Someone opined recently that you can test a person’s “fascist factor” by bringing up the issue of smoking bans with that person and gauging their reaction and listening to their take on the issue. I thought it was a strong point, and in fact I think it’s a good yardstick from which to begin to determine a person’s comprehension of "your freedom ends at my nose."
Why smoking? Why not the host of other, more important infringements on freedom? I single out smoking because it’s a common endeavor. We all know family and friends and co-workers that smoke. Smoking never used to be evil; in a more sensible time and place, it was merely considered to be a health risk. Someone else’s health risk, if they were a smoker. Plus, the smoking issue is often in the news because every person who has any animosity whatsoever toward cigarettes is beating the drums for blanket non-smoking laws — in their city, your city, your restaurant, my house. The act of an individual smoking his or her cigarette, in a place where permission is granted by the owner, is being snuffed out everywhere we turn.
In testing this fascist factor, I recently asked a blonde friend why she favored more laws against smoking on private property. Her reply was straight to the point: "Because I hate smoking." She stated that she was tired of going to restaurants and putting up with cigarette smoke. Thus the snap reaction is to demand that one’s personal needs be met, even when you are just one of many visitors to another’s private establishment. I asked her, What if the same government that bans smoking in private businesses in Macomb County, Michigan suddenly declares that, effective immediately, those same businesses can no longer have blondes within their establishments because blonde hair is being banned also? "Oh that’s stupid. That’s not the same," she answered.
Oh, and how so? They both fall into the same stupid category in my mind. In fact, they are both arbitrary decrees that invade the self-ownership and private property rights of others. Both decrees are based on the view that one group of persons has the means to control another group of persons and their choices via government fiat. Both decrees are fascist in that they subject the individual to the collective and private property to some notion of "public good."
I am enormously suspicious of any person who desires authoritarian laws limiting or prohibiting any activity or behavior they consider to be inappropriate or undesirable. Some people want personal behaviors banned because they are not on their list of approved behaviors. Worse yet is when they actively participate in special interest warfare that seeks to employ the power of law to enforce their personal preferences. My advice would be to tell them to take up writing and criticize undesirable behaviors — that may serve to cure their "need" to control and ban.
So why is it that citizens emerge from the societal order and launch these preposterous crusades against their fellow men? What is the role of the State in creating these citizen tyrants who delight in the managerial State’s suppression of innocent people who bring no harm to anyone?
While the State is not the whole of the problem, it is the starting point from which modern democracy is launched. Hence we witness democracy, as legislated by the State and promoted by the establishment intellectuals, being packaged and sold as a participatory form of governance that opens the door to perfect equality and unmitigated freedom. The collective mind of democracy is often expressed as the "will of the people." The will of the people is a polite sound bite, but it is nothing more than a swindle that conveys the illusion that laws, or assorted public policy capers, are dictated by a single mind made up of many people who elect many other people to convey that will in a legislative format. The masses are tricked into believing that America was born a democratic society, and this form of democracy is so important, so unique, so blessed, that people should want to die for it.
The ruling elites at the head of any State are the minority, and thus they must secure the cooperation of the majority in order to carry out their statist crimes. Murray Rothbard, in The Anatomy of the State, points out that the chief task of this ruling minority must be to "purchase allies among important groups in the population." Thus it is the State’s intellectuals — academics, policy wonks, behavioral police, and appointed health experts — who serve to sell the State’s version of personal "freedom" to the masses. They are the intermediaries that turn propaganda into reality. The masses are led to believe that a society which is rigidly centralized, and where obedience to State rulers and their enforcers is compulsory, is somehow "free." On the role of the intellectuals influencing the masses, Murray Rothbard goes on to say:
…The majority must be persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives. Promoting this ideology among the people is the vital social task of the “intellectuals.” For the masses of men do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through these ideas independently; they follow passively the ideas adopted and disseminated by the body of intellectuals. The intellectuals are, therefore, the “opinion-molders” in society. And since it is precisely a molding of opinion that the State most desperately needs, the basis for age-old alliance between the State and the intellectuals becomes clear.
Undeniably, the masses have been inculcated with so much establishment hogwash that they have become micro-disseminators of the intellectuals’ social policy platform. But, at the same time, I believe that individuals make cognizant choices and act purposefully, and as such, citizen tyrants have the ability to accept or reject the propaganda, tyranny, and conspicuous abrogation of individual liberty that a total state brings forth. Yet they continue to rubber-stamp the State’s totalitarian proposals. Again and again, these parsimonious sycophants voluntarily choose to become cheerleaders for the State and its agenda, in spite of the fact that, at some point, that agenda will clash with their own.
My personal experience is that people who are controlling taskmasters on non-aggressive, non-criminal, behavioral issues are completely hopeless on most issues of human liberty. Without bringing forth a ton of empirical evidence, I’d say this indicator works much of the time, based on my observations. In terms of smoking, we are talking about a basic human right in which you do what you want with your body that you own, on your own property, or the property of another owner who welcomes your smoking habit. If certain individuals believe that their personal preferences should become statutory law that rules over others, why not create laws to enable everyone else’s preferences to override everyone else’s behavior and lifestyle? The circle of laws would be endless and our freedom would be nonexistent, but at least the "will of the people" would be enforced.
Alexis de Tocqueville’s writings about early American political life revealed that Americans were too passive to insist on individual liberty, so they submitted to political power and mass opinion in order to avoid being ostracized. While Hitler’s SS and Stalin’s regime threatened those who would not obey with prompt violence or death, American democratic culture puts non-conformists out to pasture until they succumb to the rules of the majority. The political landscape has only become more foreboding since Tocqueville’s time, and since most citizens don’t want to graze in an empty pasture, they tend to join the sheep herds and adopt the fashionable thought trends that keep them safely within the boundaries of compliance.
There’s a standard hymn that says "Freedom is not free," but what does that actually mean? What, then, is the cost of freedom? The pocket expenses thus far have been a militarized police state, an endless and ramped-up drug war, empowered health Nazis that arbitrarily criminalize food and lifestyles, and an imperial war machine wedded to a corporatocracy which is made more profitable and powerful by the financial socialism of the Federal Reserve and its Wall Street cronies. Governments, as we know, never care about costs because they have an infinite supply of funds via the congressional purse. Individuals, however, need to stop and ask what the cost is of each action taken, by government, that limits or prohibits the actions or behaviors of folks whose choices and actions do not infringe upon the freedom of others.
In a government bureaucracy, costs don’t matter. They get swept under a rug. But in a world where the human freedom and the futures of our heirs are at stake, costs do matter. The costs are all the lost liberties individuals endure at the hands of the rulers and their allied opinion molders and citizen despots who continue to facilitate a breeding ground for ignorance and passive acceptance.
Karen De Coster [send her mail] is a Certified Public Accountant who works in finance and accounting in the securities industry. She is also a freelance writer/researcher, and oftentimes writes for clients in the nutrition, food, and fitness industry. This is her LewRockwell.com archive and her Mises.org archive. Check out her website, along with her blog.