Yesterday at the Capitol and across the nation, tea party protests are being held, named after the Boston Tea Party of 1773. These protests represent widespread outrage at our government’s ever-increasing power and usurpations of our liberties. They highlight the fact America is rapidly moving away from its founding principles and ideals that make it great.

But was the Boston Tea Party really about taxes, or was it about something more fundamental? Are these protestors fighting for the same thing as our revolutionary brethren, or are they fighting a symptom without understanding its cause? More often than not, it’s the latter.

Today’s advancing statist control is a result of deeply engrained ideas regarding the role of government and the nature of morality. It goes virtually uncontested, even among those who want lower taxes, that capitalism needs to be controlled, self-interest means “dog eat dog” and government exists to serve the “public good.”

Yet the actual basis of the American system is an individual’s moral right to live for his own sake. It’s the idea that living for yourself and pursuing your happiness is good for every individual and therefore good for society as a whole. This is reflected in the fact our Constitution is a limitation on government power, not individual freedom.

Many tea party protesters will undoubtedly argue for the responsible use of taxpayer money or the elimination of government “pork.” But having accepted government has a right to expropriate an individual’s wealth for the benefit of “society” (sometimes) they have conceded the entire argument. Once one concedes an individual’s interests and judgments can be sacrificed to some indefinable “common good,” on what grounds will one argue their interest in lower taxes should be respected? In short, one has forfeited any moral basis for keeping one’s money.

Although the tea party protests are a healthy expression of the American sense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Americans need to understand what those words mean both morally and politically.

What is needed is an intellectual revolution. Americans need to understand what freedom is, why it is morally justified and what it requires. They need to look beyond political protests and slogans about government “excesses” and mount a principled crusade for individual rights. Such a crusade would champion the moral right of each individual to live for him or herself, not as a servant of society.

A tax revolt will not slow the growth of government. Rather, the justification for taxes is what needs to be challenged. It is a moral condemnation of self-interest and exaltation of sacrifice, duty and service to society that underlies and justifies every new encroachment on liberty. Nothing less than a moral counter argument — one that upholds an individual’s right to live for his own sake — will be able to reverse the trend.

Jim Allard ([email protected]) is a graduate student majoring in biological sciences.