contract; they are working to the best of their abilities to do well by the people.  I am not sure that Locke would acknowledge the Tea Party’s justifications of rebellion as legitimate.

I personally think that under Locke’s definition, the Tea Party does not have enough cause to revolt.  They are citizens who have elected senators and congressmen: representation.  They say they want to do away with big government and reduce taxes considerably.  During the American Revolution the patriots were protesting, “No taxation without representation!”  The problem here is that the Tea Party members would like no taxation when they HAVE representation.  Additionally, it is the government that prevents human beings from returning to a state of war, chaos, and confusion.  We need our government to ensure that EVERYONE, not just the affluent, maintains their entitled rights of life, liberty, and property.

Locke states in chapter 18,

“…it being safer for the body that some few private men should be sometimes in danger to suffer, than that the head of the republic should be easily, and upon slight occasions exposed.”

He means that although these people may dislike what their government is doing, for the sake of the saftey of the country, the minority is not able to have their way.  The only way for a rebellion to make an impact is if the majority party is the one revolting.  As unfair as it may seem, the country is safer to dismiss minority desires in order to maintain stability.  Locke would argue that it does not matter what the Tea Party is doing because they do not have enough people to create a lasting impact on the government and our social contract.

So with invalid reasons to revolt and the belief that their rebellion will not make an impact, I doubt Locke will be throwing tea in the harbor anytime soon.



  1. neilrab permalink
    November 1, 2010 11:52 AM

    I agree with you that these people want something that is unattainable. There is no way to completely get rid of taxes, since after all, it’s what keeps the country financed. Most of the taxes the government gets goes towards bettering society and funding programs aimed at helping those less fortunate. Sure, if these people would have no representation then I’d say they have the right to revolt. I mean, freedom of speech enables them to protest publicly, but the second that this turns violent or the second they offend anyone with authority, their campaign will be done.

    On another note, society doesn’t really run the way Locke proposed it. Times have changed, transforming the way society works. May be back in the day people would only protest if the government took something from them, but people nowadays feel like they have the right to revolt any time something doesn’t go their way. That’s why there are so many anti-whatever groups/campaigns, because the first amendment allows them to express themselves. However, if things still worked the way Locke used to think, then yes, these people’s motives for revolting are invalid.

  2. mbhilton permalink
    November 1, 2010 11:59 AM

    Are they really revolting? I think that there is a difference between protesting and revolution. True, protesting can lead to revolution if it is dealt with in the wrong way, and they use revolution in a lot of their protests, but is it actually revolution? Just because they’re trying to bring about a change, they are working within the confines of our political system, because of that I don’t think they can be considered to be truly revolting.
    All this being said, I am in complete agreement that Locke would not be happy with the Tea party

    • jptrue permalink
      November 1, 2010 4:58 PM

      I agree here. I have a problem with your suggestion that the Tea Party Movement is concerned with rebelling and revolting against the government. The word revolt is defined as in action “to break away from or rise against constituted authority.” ( The Tea Party is not a faction that is looking to overtake the government and establish a new institution of control. Instead, they are looking to change the government from the system within. As a result, they are just another example of legitimate, yet extreme opposition. As a result, the Tea Party is not seeking to break its contract with the government. Instead, it is simply trying to gain control of the government. This simply implies that they are trying to change the way the government attempts to uphold their social contract with the people.

  3. Michael Munoz permalink
    November 1, 2010 3:12 PM

    The Lockean lynchpin behind the Tea Party (as far as I can identify) is the protection of private property from overpowered government mechanisms like taxation. They see that the government has entered a state of war with society through Obama’s presidency and an overwhelming sense that he and his administration will attack property via taxation to fund “unnecessary” social programs. It is through this line of logic that the Tea Party bases its conviction in free, open markets and a federal government thoroughly disassociated from private economic matters. While calling for a revolution is an extreme measure in this case, we must also be cognizant that the Tea Party is comprised of several, stratified layers of social and political preference. You will find that most Tea Party members dislike the president’s administration but are willing and ready to find alternatives and compromises to present policy choices via political and diplomatic channels. But, you will also find extremist, right wing, de facto militia-like groups calling for a physical revolution within the Tea Party. All in all, the Tea Party is a complex group which really cannot be described as a blood- thirsty, affluent, white suburban male echelon ready to set fire to government offices in response to budgetary irresponsibility.

  4. erikamir permalink
    November 9, 2010 5:15 PM

    I agree with the author of this blog post. What the Tea party is doing unattainable. Locke would definitely not agree with their message because having freedom and rights of being a citizen you have to understand that you have certain obligations that you must fulfill. This is necessary for order and the greater good of society. I wouldn’t say that the Tea party is rebelling however, they are trying to start radical change or revolution expressed by Burke. It was tradition for the government to be less hands on however change has caused them to get involved with many more areas.

  5. Chrisbbarnes permalink
    November 10, 2010 12:43 AM

    This reminds me of a spoof article I saw constitutes cause for the dissolution of government.,1916/

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