You Just might be a Tea Partier if… The Tea Party Movement and Its Core Principles

“In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”  —Thomas Jefferson


Core Principles

While there are several web sites being run under the umbrella of the political crusade known as the Tea Party Movement, no one entity is guiding this grassroots phenomenon.  Everyday Americans are in charge.  Americans who believe in freedom.

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The Tea Party Movement is not a formal political party.  It is, in all actuality, a non-partisan movement based on the philosophy of classical liberalism, which is the formal name of the political orientation held by America’s Founding Fathers.

While some of the tea party web sites detail more specifically how they view the American freedom agenda—with at least one tea party site listing as many as fifteen principles—there would seem to be three broad principles that they all share in common: 1) Constitutionally-Limited Government, 2) Free Markets, and 3) Fiscal Responsibility.


A Basis in Freedom

The Tea Party Movement has been accused by statists of being racist.  But, in reality, a founder of the movement, Niger Innis, is himself African-American.  And Ted Cruz is a darling of tea-party patriots, so the movement is comfortable with Hispanic-American politicians as well.  If you care to check out your local tea party, you might be surprised.  You are liable find a group that is critical of both Democrats and Republicans, when it comes to enforcing the Bill of Rights, cutting government overspending, and keeping Uncle Sam out of the marketplace.

What tea partiers agree on is this: that America has created a recipe for individual freedom that is unparalleled; that America is exceptional because of its freedom and the economic blessings that American freedom bestows; that the American Dream is real for those who prepare for success and go out to find the opportunities to realize that success.  Tea partiers believe everyone deserves to be free, regardless of race, ethnicity, or social group.


Classical Liberalism: What Is It, Exactly?

We are the Tea PartyClassical liberalism calls for private-property rights for individuals; free-market trade for consumers; and rule-of-law limits for government.  Constitutional guarantees of freedom for religion, speech, press, and association are regarded as crucial.  Classical liberals—often called Constitutional conservatives or libertarians—advocate civil liberties for a civil society, along with the notion that the government which governs least is the government which governs best.  Proponents of classical liberalism are well-known: Adam Smith, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Alexis de Tocqueville, Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell among them.

Classical liberalism holds individual liberty and freedom from coercion in the highest esteem.  Modern liberals, or progressives, tend to hold individual liberty in disdain and have no qualms about coercing people.  Ten principles of classical liberalism are listed below.  Test yourself, as you read, to see how you might compare to America’s Founders:


One: Liberty

Liberty is the top political value.  When a political decision is made, the overriding concern is whether the decision will expand or reduce individual freedom.


Two: Individual Freedom

Individual rights are respected over collective rights.   This is why the Bill of Rights is all-important; it protects the rights of each individual over the tyranny of the mob.   These rights cannot be canceled at the caprice of any temporary majority.  Ayn Rand once said, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual.  Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.”


Three: Skepticism of State Power

When politicians tell you they are making a law for your own good, what they are planning is really for their own good.   Classical liberals believe the individual alone is the best judge of his or her own interests, thus every problem should be solved with the most freedom possible, to allow each individual latitude to act for his or her own benefit.


Four: Rule of Law

There is no freedom in a world where the rules can change abruptly.   End-runs by government officials, around established law, makes of the world an unpredictable and hostile arena.  Carefully laid plans can be dashed in a heartbeat, making life difficult for responsible planners.


Five: Civil Society

Classical liberals believe problems can best be solved by voluntary associations and actions.  Private charities help the poor more flexibly and responsively than far-away central planners.  Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) make more relevant suggestions concerning school governance than any government body.  In neighborhoods, solutions to problems should be sought from among worship communities or other civil-society groups before state authorities are involved, often imposing solutions that serve only the purposes of government.


Six: Spontaneous Organization

Tea-Party-MovementHuman beings can create societal order out of spontaneous interactions, without government.   A woman living in a neighborhood can decide to organize a community watch group, ask for volunteers, and become, at least initially, the de facto leader of the group.  A man might decide to organize a church, synagogue, or charity along the same traditional lines.  Many of the best societal institutions have formed in this way.  The rules of civil society are traditionally self-structuring and based on real-world, common-sense experiences.


Seven: Free Markets

Economic exchange is a voluntary activity between individuals and can never be forced, by government entities or anybody else.  To mandate such activity would mean the commandeering of private property for a state purpose never intended by its owner.  Leaving economic interaction to free markets—rather than government-regulated ones—increases prosperity and well-being, while reducing poverty and misery.   Free markets promote wealth creation, which, in turn, grows individual liberty and economic opportunity.


Eight: Tolerance

This is the belief that, as long as an action does not infringe anyone’s rights, it should be permitted.  “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” are the famous words of Voltaire biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall.  These words, often erroneously attributed to Voltaire himself, are an example of tolerance.  Government should never regulate free speech, for, in so doing, it requires that people hold their tongues, out of fear of government reprisal for any remarks deemed offensive.  Political satire, stand-up comedy, or even a full-on debate of important issues could all become extinct, reducing the public’s ability to fully air concerns and solve problems about such important matters as Muslim terrorism or welfare overspending.  (Muslims or welfare recipients might be offended.)  Muslim writer and religious critic Salman Rushdie perhaps put it best: “Without the freedom to offend, free speech ceases to exist.”


Nine: Peace

Peace is not possible, unless all honor the principle of free movement of capital, labor, goods, services, and ideas.  Without universal respect for this principle, there will always be conflicts about how money should be used, what goods and services should be permitted, and which ideas should be allowed into speech or print.


Ten: Constitutionally-Limited Government

There are very few powers that the government should be permitted.  The main job of government is to protect life, liberty, and property, according to rule of law.  Ronald Reagan once clarified this principle, saying, “Government exists to protect us from each other.  Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.”


So How Did You Do?

If you agreed with six or more of the above principles, you are likely a Constitutional conservative who would feel comfortable at tea party.  Or, as Larry Elder might choose to express, “You’re a libertarian, but you just didn’t know it.”

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

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