I link to this for two reasons. One is that, so far as I can tell, people who get their news only from newspapers and TV don't seem to know this is happening, but most of all because of this quote from Montaigne's dear friend Etienne de la Boetie:
More than 400 years ago, the philosopher Etienne de la Boetie wrote of this phenomenon in his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. Speaking of Rome in the time of emperors, he said:
Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, “Long live the King!” The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them. … The mob has always behaved in this way — eagerly open to bribes that cannot be honorably accepted and dissolutely callous to degradation and insult that cannot be honorably endured.
Though I fully agree with anyone's decision to protest anything--one of the fundamental rights of Americans--the fact that these protests are called "Tea Parties" rubs me a bit wrong. It smacks of either group self-aggrandizement or, worse, fundamental historical misunderstanding.
The Boston Tea Party, after all, was an act of civil disobedience that risked serious penalty: just like all the Revolutionary generation, the participants in the Tea Party took part despite the risk that they might lose property, livelihood, liberty, or life because of their actions. The participants in these marches (just like me when I protested the start of the Iraq war) risk nothing more than opprobrium.
More important, the Boston Tea Party protested taxation without representation: the Bostonians were being taxed without having a say in either the levying or the expenditure of those taxes, a fundamentally unfair situation. These modern-day protesters may not like how their tax dollars are being spent, but they did have their moment to weigh in: November 4th, where they were, to be frank, overwhelmed by their neighbors. Many of them--in the southern cities, for example--have representatives who agree with them and who took their position in the debates and the subsequent votes. But a clear majority of their fellow citizens did not, and voted for intervention in the economy of the sort that these people are now protesting.
That doesn't make their protests illegitimate, by any means--but it does make clear that their complaints are of a lesser order than those of the original Bostonians. Their wishes are not being heard now--which, I'll admit, pleases me, because I think they're wrong--but they had their chance, and they'll have their chance again in 2010 and 2012. The originals of the Boston Tea Party had no chance, and if contemporary protesters of any stripe drape themselves in that mantle, they're making a mistake.