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Should Catholics Drink the Tea?: Reflections on the Tea Party Movement in Light of Gaudium et Spes

  • Daniel R. Dileo (a1)


This article seeks to fill a gap in Catholic literature by reflecting on the extent to which the Tea Party movement can be understood as consistent with Gaudium et Spes (GS). First, the article provides an overview of the Tea Party movement and its core ideological principles: intense individualism, emphasis on negative human rights, limited government, fiscal responsibility, low taxes, and laissez-faire capitalism. Next, the article offers a brief description of the contextual and ecclesial background of GS and reviews its key themes. The article then assesses the extent to which the ideological principles of the Tea Party movement are supported by GS, concluding that although there are points of partial resonance between the ideology of the Tea Party and GS, the former is largely inconsistent with the vision outlined and articulated by the latter.



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1 Yuri Maltsev and Roman Skaskiw, The Tea Party Explained: From Crisis to Crusade (Chicago: Open Court, 2013), 12: vii, 31–34. The author would like to thank Richard R. Gaillardetz, PhD, Joseph Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College, for his comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

2 Lisa Lerer and Alison Fitzgerald, “Tea Party Wins House for Republicans, Wants Rewards in Congress,” BloombergBusiness, November 4, 2010,

3 M. J. Lee, “Wall Street Frustrated at Tea Party,” Politico, October 3, 2013,

4 Brian Montopoli, “Tea Party Supporters: Who They Are and What They Believe,” CBS Interactive, Inc., December 14, 2012,; Pew Research Center, “The Tea Party and Religion,” Pew Research Center, February 23, 2011,

5 Tea Party, “About Us,” Tea Party,

6 John Gehring, “The Tea Party and Catholic Social Teaching Don't Mix,” U.S. Catholic Magazine, December 21, 2011,

7 Samuel Gregg, Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing (New York: Crossroad, 2013). This book features a foreword by Michael Novak.

8 Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from GS are taken from Austin Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II: Sixteen Basic Documents (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 2007), 163–282.

9 Joseph A. Selling, “Gaudium et Spes: A Manifesto for Contemporary Moral Theology,” in Vatican II and Its Legacy, ed. M. Lamberigts and Leo Kenis (Belgium: Leuven University Press, 2002), 149, 158.

10 Himes, Kenneth R., “Globalization with a Human Face: Catholic Social Teaching and Globalization,” Theological Studies 69, no. 2 (2008): 269.

11 This approach is generally inspired by James T. Bretzke's discussions of “fundamental values” and “root paradigms.” See Bretzke, James T., “A New Pentecost for Moral Theology: The Challenge of Inculturation of Ethics,” Josephinum Journal of Theology 10, no. 2 (2003): 250–60; Bretzke, “Cross-Cultural Ethics in a Context of Pluralism & Multiculturalism: Teaching Where Religion and Ethics Intersect” (paper presented at the New England Maritime and Mid-Atlantic Regional Convention of the American Academy of Religion, New Brunswick, NJ, March 15, 2012),

12 Gehring, “The Tea Party and Catholic Social Teaching.”

13 Maltsev and Skaskiw, The Tea Party Explained, 4.

14 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 482–83.

15 Aaron Barlow, The Cult of Individualism: A History of an Enduring American Myth (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2013), xi, 19.

16 Ibid., 4, 8.

17 Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin Group, 2012).

18 Colin Woodard, “A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party,” Washington Monthly, November/December 2011,

19 Ibid.; cf. Jane Smiley, “Jane's Bingo! Award for Most Informative Book of 2006,” Huffington Post, December 29, 2006,

20 Barlow, The Cult of Individualism, 140.

21 Ibid., 20.

22 Ibid., 21–22, 57; Woodard, American Nations, 193–94, 299–301, 305–7.

23 Woodard, American Nations, 200, 263, 304–6.

24 Ibid., 251–53; Woodard, “A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party.”

25 Woodard, American Nations, 251–53, 306–8; Woodard, “A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party.”

26 Ayn Rand Institute, “A Brief Biography of Ayn Rand,” Ayn Rand Institute,

27 William R. Thomas, “What Is Objectivism?,” The Atlas Society,

28 Ayn Rand, “Objectivism,” Ayn Rand Institute,

29 Ibid.

30 E.g., Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Mimi Gladstein, Ayn Rand, ed. John Meadowcroft, vol. 10 (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013).

