“But the Tea Partiers are closer to the New Left. They don’t seek to form a counter-establishment because they don’t believe in establishments or in authority structures. They believe in the spontaneous uprising of participatory democracy. They believe in mass action and the politics of barricades, not in structure and organization. As one activist put it recently on a Tea Party blog: ‘We reject the idea that the Tea Party Movement is ‘led’ by anyone other than the millions of average citizens who make it up.’

“For this reason, both the New Left and the Tea Party movement are radically anticonservative. Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin — on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty. To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization — in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings.

“That idea was rejected in the 1960s by people who put their faith in unrestrained passion and zealotry. The New Left then, like the Tea Partiers now, had a legitimate point about the failure of the ruling class. But they ruined it through their own imprudence, self-righteousness and naïve radicalism. The Tea Partiers will not take over the G.O.P., but it seems as though the ’60s political style will always be with us — first on the left, now the right.”

“What [Gray] means with that — and what he takes an entire book to explain — is that we in the West have become enamored of the idea of a Utopia achievable by politics. Last summer in a Templeton-Cambridge seminar, Gray, who is himself a religious skeptic, made a case that the so-called New Atheists are actually secular utopians, and as such, religious-minded. In ‘Black Mass,’ Gray traces the utopian impulse — the idea that we can create a kind of heaven on earth — throughout Western intellectual history. He argues that the obvious forms of secular utopias — the Nazi racialist version, and the various communist versions — may have been the most deadly, but that the belief in human perfection pervades Western political thought. For Gray, this is primarily a religious impulse, because it is based on faith about human nature that cannot be squared with the known facts…

“This is why I’m so alienated from politics these days. It’s fine and indeed necessary to be visionary, and to have an agenda for effective, positive reform. But that’s not the same thing as utopianism, which by definition is a philosophy built on an impossible dream. I got into a heated e-mail discussion yesterday with a Tea Party sympathizing friend who said that the government is ‘evil.’ Wrong. The government is no more evil than are big corporations, Wall Street bankers, university professors, media barons, Pentagon generals or anybody else. I am sick of the way our government leaders and our financial titans behave, and I think they do not have the best interest of the country at heart. But to declare them as an entire class ‘evil’ is not only to be unserious about the challenges facing us, but it’s also to run the risk of a kind of utopian thinking that can destroy lives and whole societies.”