It may not please New Yorker magazine’s James Surowiecki to hear this, but the tea party movement could be the clearest evidence yet of the growing relevance of his landmark book, “The Wisdom of Crowds,” and its application in politics.
Surowiecki’s fundamental insight is this: The aggregate knowledge, experience, analytical prowess and inductive powers of a group are often greater than those of any one of its members. This observation isn’t always and everywhere true or evident, but compelling demonstrations of its operation in daily life are plentiful.
With everybody connected to everybody else via the Internet, new means of uncovering the wisdom of crowds become possible. The political implications therein remain rather murky, though.
I was reminded of Surowiecki earlier this week in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and his tea party co-conspirator, Freedomworks.org President Matt Kibbe. The Journal piece coincided with publication of their new book, “Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto,” published by HarperCollins.
Armey and Kibbe wrote that the tea party movement “has blossomed into a powerful social phenomenon because it is leaderless — not directed by any one mind, political party or parochial agenda,” resulting in the creation of “a virtual marketplace for new ideas, effective innovations and creative tactics.”
This “beautiful chaos” is analogous to the “spontaneous order” Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek said results from the proper operation of free markets, according to Armey and Kibbe.
The clincher here was their noting that the tea party movement reminds Americans that “decentralization, not top-down hierarchy, is the best way to maximize the contributions of people and their personal knowledge.”
But if Armey and Kibbe are right, if the tea party movement is indeed sparking new ideas, innovative tactics of social and political organization, greater personal freedom and enhanced opportunities for individual expression, why is its mere mention certain to inspire frothing, spittle-spewing fury in your typical liberal, aka “progressive”?
The answer is, as Armey and Kibbe tell us, “the big-government crowd is drawn to the compulsory nature of centralized authority. They can’t imagine an undirected social order. Someone needs to be in charge — someone who knows better. Big government is audacious and conceited.”
Put otherwise, the right believes in freedom from the bottom up, the left loves contemporary expressions of the Guardians, Plato’s race of philosopher kings.
Once you get your mind around that reality, it clears up many of the apparent anomalies about the current state of American politics. Here’s an example: Less than two years after winning the presidency, Barack Obama said, “After 18 months, I have never been more confident that our nation is headed in the right direction.”
That sentiment puts Obama at dire loggerheads with two-thirds of his fellow citizens, who think he’s taking the country off the deep end.
Obama is reaching so far to the left, toward political centralization, a top-down command-and-control economy, and a Washington-knows-best regulatory mentality, that he’s becoming a fringe voice alien to most Americans who believe government authority must be decentralized and individuals thereby empowered to act voluntarily from their local communities.
The tea party movement is the heart of the 70 percent of the citizenry who fear Obama has gotten the country seriously off the right track. They want fundamental change and they won’t settle for more Washington, D.C., double-talk, backroom dealing or broken promises.
Tea party activists are the vanguard of a revolutionary renewal of the American founding. And that’s why they inspire such irrational hatred and fear in so many of the precincts of the left.
Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott’s Copy Desk blog at www.washingtonexaminer.com.