How does despotism come to a modern democracy? Tocqueville thought it was by means of the regulatory state, which “extends its arms over society as a whole.”

[I]t covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; . . . it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.

Exactly how would you go about doing this?  Ask the acronyms, starting with the NSA and IRS (and let’s not forget the EPA). The NSA hoovers up information about everyone everywhere because you just don’t know who might turn out to be a security threat. (And given our government’s penchant for criminalizing behavior that only yesterday was considered innocent, the category “security threat” just grows and grows and grows.) The IRS, as we continue to learn, is only incidentally in the business of collecting taxes. At bottom it is a weaponized bureaucracy, deployed to intimidate, silence, and punish individuals and enterprises deemed to be at odds with the ruling nomenklatura in Washington.

IRS: that’s “Internal Revenue Service.”  I think they may have to change their name soon: maybe “URS,” for “Universal Revenue Service,” for like many bureaucracies, the IRS just grows and grows and grows. A disturbing article by Colleen Graffy in The Wall Street Journal shows how the IRS, emboldened by new legislation, has set its sights, and its intrusive, bureaucratic paws, on foreign domiciled Americans.  The legislation is called FATCA (don’t you just love it?), the “Foreign Tax Compliance Act.” It is, as Ms. Graffy points out, a law of “breathtaking scope.”  Imagine this scenario:

You were born in California, moved to New York for education or work, fell in love, married and had children. Even though you have faithfully paid taxes in New York and haven’t lived in California for 25 years, suppose California law required that you also file your taxes there because you were born there. Though you may never have held a bank account in California, you must report all of your financial holdings to the State of California. Are you a signatory on your spouse’s account? Then you must declare his bank accounts too. Your children, now adults, have never been west of the Mississippi but they too must file their taxes in both California and New York and report any bank accounts they or their spouses may have because they are considered Californians by virtue of one parent’s birthplace.

Or let’s say you are one of the 6 million U.S. citizens living abroad. You may own no property, you may receive no income from the U.S., yet still you face fines if you do not file in the U.S.