A prominent Tea Party voice examines the roots of modern conservative populism.
Leahy begins his identification of the ideological forebears of the Tea Party in 17th-century England with John Lilburne, fierce opponent of the absolutism of both Charles I and Cromwell and a champion of individual liberty who prefigured American colonials like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. England’s famed jurist Edward Coke and philosopher John Locke helped supply the intellectual framework that informed the American Revolution, inspiring the likes of Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. Through these men Leahy (Rules for Conservative Radicals, 2009, etc.) traces the various philosophical threads woven into the Constitution, all intended to safeguard individual freedom against the encroachments of a centralized government. From the time of the document’s ratification, though, Leahy’s story is one of almost unrelenting constitutional apostasy. He starts with Hamilton, according to the author the first of our leaders who didn’t feel especially bound by the secular covenant of the Constitution. Expanding federal control, selecting economic winners and losers, intruding into private lives, ignoring the Constitution’s written words, failing “to honor the customs, traditions and principles that comprised the ‘fiscal constitution,’ ” Hamilton’s successors have been as varied as Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and FDR. LBJ, Nixon, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have continued the project of undermining the Constitution, treating it as outdated, inefficient or simply inconvenient. There’s a more complicated political and intellectual history than Leahy presents here, but his goal is neither nuance nor completeness. Rather, it’s to draw a straight line from the past to today’s Tea Party, whose emergence he briefly discusses.
Effectively establishes the ideological bona fides of a movement too easily caricatured.