Soft Tyranny

Soft Tyranny

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate.  That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild.  It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.  For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Was there a greater political prophet than Alexis de Tocqueville? I think not. He wrote about American society and government nearly 200 years ago, and his brilliant insights into American culture specifically and political theory more generally are as relevant today as they were when he first wrote, if not more so. It’s as though he possessed a crystal ball and saw the ascension of petty tyrants like Michael Bloomberg.

If Mayor Bloomberg gets his way, and it looks like he will, large sodas and other sugary drinks will be a thing of the past, at least at restaurants, movie theaters, cafes, and stadiums across the five boroughs.

Under the mayor’s proposed plan, drinks at these locations would not be over 16 ounces. If businesses break the rule, they’ll be hit with a $200 fine.

Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, said the measure is a new way to fight obesity. He estimates that over 60 percent of New Yorkers are overweight.

Aside from the bogus statistics – I grew up in New York City, and 60% of the people are overweight only if the ideal weight is “anorexically thin” – this is yet another attempt by Nanny Bloomberg to dictate to the people of New York how to live their lives. You may remember Mayor Mike from such public health efforts as banning smoking pretty much everywhere and banning the evil known as transfats.

Even if one agrees that it is good for people to not smoke and to eat healthy, is there no end in sight to these efforts to control the daily lives of citizens? You know, other then when it comes to those same citizens aborting their children because they’re only girls.

Let’s leave aside the fact that such a ban would be futile as, after all, customers could just order multiple beverages. This is yet another effort to control behavior. Certainly this is not the most egregious assault on personal liberty in this nation’s history, but that’s sort of the point, and that was Tocqueville’s point as well. It’s the little things that get you. In other words, the real danger in democratic governments isn’t large-scale deprivations of liberty (though these are certainly possible as well), but rather the minute, insufferable attempts to manipulate people and treat others as though they were children.

That said, this story is yet another corrective to the old saw that it is social conservatives who want to control every aspect of our daily lives. If Michael Bloomberg is a social conservative, then I’m afraid to know what I’d be labeled.

But have no fear New Yorkers. Even if Mayor Mike takes your giant sodas away, at least he won’t be touching your donuts.

Soft Despotism

Alexis de Toqueville wasn’t always right, but he was almost always right. From Book One of Democracy in America:

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, and here they are always fashioning new ways to live up to de Tocqueville’s prophecy.

The Montgomery County Council approved a smoking ban at playgrounds and indoor common spaces on Tuesday, asking neighbors to report offenders.

The ban restricts smoking within 25 feet of playgrounds and in the shared spaces of multifamily residential buildings, such as apartment hallways or lobbies.

Two witnesses can file a complaint identifying the smoker, as well as the time and place of the violation, to start an investigation. Otherwise, a county Health and Human Services Department employee must catch a violator lighting up.

Excellent.  Not only have they all but banned smoking in your own home, but they’re also encouraging people to inform on their neighbors.  I wonder if this poster served as an inspiration to the County Council: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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