The idea that “liberals” (or “Progressives,” as they now call themselves) are in any way “liberal” has been making me laugh for nearly half a century. Aside from their personal libertinism in matters of sexuality — as Nora Ephron wrote of her former husband, Carl Bernstein, in her roman-a-clef, Heartburn, “he was capable of having sex with a Venetian blind” — which is entirely a product of their own sense of self-involvement, there is nothing “liberal” about them at all. Even as a college student, I could see that their passion for various causes, many of them either illusory or imaginary, always had to end with the blunt fist of the government in your face. And this from people who, back in the day, were protesting against a government run by a president (Johnson) of their own party!
What we’ve seen since, with the ascendancy of the Baby Boomers, is precisely that form of totalitarian “liberalism” in action. More laws, more rules, more regulations, more punishment, more, more, more. Nothing, it seems, can be left to the judgment of ordinary citizens. Everything must be either prescribed or proscribed. As Philip K. Howard wrote the other day at the Daily Beast:
Law is essential to freedom because it safeguards citizens against misconduct and abuse. By drawing boundaries against wrongful conduct, law provides a protective zone of freedom within those boundaries. Companies can’t pollute; businesses can’t cheat; people must honor contracts. On this open field of freedom, people can act spontaneously without undue defensiveness.
Modern law goes a giant step backwards—it often bars people from doing what’s right. Law’s proper role is now seen as instructing people how to make daily choices. Instead of providing the framework for freedom, law has replaced it, creating a legal minefield rather than an open field for free choice.
Howard’s subject is the trammeling of former norms of human behavior — specifically, Good Samaritanism — by a million petty regulations whose purpose ostensibly is to protect, but whose effect instead is to harm:
Every year the rulebooks get thicker. After all, writing regulations is what many regulators do. Did something go wrong? Write a rule. Did someone find a loophole? Clarify it with another rule. Is there an ambiguity? Write a regulation. Lawmaking by legislatures is also a one-way ratchet—Legislators get credit for passing laws, not pruning them. Should unlicensed people be able to give manicures? Pass a law.
Law is good, we assume, so more law is better. The theory is that humans make mistakes and disagree, and therefore it’s good to have rules. Our dream society lies just over the horizon, once lawmakers and regulators figure out how to make the intricate pieces fit together.
In our headlong quest for a legally perfect society, we don’t take the time to take stock of what‘s been created so far. But pause for a second, and look back at what these generations of regulators and lawmakers have created. What you see is a massive, well-intentioned, legal junk pile.
Let’s stop right there: who says all this law has been “well-intentioned”? I would argue the precise opposite. None of this law has been well-intentioned, except by useful idiots, once you get past the surface of the law in question (“the Kiddie Protection Act of blah blah blah”) and look at the intent, which is always to curtail individual freedom and increase the power of the state. And the power of the state always can and must end with a man with a gun arriving on your doorstep and forcing you to his will.