The implicit bargain that many Americans struck with the state institutions supporting modern life is that they would be politically acceptable only to the degree to which they remained invisible, and that for all intents and purposes each citizen could continue to believe that she was sovereign over her life; she would, of course, pay taxes, use the roads and schools, receive Medicare and Social Security, but only so long as these could be perceived not as radical dependencies, but simply as the conditions for leading an autonomous and self-sufficient life.
The author of this essay might say that I am one of those who believes in individual autonomy despite the evidence. I admit that this is an article of faith for me.
Where I differ from Bernstein is on the source of individual autonomy. Bernstein suggests that individual autonomy is essentially illusory, that our relationship with government is permanent. Therefore, any suggestion of illegitimacy in a particular government, or temporarily in any government at all, appears to Bernstein as nihilism. Bernstein doesn’t use the term anarchism, since he is speaking to purely philosophical issues. Anarchism is technically advocacy for a condition of no earthly government, whereas nihilism is a denial of all values. For someone who believes that all values and all rights derive from government, anarchism would seem like the denial of existence itself. This is where Bernstein enters the realm of fantasy, since individuals actually do exist outside of their status as sovereign subjects.
On the other hand, I agree with Bernstein in his criticism of the self-deception in the Tea Party rhetoric:
Tea Party anger is, at bottom, metaphysical, not political: what has been undone by the economic crisis is the belief that each individual is metaphysically self-sufficient, that one’s very standing and being as a rational agent owes nothing to other individuals or institutions. The opposing metaphysical claim, the one I take to be true, is that the very idea of the autonomous subject is an institution, an artifact created by the practices of modern life: the intimate family, the market economy, the liberal state. Each of these social arrangements articulate and express the value and the authority of the individual; they give to the individual a standing she would not have without them. . . .
If stated in enough detail, all these institutions and practices should be seen as together manufacturing, and even inventing, the idea of a sovereign individual who becomes, through them and by virtue of them, the ultimate source of authority. The American version of these practices has, from the earliest days of the republic, made individuality autochthonous while suppressing to the point of disappearance the manifold ways that individuality is beholden to a complex and uniquely modern form of life.
This, unfortunately, is absolutely true. Most people do not live autonomously, they never will, and they are literally incapable of doing so. They congratulate themselves constantly on their brilliance at conning the rest of society into providing for them disproportionately compared to the amount of actual benefit they provide to others. Their social value is so astronomically high compared to the transactional value of their activities that they like to think of themselves as immortal and wise Olympians striding thunderously across the landscape. Their self-aggrandizement is unchallenged and their ungratefulness is regarded with awe by the less fortunate. Then something goes wrong with the multilevel marketing scheme and they get really angry.
Most Tea Partiers are lying to themselves and everyone else with their infantile “going John Galt” blathering. They are just like babies who scream and blubber before holding their breath, all in an effort to manipulate Mommy and Daddy into meeting their demands instantly. I like to call such babies “Galtistas” because they are imaginary radicals pushing a phony political agenda, all in order to garner more government benefits for themselves. They are not anarchistic; they are not autonomous; they are insolent, obnoxious, spoiled brats who would have been stoned to death in another time and place.