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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Tea Party: Anti-War and Pro-States?

When he was the republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Kentucky, Rand Paul claimed that there was not enough money in entitlement programs to counter the federal government’s deficit for 2010. Approximately 40% of the budget was military. Accordingly, the candidate said, “Part of the reason we are bankrupt as a country is that we are fighting so many foreign wars and have so many military bases around the world.” The Tea Party is animated by opposition to the exorbitant levels of federal spending and indebtedness. Applying their frugality to foreign policy, the party could make a clean break from the neo-cons such as Dick Cheney.

According to Randolph Bourne, in War is the Health of the State, “As a general rule, the longer a war lasts, the more centrally planned and government-controlled the entire economy becomes.” Robert Higgs wrote in Crisis and Leviathan that among the effects of WWI were “massive government collusion with organized special-interest groups; the de facto nationalization of the ocean shipping and railroad industries; the increased federal intrusion in labor markets, capital markets, communications, and agriculture.” Thomas DiLorenzo points to these quotes and adds that inflationary war finance “inevitably leads to calls for price controls, which inflict even greater damage on the private enterprise system by generating shortages of goods and services.” Such shortages in turn can serve as an excuse for even greater central-planning powers.

The Tea Party could thus have good reason for opposing even a standing army. Rand Paul wanted the federal budget to be 80% national defense, yet this did not mean he was for giving the Pentagon a black check. “So I believe that the defense of our country may be the primary enumerated power,” he said, “Does that mean I believe in a blank check for the military? No.” This, in short, is the argument for why the Tea Party could come out against the war machine while still viewing the federal government as being primarily occupied with providing the Union’s united defense and foreign policy. The accent on the military here has more to do with the U.S. Government being on the imperial, or empire, level than on any desire to increase defense spending.

Futhermore, the Tea Party being in favor of federalism could mean that social spending should be raised and spent by the several states individually, rather than by the general government. In being for this shift, the Tea Party would not necessarily be opposing social spending per se—only that which is at the empire-level of government of the United States. Rarely is this distinction made; it allows for the federalists in the Tea Party to accept even universal health-care in any state where the majority vote for it through their legislatures.

It is typically assumed that if someone opposes a federal program, he or she does not want it at all; it could be that the person is oriented to re-establishing federalism rather than being opposed to the policy itself. Although the Tea Party has been oriented to both, this need not be so. The Tea Party could be agnostic on whether a given state has a sustenance net while being against the U.S. Government having any involvement in entitlement programs. The question for the Tea Party would be whether there is any sustenance-floor to which any American has a right.


Thomas Di Lorenzo, “Inflating War: Central Banking and Militarism are Intimately Linked,” The American Conservative (August, 2010), 16-18.

W. James Antle, “Rand Plan: Will the Tea Parties Turn Anti-war?” The American Conservative (August, 2010), 8-9.