Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tension between government, voters is nothing new

Published in The Tennessean, Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tension between government, voters is nothing new

by Richard J. Grant

Just when our epoch seemed to be lost in vacuous notions of “hope and change,” we have suddenly noticed that some things are permanent. The laws of nature, which include the laws of human action, seem to persist no matter how well or poorly we understand them. And recent political events have arisen that remind us of our cultural and political inheritance and of the chain of responsibility that has been passed to us by previous generations. It is for us to build upon and to preserve for our descendents.

The malaise in our nation is more than economic. What we today call the tea party movement is, like the Boston Tea Party of 1773, an act of open defiance by a people against what they see to be their government’s disrespect for, and encroachment upon, their rightful liberties. That original tea party gave rise to events that provided the constitutionally limited democratic tools through which we can now act to replace representatives who fail to respect the original intent of the Constitution that they have sworn to uphold.

This tension between the people and those who would assume power over them is a recurring theme in history. The providential manner in which colonial Americans faced this challenge is succinctly portrayed by Professor Timothy D. Johnson, of Lipscomb University, in Liberty vs. Power: The Founding Fathers’ Vision for America. It is a fine little book that can be read with profit by young and old.

Johnson points to the cultural roots of America extending through the English people who were “notoriously unsubmissive and quick to challenge authority.” As another historian put it, they “made poor subjects for monarchy, and they were proud of it.” They cherished their liberty and passed this trait to their American descendants.

Johnson hints at the timeless parallels between our age and 1773, when Parliament passed the Tea Act. “Believing that the huge but struggling East India Company was too big to fail, the legislation was essentially a government bailout.” The company was failing and was unable to get loans. “So it agreed to a reorganization that gave government officials administrative oversight, and in return Parliament gave the company a monopoly on the sale of tea in the colonies.”

The inflammatory aspect of the Tea Act was that it “reiterated Parliament’s assertion that it had the authority to levy taxes” on the colonists. Johnson, the historian, gives us an eerie reminder of the persistent nature of politics. “Parliament had provided a splendid example of the old adage that oppression is based on fear and favor – in other words, intimidation for those who resist power and privilege for those whose patronage is needed to prop up power.”

Johnson treats the philosophy and events that gave rise to this Republic but also gives attention to what is essential to its preservation. The indispensability of civic virtue was acknowledged by the Founders in their words and their actions. From James Madison: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical [delusional] idea.”

A people show their worthiness of liberty in how they live with it and in how they exercise their responsibility to defend it. Each September 17 we passively remember Constitution Day. But this year, we will actively demonstrate our worthiness on November 2.

Richard J. Grant is a professor of finance and economics at Lipscomb University and a scholar at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. His column appears on Sundays. E-mail:

Copyright © Richard J Grant 2007-2010

Richard J Grant archived at The Tennessean