On Saturday, October 9, I will speak at the Tucson Tea Party, in Tucson, Arizona. Last year some 8,000 people flocked to this important event. This year let’s shoot for twice that number! I will give a main-stage talk on why Individual Rights is the only proper principle to be embraced by the Tea Parties, because it is America’s founding principle. I will be selling books both before and after, profit-minded American that I am.
Tea Party Speeches
On Friday, September 11, 2009 the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights and the Competitive Enterprise Institute held a briefing at the National Press Club for Tea Party Organizers. Perhaps 300 people listened to four talks on the historical, economic, and moral bases of the tea party protests.
My own talk–15 minutes plus Q&A–focused on the need for a moral principle to integrate tea party activities: the principle of Individual Rights. This is America’s Founding Principle–the idea that guided the American Founders, more than any other, to establish this nation, and to create its limited government. About two dozen crowded around me afterwards, wanting more information and asking questions about the meaning of rights.
Here is an audio of the talk: Press Club 9-11-2009 Rights
The audience response confirms one of my key selling points: when speaking about rights, don’t water down the principle. Speak in clear, unambiguous terms about each person’s right to his own life and liberty, and his right to pursue his own happiness. People today are surrounded with mealy-mouthed slogans, with arguments based on costs, and with claims that success can come only through compromise. People are hungry for a clear statement of a moral principle–because they need guidance on how to understand the many issues with which they are confronted every day.
Don’t argue about incremental steps toward statism–about a 7.5% versus 8% sales tax, about health care co-ops versus a government option, about a carbon tax imposed by legislation versus EPA diktat–for each of these is the same thing in principle. Don’t allow a tea party to be reduced to a series of disconnected issues, approached willy-nilly and without a guiding thought. A tea party without individual rights is not for anything, and cannot have any lasting influence.
The next day, September 12, I had the distinct pleasure of standing near the speakers’ platform at the foot of the capitol steps. I saw a sea of individuals that reached from behind my left shoulder, across my entire field of view, to over my right shoulder–and stretched from the steps of the capitol to beyond the Washington monument. I cannot offer an accurate count of people–where are the overhead images?–but it must have been close to a half a million or more. The signs I saw were almost all hand-written; very few were manufactured, and many decried socialism. I met people who had driven from Detroit, and had come from Nebraska, California, New Mexico and Georgia.
The speakers did not, by and large, offer much intellectual content. This was a rally, and given that most speakers were given only 3 minutes, the overall effect was to boost people’s awareness that they are not alone in their concern for the growth of government power and the increasing attacks on our freedom. There was a rap music group that performed conservative themes, a couple of politicians (Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina for instance), and a young black woman who argued passionately against an obsessive focus on race. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights was cut-off at two minutes, but managed to make the point that your life is yours, that to be the best person you can be is the truly American way to live, and that you are not your brothers’ keeper.
All in all, this was the most amazing public gathering I have ever seen. I do not agree with everything said. I do not agree that religion, which values humility and sacrifice before a divine being, can provide the basis for individual rights. I do not agree that there is any difference between “Give unto the poor” and “To each according to his need.” History shows that the most religious periods–Rome under Christian emperors, the dark ages, Calvin’s Geneva, the Religious Wars of the Reformation, Holy Mother Russia–were defined by stagnation, oppression and warfare. This history was broken only when the American Founders elevated the individual’s self-interested right to his own life into a founding principle, and established a government limited to that purpose.
But the protesters of 9-12-2009 stood by their own energy against the power of the state, and expressed a healthy sense of self-esteem. They demanded that American politicians cease attacking the freedoms of American citizens, and cease adding to the tide of government power that threatens us all with moral, political, and financial catastrophe.
Event: Intellectual Ammunition: Tea Party Strategy Workshop
“Event To Discuss Intellectual Ammunition For Tea Party Movement”
Host: The Ayn Rand Center & The Competitive Enterprise Institute
Start Time: Friday, September 11 at 12:00pm
End Time: Friday, September 11 at 4:00pm
Where: The National Press Club – Ballroom
Scheduled speakers include:
•Yaron Brook, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute
•Fred L. Smith Jr. President and Founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute
•John D. Lewis, Duke University Professor in the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics program
•Iain Murray, Director of Projects and Analysis and Senior Fellow in Energy, Science and Technology at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
To see more details and RSVP, follow the link below:
The Charlotte Tea Party Speech
Dr. John David Lewis
First delivered April 15, 2009
Charlotte, North Carolina
[This has been edited for publication. Permission is given to read it wherever defenders of liberty may gather, but to read it in full. April 19, 2009. Thank you to Char Cushman for the transcription.]
It is high time for a tea party! It is indeed high time for a tea party in America!
But to do this right, we need to understand what it means. So I want to think back for a moment to what happened over 200 years ago, at the time of the original Boston Tea Party.
The Founders of this nation brought forth a radical idea. It was truly radical, unheard of in history before this time.
This idea was the Rights of Man. The Founders knew each of us is endowed with certain inalienable rights, rights that may not be separated from our nature as autonomous beings.
These inalienable rights are:
• The Right to Life–the right to live your own life, to choose your own goals, and to preserve your own independent existence.
• The Right to Liberty, which is the right to act to achieve your goals, without coercion by other men.
• The Right to the Pursuit of Happiness, to act to achieve your own success, your own prosperity, and your own happiness, for your own sake.
• And the Right to Property—the right to gain, keep, and enjoy, the material products of your efforts.
