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The Tyranny of Details
Posted by: Dale Franks on Friday, January 19, 2007

A few items from the passing scene...

The city of Bangor, Maine is proposing that people who smoke in their car while children are present be pulled over by the police and fined.

The California legislature is considering a law that would prohibit parents from spanking or administering any corporal punishment to any child under three years of age, punishable by up to one year in jail.

New York City has banned the use of trans-fats in any food in any restaurant. Meanwhile, Chicago has banned restaurants from serving foie gras.

New York State is considering a law that will ban the sale of some video games to anyone under 18 years of age.

Staring Jan 1, Texas banned smoking in all foster parents' homes and cars when children are present.

Several school districts, such as the one in Palmyra Pennsylvania, are considering prohibiting parents from providing fast food to their children if they bring lunch to school.

Now York City councilman Joel Rivera wants to ban fast food restaurants from at least some parts of the city.

Do you think your dental hygienist or optician is hot? Wanna ask 'em out? If you live in Washington, then too bad. The new state professional regulations prohibit it. And no fair switching from Pearle Vision Center to Lenscrafters to use a different optician. Because you can't go out with them for two years after utilizing them as your "health care provider".


Since the American Revolution, the biggest fear about tyranny was that the government would intrude into large and important freedoms in a universal way. It's becoming increasingly clear to me, however, that march of tyranny is advancing not in huge repressions of civil liberties, but in little assaults that cordon off tiny bits of our lives. This was forseen long ago:
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.”
Hardly a day goes by without hearing of some city councilman or county supervisor, or state legislature that wants to ban some trivial act for some terribly important reason. It's rarely a direct assault on the big civil liberties. But it's happening in tiny increments here and there. It's the slow, quiet Tyranny of Details.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I’m pretty sure that the Chicago rule only bans the "sale" of foie gras. There was an article a couple of weeks ago about how some restaurants are getting around that rule — by selling a garden salad and tossing in "free" foie gras. Of course the garden salad costs $30.
Written By: Hoystory
Or this is the functioning of American democracy as the Founders intended...any number of states had various degrees of business and public morality legislation at the Founding. So this is what WAS and what IS and mostly likely what the Founders thought WOULD be.

This is the promise of freedom...sometimes folks get it wrong. We act as if Freedom is an unalloyed Good, when at least to me, it is a NET Good. But I’m Utilitarian when it comes to these things. ON THE WHOLE, things work well, and that’s all you can expect, but sometimes disasters, great and small happen. It’s just how a free system works.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
As another small detail, Pearle Vision and Lenscrafters are now owned by the same parent company, although they seem to be awfully quiet about that.
Written By: Piercello
URL: http://
Excellent post.
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
JOE, with all due respect, the big problem as I see it is that these things are INCREASING. That is to say the American public is acting more and more like a mob of petty tyrants, not realizing that they are destroying their precious freedoms one piece at a time.

While I have seen you and others get all worked up over big government programs, I am much more worried about this type of creeping big brotherism. A big ticket social program can be easily seen as a failure and can be fine tuned or even eliminated. But an attitude by the people that they have the right to control their neighbors is much more problematic.

It is a metastasizing sickness.
Written By: kyle N
Interesting that many of the cities and states mentioned are firmly "blue" territory. So that would mean Democrats are legislating morality. Oh, the irony. Anyone seen the ACLU or Americans United For Separation of Church and State staging mass protests over this? Didn’t think so.
Written By: The Poet Omar
The banning of this or that is common throughout our history, usually for morals reasons. The practice did not recieve widespread support nationally until the advent of the anti-smoking legislation. I think the title for this post should be
"The tyranny of the majority" with "the devil is in the details". I am a non-smoker who is extremely disturbed by the plethora of laws restricting one particular (and annoying) behavior. While some of these laws are reasonable and don’t interfere with individual rights, most of them provide legal standing to whichever lobby wants to restrict other individual behaviors. Perfume comes to mind, as most perfumes cause me respiratory distress. Overeating and poor dietary selection is a huge public health issue. How long before you can only get a big mac in the underground economy.
Written By: Neanderthal286
URL: http://
JOE, with all due respect, the big problem as I see it is that these things are INCREASING.

Are they increasing or is the Internet giving you access to INCREASING amounts of news? The 24-7 nature of the Internet/news cycle means SOMETHING has to fill the hole. 20 years ago you woudn’t ahve heard of these things, unless you happen to be affected by them. With all due respect, your fear is the same fear of those who believe that child predators have INCREASED in number...there is no evidence of it, what we ahve evidence of is INCREASED ATTENTION.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I’m with y’all on most of these, but the ones regarding what parents can do to their children are at least arguable and worth more than a drive-by. How do libertarians draw the line between the liberty interests of the parents in raising their children as they see fit and the interests of the children in not suffering (or at least minimizing) undue harm at the hands (or cigarettes) of their parents?
Written By: kenB
URL: http://

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