31 Josh Lederman, “Paul Ryan, Tea Party: A Match Made in Heaven,” Huffington Post, August 13, 2012,

32 The Atlas Society, “Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand's Ideas: In the Hot Seat Again,” The Atlas Society, April 30, 2012,

33 E.g., Matt Kibbe, “A Movie for the Tea Party Movement,”, April 12, 2011,

34 Thomas A. Bowden, “The Tea Party Will Fail—Unless It Fully Embraces Individualism as a Moral Ideal,” Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 2011,

35 Ari Armstrong, “To Help Save America, Tea Partiers Must Fully Embrace Individual Rights,” Objective Standard, August 20, 2010,

36 Janie Lorber, “Republicans Form Caucus for Tea Party in the House,” New York Times, July 21, 2010,

37 Glenn Kessler, “How Unpopular or Popular Is Obamacare?” Washington Post, September 25, 2013,

38 FreedomWorks, “Civil Liberties,” FreedomWorks,

39 Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 48–49; Andrew Sullivan, “The Tea Party as Secular Fundamentalism,” The Atlantic, July 2, 2010,

40 Barlow, The Cult of Individualism, 20–21.

41 E. J. Dionne, “Political Heartstrings Torn between Individualism and Community,” MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, August 20, 2010,

42 Maltsev and Skaskiw, The Tea Party Explained, 46–47.

43 Skocpol and Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, 5–6.

44 Maltsev and Skaskiw, The Tea Party Explained, 58–62.

45 Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event in Roanoke, Virginia,” July 13, 2012, The White House,

46, “Tea Party Rallies in Washington against ObamaCare,” FOX News Network, March 24, 2012,

47 Barlow, The Cult of Individualism, 186;, “‘We Did Build It’: Small Business Owner Taunts Obama Motorcade,”, August 19, 2012,; Devin Dwyer, “‘Iowans’ Message to Obama: ‘We Did Build This,’” ABC News, September 1, 2012,; “‘Obama Sux’—President Gets Eye-Opening Greeting at Airport,” Freedom Outpost, September 3, 2012,

48 Ron Nixon, “House Republicans Pass Deep Cuts in Food Stamps,” New York Times, September 19, 2013,

49 New York Times/CBS News, “Polling the Tea Party,” New York Times, April 14, 2010,

50 Skocpol and Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, 59–60.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid.

53 Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots, “About, ” Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots,

54 Jeffrey M. Jones, “Debt, Govt. Power among Tea Party Supporters’ Top Concerns,” Gallup, July 5, 2010,

55 Wes Barrett, “Tea Party Slams Boehner and Ryan on Debt Ceiling,” Fox News Network, May 9, 2011,; Tom Cohen, “Budget Debate Shifts to Raising Debt Ceiling,” CNN, April 18, 2011,

56 Dana Davidsen, “Cruz: Use Debt Ceiling Debate for Leverage,” CNN, October 6, 2013,; Michael Needham, Tony Perkins, and Chris Chocola, “Use debt limit to balance budget,” Politico, January 15, 2013,

57 Julie Vaughn, “Setting the Record Straight: Debt Ceiling and Continuing Resolution,” Montgomery County Tea Party, October 8, 2013,;, “Obama Signs Bill Ending Partial Shutdown, Raising Debt Ceiling,” Fox News Network, October 17, 2013,

58 Tea Party Patriots, “About the Tea Party Patriots.”

59 Maltsev and Skaskiw, The Tea Party Explained, 65.

60, “Tea Party Favorite Bridenstine Defeats Incumbent Sullivan in Oklahoma Primary,”, June 27, 2012,

61 Sheryl Kaufman, “Congressman Jim Bridenstine Files Bill to Repeal 16th Amendment (Income Tax),” United States Congressman Jim Bridenstine,

