Ruling of America
By Balint Vazsonyi
Center For The American Founding
July 9, 1999
Jeanne Kirkpatrick, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
in the Reagan administration, is in trouble with the law.
Apparently, she left her poodle in her automobile while going
into a shop. Worse still, she did so despite a sign posted right
where she had parked the car. It reads: "Pets Die in Hot Cars!
It's Against the Law. If You See It, Report It! Call 911
Forty years ago, when I arrived on these shores, Americans
regularly poked fun at Germany's proclivity for prohibiting all
manner of normal human activity -- from walking on grass to
taking pictures near a railway line -- giving rise to a society
permanently ensconced in a straitjacket of excessive legislation.
Use of the actual German word verboten (forbidden) signified
the disagreement Americans had with the idea of regulating the
daylight out of human conduct.
That was then.
Currently, America is adopting more and more of the
thoroughly alien political philosophy that holds people cannot
be permitted to act on their free volition, or else their base
urges and thoughtless egotism will frustrate construction of the
Actually, the miracle we call America has brought forth a
breed of human being noted for its desire to do the right thing
because common decency and common sense combine to
guide common standards of conduct. As anxiety about meeting
basic needs subsided, so each generation rose higher on the
ladder of civilization, with genuine and lasting results.
Coercion and the threat of punishment produce the
opposite, as they deprive people of individual discretion.
Resentment builds, counting the hours, then minutes, until
tyranny is brought down at last.
That is the story of Germany, as well as of France, Russia,
Spain, Italy. That is why the one-way traffic to America has
continued for a very long time.
But now, the pestilence that turns the law from the greatest
blessing into a hated tyrant has infested our land. Human
interaction across a broad spectrum came to be forbidden in
recent years, or regulated to the point where it amounts to a
prohibition for all practical intents and purposes.
It is forbidden to call persons and things what they are. It's
forbidden to disapprove of persons or of their conduct. It's
forbidden to make or tell jokes if someone might find them
offensive, and selected groups have been endowed with the
right to declare anything offensive to their hearts' content.
Punishment may be expulsion from school, loss of employment
or financial ruin rather than prison, but punishment there will be.
It's forbidden to show up for a flight without identity
documents, one of which must be issued by government and
include a photograph. It's forbidden to go near a gate or to
enter a public building without going through a metal detector.
It's forbidden to sit in an airplane without the seat belt fastened
when the seat belt sign is off. It's forbidden to disobey crew
member instructions, and it is a federal crime to tamper with
smoke detectors in the lavatory. Because, of course, it's
forbidden to smoke.
It's forbidden to operate a business with no wheelchair
access. It's forbidden to hold a concert in an auditorium with
no wheelchair access. It's forbidden to ask essential questions
of a prospective employee. It's forbidden to enter into any
employment agreement, however satisfactory to the parties, if it
does not comply with the whims of government. It's forbidden
to deny a sublease of your home to a person you consider
undesirable. It's forbidden for a goose to eat a Kanab amber
It's forbidden to use your own money for your own medical
care the way you think is in your own best interest, after a
certain age. It's forbidden to say things to or about women, or
to touch them, at any age. Six-year-olds are now the object of
the hysteria that has replaced nature's arrangements in the
relationship of the sexes, and 6-year-olds are subject to
government surveillance whether through the pretext of
immunization or a school-to-work program. It's forbidden for
parents to bring up their children as they believe it would be
best for the children. It's forbidden to drive along Pennsylvania
Avenue near the White House.
And, naturally, most any place, it's forbidden to smoke.
Smoking is the recurring theme because it has been the
great test: Will Americans give up their liberties if the initial
purpose appears to make sense and the strangulation is
We know the answer.
For sure, smoking is a health hazard. But that had little to
do with the true purpose of the campaign.For sure,
all prohibitions begin with an honorable and
desirable purpose. Seat belts save lives. Employment practices
ought to be fair and equitable. It is great that our society can
afford to build ramps everywhere and thus offer mobility to
people confined to wheelchairs. Men should treat women with
dignity and courtesy. (Also vice versa.)
And dogs are at risk in hot cars.
But in an American America, those were manners of
conduct to be encouraged and cultivated, prompted by
principle and pride, rewarded by life in a variety of ways. Now
they have become the domain of commissars who claim to
know how all the rest of us ought to behave. And they have
captured and corrupted the law.
Remember the sign next to Mrs. Kirkpatrick's car? "Pets
Die in Hot Cars! It's Against the Law. If You See It, Report It!
Call 911 Immediately."
"Pets Die in Hot Cars!" Yes, we are in America. Someone
cares about something and reminds fellow citizens.
"It's Against the Law." Oops! We have entered
"If You See It, Report It!" Here is the precipice. Americans
are now encouraged to inform on one another. And it starts
early. Children are taught to inform on their friends and
teachers -- and most of all on their parents.
In Hungary, I lived under two regimes that based their
existences on that practice.
Are we certain we want America to go that way?
Balint Vazsonyi is author of "America's 30 Years War:
Who Is Winning?" and director of the Center for the