Saturday, November 17, 2007

Nanny State: Book Review

Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children
by David Harsanyi

"The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool...but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog"
--G.K. Chesterton

This quote, at the beginning of David Harsanyi's "Nanny State", succinctly sums up exactly what is wrong with the explosion of "nanny laws" in western society.

"Nanny state" actions are policies such as bans on smoking in public places, high taxes on junk food, bans on recreational drug use, gun control, a legal drinking age or legal smoking age that is higher than the age of majority, political correctness, censorship, certain types of regulations concerning consensual sex between adults, zero tolerance policies, and content regulation. Such actions result from the belief that the state or the local government has a duty to protect citizens from their own harmful behaviors, and that the state knows best what constitutes harmful behavior. The author defines the nanny state as, "a place where government takes a hyper-interest in micromanaging the welfare of its citizens, shielding us from our own injurious and irrational behavior."

Harsanyi believes that government acting as in loco parentis is dangerous because, "the more government feels comfortable subverting our right to live as we wish -- while not hurting others -- simply to create a more agreeable society, the state will feel increasingly comfortable sabotaging our rights on all fronts." In other words, "nanny laws" are a dangerous slippery slope.

He also believes that a nannyistic government goes against the intentions that the Founding Fathers had for our government. Harsanyi points out that it specifically subverts the notion of the "pursuit of happiness". He explains that the pursuit of happiness should be "tethered to the pillars of liberty and responsibility"; which gives us the right to be "wrong, dumb, and irresponsible".

Both conservatives and liberals are concerned about "nannyism", though they define what constitutes inappropriate government intrusion differently. Harsanyi, a libertarian, takes a balanced view in that he tars both conservatives and liberals equally with the "nanny" brush.

Harsanyi notes that there has been little protest against the proliferation in the last twenty years ago of such laws and policies and asks the question, "When exactly did you lost your right to be unhealthy, unsafe, immoral, and politically incorrect? What if I want to be fat, drunk, immoral, and intolerably foolish?"

The author states: "The Nanny State will argue that there is no excuse for government to protect a mentally stable citizen from making his or her own choices and that words and ideas like 'freedom' and 'responsibility' must again be injected into any conversation or debate about laws that affect personal behavior."

In the book, Harsanyi devotes chapters to different types of nanny policies: food/obesity policies aka "The Twinkie Fascists", anti-alcohol policies, anti-smoking policies, zero tolerance policies and other school-related nannyism, "family values" nannyism; i.e. those who attempt to legislate personal morality, anti-porn censorship and other anti-sex policies, policies that hamper those who wish to start small businesses, anti-gambling laws, among others. The last chapter deals with how society pays; what the negative fallout results from such paternalism.

I found myself in agreement with nearly all the author had to say, with the exception of his views of laws designed to protect the welfare of animals. I believe that laws are necessary to protect pets and other animals, as they cannot protect themselves from cruel and/or irresponsible humans. Otherwise, this book is a real breath of fresh air in our increasingly busybody, politically correct, and self-righteous society.

I recommend this book to anyone to cares about personal liberty and the rights of competent adults to live however they wish as long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of others to live differently.

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