Behind all of these absurd regulations and laws, behind the petty bureaucrats, is that despotism Tocqueville warned about. Despotism. I.e., control. What we are talking about is the criminalization of everyday life. Harvey Silverglate dealt in a masterly way with part of the story in his book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent , which I was proud to publish a couple of years back at Encounter Books.
Now Glenn Reynolds has weighed in with a thoughtful (not to say scary) law-review essay called Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime. Glenn mentions the essay at Instapundit, where he also cites this marvelous passage from Atlas Shrugged:
“Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against – then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now, that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”
That is spot on. Maybe I will try the book again.
“It is seldom,” David Hume once wrote, “that freedom of any kind is lost all at once.” That sucking sound you hear throughout the land is the sound of freedom being drained away, slowly here and there, with amazing rapidity elsewhere.
After quoting that stunning passage from Rand, Glenn concludes with the melancholy observation that “Things aren’t quite that bad. Yet.” Do we just wait around until “yet” becomes “now”?