Jonah Goldberg

Then there's the IRS. We already have evidence of abuse there. For instance, the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, had its tax returns and private donor information leaked to the news media last year, presumably in order to embarrass Mitt Romney (he gave the group $10,000) and others during the presidential election.

And yet, worrying about NSA abuse is cast as high-minded while worrying about Obamacare or the IRS is seen as paranoid. Why?

Part of the answer surely stems from the fact the progressive dream of government-guaranteed health care is fashionable, while opposition to it is perceived by liberal elites as backward or villainous.

But it goes deeper than that. There are basically two visions of oppressive government, the Orwellian and the Huxleyan. In George Orwell's "1984," the dystopia is a totalitarian police state, where everyone is snooped on and bullied. In Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," most people are happy because the government takes care of them.

Culturally, Americans of all stripes recoil at anything that seems like a step on the slippery slope toward the Orwellian state. But we lack the same reflexive response against things that smack of the Huxleyan.

Sure, we make fun of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's campaigns against smoking, fatty foods, large beverages and the like. And yes, we mock the excesses of political correctness and a government hell-bent on doing things for "our own good." But it's worth noting that Bloomberg & Co. tend to win their battles in no small part because they're supposed to be champions of progress.

Our Constitution -- and any definition of a legitimate government -- requires the state to protect its citizens from threats such as foreign terrorism. Governments can go too far fulfilling that duty, of course, conjuring valid concerns of an Orwellian police state. And we routinely have healthy debates over where that line is. If only we could have similarly healthy debates about a government with an eternal license to do things for our own good.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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