Mark Lilla presented us with his reflections on the political phenomenon of the day, which he styles as the Tea Party Jacobins.
Now, I have been away from the States since a few years, and to be more sure of what I say I should come for some fieldwork, to go around a speak with people. But, even basing myself on my recollections complemented by my studies, he doesn't convince me.
Lilla rightly remarks that the main trait of the Tea Party movement is diffidence toward the "educated elite" that wants to control their life; but, alas, his analysis of this diffidence shows that he belongs to this same elite, incapable to understand the people it pretends to guide.
A first question I could address to him, for which there is no answer in the article, is why he calls the Tea Party goers "Jacobins". But I leave it at that.
My main objection is to the uncritical way in which he stresses the alleged individualism of the movement. See all the intellectual conceit of these words:
The new Jacobins have two classic American traits that have grown much more pronounced in recent decades: blanket distrust of institutions and an astonishing—and unwarranted—confidence in the self. They are apocalyptic pessimists about public life and childlike optimists swaddled in self-esteem when it comes to their own powers.
Which Americans is he here talking about? Liberals or conservatives (or, if you want me to be verbally exhaustive, add to them moderates)?
The trouble I found in talking about American political things is that on either side they make appeal to the "individual". But they don't' mean exactly the same thing.
Read again these other lines:
Americans are and have always been credulous skeptics. They question the authority of priests, then talk to the dead; they second-guess their cardiologists, then seek out quacks in the jungle. Like people in every society, they do this in moments of crisis when things seem hopeless. They also, unlike people in other societies, do it on the general principle that expertise and authority are inherently suspect.
Lilla doesn't seem to notice that "expertise" and "authority" are not quite the same thing. What appears "suspect" to the Tea Party folks, I'd say, is the first, claimed by an elite really "swaddled in self-esteem". Authority is another thing, what particularly the self-referential individuals of the elite refute.
In the American conservative lingo the individual is something else. It is the common man, endowed, as such, of common sense. How much it is involved in this "common sense" that conservatives oppose to the education of the elite: the whole education that they have inherited from the centuries past, which the elite appears to have dropped.
In America, like in Europe, the elite doesn't understand any more people like those alleged individualists in America, whose distrust toward (invading and corrupting) institutions doesn't come from "confidence in the self".
Probably they would rather say (in whatever confused way): in God we trust.