The New York Post recently compiled a list of the things that the New York City Council tried to ban - not all successfully - just in 2006 alone: pit bulls; trans-fats; aluminum baseball bats; the purchase of tobacco by 18- to 20-year-olds; foie gras; pedicabs in parks; new fast-food restaurants (but only in poor neighborhoods); lobbyists from the floor of council chambers; lobbying city agencies after working at the same agency; vehicles in Central and Prospect parks; cell phones in upscale restaurants; the sale of pork products made in a processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., because of a unionization dispute; mail-order pharmaceutical plans; Candy-flavored cigarettes; gas-station operators adjusting prices more than once daily; Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus; Wal-Mart.
On Jan. 2 here in Washington, D.C., the city council's smoking ban was extended to bars and nightclubs. Even private clubs, where members must pay through the teeth to associate voluntarily, are forbidden to allow smoking on their own property. In some states, you can't smoke in your car if young children are present - your own children that is. In California, outdoor smoking bans are all the rage. In 2005, a Pennsylvania legislator received national attention for his effort to mandate that all dogs must wear seat belts in cars. He got the idea from the winner of his annual "There Ought to Be a Law" contest, a busybody kid who thought it was hypocritical that canines be exempt from mandatory seat-belt laws. My daughter seems well on track to spend her entire childhood in a world where eating a peanut product would be as unthinkable as lighting up a stogie.
In "Democracy in America," Alexis de Tocqueville warns: "It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life. For my own part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in great things than in little ones. ..."
"Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately," he continued. "It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will." He goes on to note that in the "great things," the burden of (temporarily) lost freedom must inevitably fall "upon a small number of men." For example, in war we understand that some men (and now women) surrender the bulk of their liberties to protect the liberties of everybody else.