In a world where foie gras is outlawed, only outlaws will munch on goose liver fatted by gavage.
In his new book Nanny State, Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi documents in appalling and encyclopedic detail exactly "how food fascists, teetotaling do-gooders, priggish moralists, and other boneheaded bureaucrats are turning America into a nation of children." If there's a smoking ban, a mandatory exercise program, or censorious city government out there, it's pilloried in Nanny State.
In wide-ranging and engagingly written chapters, the 37-year-old Harsanyi argues that preserving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means giving individuals more choices in how to live, not fewer. "We've built the freest and most dynamic society the world has ever seen," writes Harsanyi. "To let these lightweight babysitters take over would be absurd, self-destructive, and categorically un-American.
Earlier in September, Harsanyi sat down for an instant-messaging interview with reason Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie.
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reason: What's the 30-second version of your book?
David Harsanyi: It's a book about the most basic aspect of freedom: free will. The right to make the "wrong" choice. It's about the rise of the babysitter state. It's also about how intrusions -- ones that we may find piddling and sometimes humorous -- when bunched together make for a dangerous movement.
reason: So that explains why you open your book with quotes from G.K. Chesterton ("The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool...but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog") and Cheap Trick ("Too many people want to save the world.")
Harsanyi: How can you not love both of 'em?
reason: Your subtitle leaves little to the imagination: How food fascists, teetotaling do-gooders, priggish moralists, and other boneheaded bureaucrats are turning America into a nation of children.
Harsanyi: We were a little worried that some consumers might confuse Nanny State with a childcare book.
reason: How did you get interested in the topic?
Harsanyi: My parents both defected from communist Hungary and were what most people would today call libertarian. I grew up with a general distaste for taxation and any policy that intruded on our lives. Still, living most of my life in New York, I witnessed plenty of nanny state laws. Later, I lived in D.C. for a bit and saw even more. I assumed when I got to Colorado, the Wild West, there would be a rejection of such intrusive legislation. I was wrong. So I wrote column after column on the topic and finally decided a book was in order.
reason: Your first chapter lays into "Twinkie Fascists," folks who try to limit what we can eat. Explain.
Harsanyi: First of all, the ideas Twinkie Fascists come up with -- from regulating food portions to outlawing unhealthy ingredients like trans fats to creating "health zones" to taxing certain undesirable foods -- are not based in reality. People have already made their choices and these intrusions, which nip on the margins, won't change those lifestyles. What is it does, though, is accelerate the nanny state. If we can ban one ingredient, why not every unhealthy ingredient? If we can tax a candy bar, why not a steak? There lies the danger.