62 Tim Dickinson, “Grover Norquist: The Billionaires’ Best Friend,” Rolling Stone, November 9, 2011,; Natasha Montague, “U.S. Senate Tea Party Caucus,” Americans for Tax Reform, January 27, 2011,

63 Americans for Tax Reform, “The Taxpayer Protection Pledge Signers—112th Congressional List,” Americans for Tax Reform,

64 James M. Taylor, “Tea Party Protests Lindsey Graham on Cap-and-Tax,” The Heartland Institute, March 4, 2010,

65 Tea Party Patriots, “About the Tea Party Patriots.”

66 Maltsev and Skaskiw, The Tea Party Explained, 57–64.

67 Charles Postel, “The Tea Party in Historical Perspective: A Conservative Response to a Crisis of Political Economy,” in Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party, ed. Lawrence Rosenthal and Christine Trost (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 33.

68 Ibid., 33–34.

69 David Hollenbach, “Commentary on Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World),” in Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations, ed. Kenneth R. Himes et al. (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005), 269.

70 Ibid., 268.

71 Ibid., 269.

72 Leo Joseph Suenens, “La 33a Congregazione Generale (4 Dicembre 1962),” in Il Concilio Vaticano II Primo Periodo 1962–1963, ed. Giovanni Caprile (Rome: La Civilita Cattolica, 1968), 2:247. Lois Ann Lorentzen, “Gaudium et Spes,” in The New Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought, ed. Judith A. Dwyer (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1994), 407.

73 Giovanni Battista Montini, “La 34a Congregazione Generale (5 Dicembre 1962),” in Caprile, Il Concilio Vaticano II Primo Periodo 1962–1963, 251–252. Pope Paul VI, Insegnamenti Di Paolo VI, Vol. 1 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1964), 183–184;  Lorentzen, “Gaudium et Spes,” 407.

74 John W. O'Malley, What Happened at Vatican II (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 161–64. For an extended review of the development of Gaudium et Spes, see: Evangelista Vilanova, “The Intersession (1963–1964), ” in History of Vatican II, Vol. III: The Mature Council: Second Period and Intersession, September 1963–September 1964, ed. Joseph A. Komonchak, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000), 402–415; Norman Tanner, “The Church in the World (Ecclesiae Ad Extra),” in History of Vatican II, vol. IV: The Church as Communion: Third Period and Intersession, September 1964–September 1965, ed. Joseph A. Komonchak (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2003), 269–386; Gilles Routhier, “Finishing the Work Begun: The Trying Experience of the Fourth Period,” in The History of Vatican II, vol. V: The Council and the Transition, the Fourth Period and the End of the Council, September 1965-December 1965, ed. Joseph A. Komonchak, vol. V (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006), 122–176; Peter Hünermann, “The Final Weeks of the Council,” in The History of Vatican II, vol. 5: The Council and the Transition, the Fourth Period and the End of the Council, September 1965–December 1965, ed. Joseph A. Komonchak, vol. V (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006), 386–426.

75 Manuel Velasquez et al., “Rights,” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics,

76 The principle of subsidiarity had previously been referenced and developed in the following papal encyclicals: Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1931), §§76–87; Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1961), §§41–67, 122–77; Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1963), §§140–41. For a helpful overview of this concept, see Thomas Massaro, Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), 89–92.

77 Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1965).

78 Richard R. Gaillardetz, pers. comm., December 2013.

79 Selling, “Gaudium et Spes,” 158.

80 George Weigel, “Reactionary Liberalism and Catholic Social Doctrine,” First Things, June 1, 2011,

81 Gerald J. Beyer, “What Ryan Missed—What Catholic Social Teaching Says about Solidarity and Subsidiarity,” America Magazine, June 4, 2012,

82 Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes.

83 Todd J. Gillman, “Ted Cruz Launches Effort to Abolish IRS, but Tax Experts Call Him Confused,” Dallas Morning News, June 9, 2013,

84 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, §131.

85 M. J. Lee, “Donald Trump Courts Tea Party at Nashville Straw Poll,” CNN, August 29, 2015,



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