Brilliant stuff from Jonah Goldberg today on the increasing desire of government to regulate the “little stuff”. He begins by listing everything the New York City Council banned or tried to ban in 2006. It’s a long list. And he notes some other bans around the country.
Then he pulls out a penetrating comment from deToqueville:
“It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life. For my own part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in great things than in little ones. …”
“Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will.”
Then Goldberg brings it home with stunning clarity (emphasis mine):
This is a typically penetrating insight, and one with new relevance these days. This country seems to have inverted de Tocqueville’s hierarchy. On countless fronts, the natural pastures of daily liberty have become circumscribed by dull-witted but well-meaning bureaucrats slapping down the paving stones of good intentions on the road to hell.
The rule of thumb for a free society should be that it infringes liberties rarely, but when it does so it is for important reasons. Today, that thumb has been cast down, Caesar-like, pointing in the opposite direction. We have democratized the small assaults on freedom so that everyone must endure them, while we caterwaul about the tyranny of any real inconvenience that might fall “disproportionately” on the few. We ban using trans fats for millions but flinch at the idea that some kid might have to endure the Pledge of Allegiance or a moment of silence in school if it conflicts with his conscience. Everyone must surrender his shoes, his regular-sized toothpaste and shampoo at the airport, but we man the barricades to protect a few young Muslim men from being inconvenienced for an extra five minutes at the airport.
Free speech is most restricted where it is most important — in political contests near Election Day — while it is maximized to an absurd level at the fringes of culture and decency. Banning “hate speech” from everybody’s lips is a progressive priority, but electronic eavesdropping on a few terrorists is an impermissible leap down the slippery slope to the police state.
Goldberg is right, as usual. Go read the whole article.