In a column on seatbelt laws, of all things. But author Eric Peters has a point.
The late conservative intellectual Sam Francis came up with an excellent term for all of this stuff — "anarcho-tyranny." In brief, he meant a situation in which the truly lawless (violent criminals, big-time crooks) are increasingly treated with kid gloves while at the same time, ordinary schlubs who never commit serious personal or property crimes are increasingly hassled over Pecksniffy technical fouls and "lifestyle violations" such as failing to wear their seat belts.
Invariably, the punishment involves money. [Seat Belt Lashes The American SpectatorAugust 7, 2006]
In 1997 Sam Francis called anarcho-tyranny
"a form of government that seems to be unknown in history until recently. Anarcho-tyranny is a combination of the worst features of anarchy and tyranny at the same time.
Under anarchy, crime is permitted and criminals are not apprehended or punished. Under tyranny, innocent citizens are punished. Most societies in the past have succumbed to either one or the other, but never as far as I know to both at once."
And he included seat-belt laws in that. I put the whole article below the jump:
By Sam Francis
April 29, 1997
If, as Bill Clinton tells us, the "era of Big Government is over," somebody needs to tell the state of Maryland (not to mention Bill Clinton). Earlier this month the Maryland legislature had itself a small orgy of swelling the powers of the state government, and apparently it helped give Mr. Clinton some ideas of his own (orgies seem to have that effect on him).
Just before the end of this year's legislative session, the Maryland lawmakers passed several new laws that (a) allow policemen to stop drivers for not wearing seat belts, (b) authorize hidden cameras at red lights to take secret photographs of the license plates of cars that run the lights, (c) ban loud car stereos on state roads, (d) forbid minors from buying butane lighters because they might inhale the gas, and (e) require drivers whose windshield wipers are running to keep their headlights on. The lawmakers seem to have missed outlawing cooking breakfast in your underwear, but of course there's always another session next year.
The citizens of Maryland will no doubt be thrilled to learn that law enforcement in their state has now so mastered violent crime that the cops have little else to do but round up non-seat-belt wearers and butane-sniffers. As a matter of fact, Maryland's Prince George's County has just announced that rapes and homicides increased in the first three months of 1997. Nevertheless, you can be certain that no one will be raped or murdered without wearing a seat belt.
The new Maryland laws are rather perfect instances of what I have previously called "anarcho-tyranny" — a form of government that seems to be unknown in history until recently. Anarcho-tyranny is a combination of the worst features of anarchy and tyranny at the same time.
Under anarchy, crime is permitted and criminals are not apprehended or punished. Under tyranny, innocent citizens are punished. Most societies in the past have succumbed to either one or the other, but never as far as I know to both at once.
In the United States today, lawmakers worry far more about drivers who don't wear seat belts, run red lights or play their stereos too loud than they do about the thousands of rapists, thieves, and killers who prowl about as free as wolves in the woods. If the Maryland legislature spent any time this year increasing the penalties for real crimes, I haven't heard about it, nor did it make much effort to improve enforcement of the laws it already has.
One danger of the new laws is that, once Maryland starts enforcing them, other states will tend to adopt similar ones. The reason anarcho-tyranny flourishes is that it gets lawmakers off the hook. The legislators can pass such laws and then brag to their constituents about how tough they are on crime and how devoted to public safety they are. Once a lawmaker gets an anarcho-tyrannical idea under his belt, you can be sure the idea is headed for the law books.
But of course such laws do nothing to impede real criminals. The anarcho-tyrants create new laws that merely criminalize the innocent and ignore real criminals. The result is that law-abiding citizens catch it twice: once from the real criminals to whom the state is oblivious and once from the laws that criminalize the law-abiding.
Yet Maryland's little adventure in anarcho-tyranny did not spring full blown from the legislators' heads this year. A couple of years ago, the state government outlawed smoking in most restaurants, an unprecedented state-wide invasion of privacy. Is it surprising that similar invasive laws were passed this year?
And will it be surprising if such laws spread? Well, no. Five days after the Maryland lawmakers adjourned from their labors to make their state safer from loud radios and lightless windshield wipers, the national anarcho-tyrant-in-chief himself unbosomed his own contribution to new statecraft.
The Clinton administration announced that it is proposing federal legislation to allow police to stop drivers who are not wearing seat belts. Big Business, those lovers of liberty, in the form of the insurance industry, is all for it, and together with its Siamese twin, Big Government, it's busy contriving schemes to enlarge state power yet more.
The secret of tyranny — whether anarcho or the plain vanilla version with which the world is all too familiar — is that it never sprouts full-blown from anything. It always starts small and then gets bigger. So if you think these laws are good ideas, you shouldn't be too surprised at the arrival of an era when state power has grown so big that it starts knocking at your door — if, that is, it bothers to knock at all.