Andy: Andy Clarkson here with John Lewis of the Charlotte Tea Party, April 15, 2009.
John: April 15, Taxes are due today. Did you not know that? (Laughter)
Andy: Oh, oh. Oh, oh. Yeah, I heard about that. I heard rumors. John, magnificent speech today.
John: Thank you very much.
Andy: Not only was it passionate, it had fundamental ideas and that’s the key. What is the meaning of today’s tea party? It’s all across the country. There are over 500 of them. What does this mean in your opinion?
John: The tea parties themselves, I think, are a spontaneous expression by people that they are outraged, they’re upset, and they don’t want to take it anymore. The problem is that I don’t know whether people understand the issue. Such gatherings won’t be effective unless the issues are understood. If people are just outraged at high taxes but not willing to challenge the programs, there will not be fundamental change.
Andy: What ideas do people need to understand? What is important for fundamental change?
John: Well, they need to understand that liberty means what it says, freedom to act, and that it is not compatible with the government programs that we are seeing today. And that means that when the government comes forth and offers a million dollars for a museum or a new bridge or a new highway or a new school, are the people going to stand up and say no to that? Or are they going to demand the program and then want lower taxes too? If they do that, they’ll be in the Bush Administration position, where they want to cut taxes but raise spending. That will increase the debt. We have to challenge the programs–including the ones that we might think will be nice for us for the moment. And if people can do that then the results may be substantial, and if not, these parties will fizz out.
Andy: It sounds like a great contradiction here, possibly, people wanting lower taxes and they want some of the programs. What drives, what fundamentally drives the contradiction in the American people?
John: Well, take one program, for example, social security. It’s been three generations of people getting used to the fact that at age 65 they will get some money. Now I, myself, am perfectly willing right now to forego all social security benefits if I could stop my social security payments and see taxes dropped. But how many people would be willing to do that? I hope the people here would be willing to do that, but if they’re not, then the prescription is to raise spending and to lower taxes, which increases debt. It’s really not fair to our politicians to demand that they give us programs but lower our taxes. It’s not fair to the politicians. People have to accept that we bear much responsibility for this. We have elected the people who would do this.
Andy: What would get us to change the people we elect? Is there something fundamental about the ideas?
John: You’re going to have to take the idea, with real understanding, that we are morally autonomous beings and do not have a right to the lives of others. And then make the connection that when we see a government program coming our way, it is being taken from somebody else, either now or in the future, or from interest on what’s borrowed overseas. People have to be willing to say, “No, I don’t want the benefit either” as well as, “I don’t want the tax.” People need a fundamentally new understanding of what’s happened in the last two generations in order to reject the programs as well as the taxes.
Andy: You had something in your great speech, something about the role of government versus the role of people. You mentioned a servant-master relationship, a unique idea people are not familiar with. Can you talk about that a little bit?
John: Yes, for three thousand years of western history before the founding of America every individual was seen fundamentally as the servant of the state. In some way or another, if the king called, if the lord called, if the aristocrat called, if the warlord called, then you were bound and determined to serve him. This practice stretched from the tribute of the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Near Easterners even through the Greeks–for all their great achievements–and through the Romans, through the medieval period, right up to the modern day. The idea has been that citizens are servants of the government.
The radical American founding idea was that the government was the servant of the individual–a servant with a single, specific task. The purpose of government, the very reason we have a government, is to secure and protect our rights. This changes that whole relationship. What’s happened under the influence of modern philosophy in the last two generations is that the situation has reversed back, so that the government is now the master and we are now the servants. We are the servants, to provide the resources for the government programs, which our officials then claim to provide to us. This is the reason for these encroaching government regulations, the subsidies as well as the regulations.
Andy: What other resources do you recommend people use to understand the ideas you’re professing here?
John: Well, I suggest you go to the Ayn Rand Institute. The Ayn Rand Institute is the only organization in the country I know of that looks at this from a moral perspective. And that is the level we have to get at. It’s beyond economics and it’s beyond politics. This is about a moral conception of man. I would suggest you read the works of Ayn Rand, read Atlas Shrugged, read The Fountainhead, and then read her non-fiction works. That’s the single best source of information available.
Andy: That’s great. John, again, great speech again. Thank you for your time today. Great seeing you. Take care.