Now unless I’m mistaken I don’t see anything here about a right to happiness. I see a right to the pursuit of happiness: the right to take the actions needed to attain one’s own happiness. Nor do I see any rights to things at all—no rights to food, clothing, healthcare or diapers. There is only a right to act to achieve those things.
These rights to act—the rights to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness—are founded on a certain view of man. Each of us is an individual, autonomous moral being, with the right to choose his own values and capable of directing his own life. Look at the person next to you, and look in the mirror—do you see the individual sovereign human being, existing for his own sake, with the right to live, to love, and to act?
This idea—the Founders’ idea of the Rights of Man—led to a radical view of government, also unheard of in history. Government was not to be inherited by the force of an entrenched aristocracy as in Europe, imposed by the divine right of kings through generations of oppression, or enforced by the force of a club. Government was to be designed, and created, by thinking men, for a single purpose: to protect and defend the Rights of Man.
Government was to be instituted by men to secure these rights. This is what the American founding documents say: “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” Thinking men, armed with the idea of rights, would create a government limited to the protection of individual rights.
The relationship of the citizens to the government was from the beginning that of master and servant, we the master, government the servant. The very purpose and reason for a government is to secure our sacred, individual rights.
The results in America speak for themselves: the greatest most prosperous nation the world has ever seen. I here quote the writer Ayn Rand (and if you want to understand what is happening today, read her novel Atlas Shrugged). Ayn Rand, speaking to the graduating class at West Point, said that the United States was the first and only moral nation in the history of man, the first nation founded on a moral principle, the Rights of Man, and with a moral purpose, to secure these rights for all men.
This principle of rights is so strong that over the next generations the Americans were able to correct some original shortcomings that the Founders’ could not overcome. Slavery and the denial of women’s suffrage both fell when the principle of rights was properly applied to all men. To correct the original errors did not require a new generation to overthrow of the principle, but rather to strengthen and to deepen it, and to renew their commitment to it for everyone. And that is what we must do today.
Because something very bad has happened in America over the last century. A cancer has implanted itself in the land of the free. A cancer has grown in our government and in our society. The cancer is the idea that government is no longer to be the defender of our rights, but rather the grantor of wishes.
Over the past century the idea took hold that government’s purpose was not to secure our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but rather to satisfy our needs, whims and wants. That idea has been implanted in our schools, our media, and our government.
Do you wish for a better house? There’s a government housing agency that will give it to you, with taxes exhorted from those who buy their own house. Wish for health care? There is a government agency to which you can appeal, and who will extort it from others and give it to you. Do you need food? There is a welfare agency to grab the wealth needed to give you food stamps.
And who was to provide these hand-outs? The government, they say, the all-powerful being that looms over us and grants our wishes. But who is to provide what the government hands out? Every person who works and produces, while his property and the sweat of his efforts is taken from him by force, as demanded by the elite who set themselves up as our masters.
This cancer has now grown to the point where the elite ruling over us controls a budget of some four thousand billion dollars for the next year—more money than can be conceived by the human mind. The government had to grow this big—and it will continue to grow until it destroys this nation—because it is acting according to the idea that it is morally right to take the wealth from those who produce it, and to give it to those who want it.
At the root of this idea is a view of man that is totally at odds with the vision of the Founders: the modern vision of man as a whining dependent, who begs for the needs of life from an all-powerful government, which is run by an elite who claims to know what is best for us.
If we are going to challenge this monstrosity, if we are going to expunge this cancer, then we need to regain the vision of ourselves held by the American Founders. We need to stand up, and assert ourselves as autonomous moral beings with rights to our own life, liberty and the pursuit of our own happiness. We need to reject the claim that we are weak and dependent, and to assert our own competence to run our own lives.
It is going to take as great a commitment to take down this monstrous cancer as it took to build it. We’re going to have to be strong, we’re going to have to be independent in our thinking, and we are going to have to reject handouts when they are offered to us. And we’re going to have to speak out.
What I have to say to you today in essence is this. This is not an economic problem, and it is not a political problem—well, let me be precise. The economic and political crisis is real, but this crisis is caused by a deeper problem—a moral problem. The cause of the crisis is the worship of need, and the view of man as a dependent, too stupid to act for his own sake. This is what we must reject.
Do you think that this is a conspiracy to seize your wealth, Ayn Rand wrote? It is far worse than that. It is a conspiracy to seize your life, and your sense of yourself as an independent, valuable human being, and to replace it with a being who has no self-esteem and no capacity for individual action—a being doomed to beg for his sustenance from an elite who controls all wealth, and who sees no individuals, only mobs.
That is the reason we have this elite in Washington looking down on us right now. They cannot understand gatherings such as these, in which free people gather to defend liberty. They think that these gatherings must be orchestrated by a vast conspiracy, because they cannot understand how autonomous human beings might gather by their own choice, to affirm their commitment to liberty.
They think this because they don’t see autonomous moral beings making rational choices. They see only serfs, sniveling and whining, begging their masters for the scraps needed to survive, acting as a collective mob rather than as thinking individuals.
Look at yourselves again. Do you see in your face, and in the face of the person next to you, an appendage of a group, with no moral status, no rights and no liberties, who is bound from the day of birth to serve? Or do you see an autonomous being with the right to live?
Will you knuckle under and become the helpless dependent that our so-called leaders want us to be? Or will you stand tall, and defend your right to your own life, to your own liberty, to your own independent pursuit of your own happiness, and to the property you produce and trade for with other producing men?
It is time to stand up, to say no to the creed of dependence, to assert ourselves, to assert our own moral status, to defend our own lives and our own property, and to make our voices heard.
Thank you very much.