The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a growing movement called “Dontells,” adults whom progressives dismiss as suffering from one of those dubious childhood mental ailments, ODD: Oppositional Defiant Disorder, the irrational resistance to authority. Our managerial elite applies this children’s neurosis to adults who resist the ruling technocracy’s “soft” tyranny.
This instinct of free peoples to resist being told what to do by distant, unaccountable authorities is one reason why government relies on sketchy science and research to coerce or frighten people into accepting such intrusions into their private and social lives. The interference in private life and civil society, which has increased over the last 100 years and geometrically expanded during the Covid pandemic, has empowered an ever-growing federal bureaucracy that insidiously whittles away at our autonomy in order to aggrandize more and more power.
But this program to limit our freedoms requires that the quintessential American character, which prizes freedom, self-reliance, and civil society, be undermined and replaced by docile and malleable subjects ruled by the technocratic Leviathan.
“Climate change,” of course, or more honestly, “anthropogenic catastrophic global warming,” is the most prominent and voracious of these “crises” that our federal overseers and their minions are using to control our lives through bad science and frightening scenarios. The flashing red- light warning that these “green” policies and the suicidal war on fossil fuels are a threat to our economy and whole way of life, is this simple fact: Even if every policy hawked by the Paris climate agreement were globally institutionalized tomorrow, we still wouldn’t lower the rise in temperatures enough to stave off the predicted apocalypse.
Yet no crisis, real or imagined, is too dubious or minor for whetting some government agency’s appetite. Around the same time as the Journal’s column, we got an example of this crisis and regulation dynamic. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has proposed a ban on gas stoves, based on questionable “research” that linked these appliances to childhood asthma, fires, indoor air pollution, and of course, global warming. New York, vying with California for the looniest public policy crown, wants to ban all gas appliances, including those used for heating.
But this time, the CPSC’s overreach has provoked some pushback from the natural gas industry and citizens with common sense. The American Gas Association has exposed the questionable “research” used to frighten people into going for this feckless policy. For example, the claim that gas stoves have a higher risk of causing fires is bunk. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, “The civilian fire injury rate per million households was 4.8 times higher with electric ranges than in households using gas ranges.”
If you’re worried about anthropogenic global warming, switching to electric ranges won’t help reduce emissions, since most rely on electricity plants powered by fossil fuels. And how are you going to cook when the electric grid crashes from charging all those new EVs?
As for asthma, the Wall Street Journal reports, “The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, the most comprehensive global study to date, found ‘no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a cooking fuel and either asthma symptoms or asthma diagnosis.’” This latest unwarranted nanny-state intrusion into our lives and businesses, the Journal also reminds us, is business as usual for CPSC, “which has a long history of targeting products such as window blinds, IKEA dressers, and Peloton treadmills because of accidents that are the fault of customers.”
That’s how, as Tocqueville predicted, the budding tyrant manages “to keep [the people] in perpetual childhood,” and make Leviathan the “sole agent and arbiter of their happiness,” thus leaching away their capacity for self-government.
So far, this pushback has worked. Alexander Hoehn-Saric, Chairman of the CPSC dismissed the criticism as an overreaction to “research,” and assured us taxpayers, “I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so.” That’s bureaucratese for “Not yet.”
Like rust, however, our regulatory bosses never sleep, and always are ready to intrude themselves into the affairs of individuals, sovereign states, professions, and businesses. Just recently two more regulatory schemes have been hatched.
The Federal Trade Commission is floating a nationwide ban on non-compete agreements, which currently are regulated by the states. “If finalized,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “it would outlaw terms in 30 million contracts and pre-empt laws in virtually every state. It would also, by the FTC’s own account, reduce capital investment, worker training and possibly job growth, while increasing the wage gap.”
Another proposed regulation is being mooted for the medical profession. No doubt inspired by the alleged misuse of drugs for treating Covid, this new rule is a poison-pill smuggled in the recent $1.7 trillion omnibus bill. This change will curtail the freedom of physicians to prescribe prescription drugs for off-label use, which comprises 20% of prescriptions. According to the Journal, “This unwarranted intrusion into the physician-patient relationship threatens to undermine medical innovation and patient care,” as well as inhibiting the discovery of new therapies. Viagra, for example, was originally produced to treat hypertension and angina, and now is prescribed for erectile dysfunction treatment nearly two million times a year.
Such incessant regulatory tweaks help explain why we have over 220 volumes of federal regulations.
These serial interferences in our lives attempt to frighten and coerce citizens into surrendering more of their self-reliance and personal agency. To strengthen the tyranny’s hold, these intrusions, and the medicalizing of pushback as “Oppositional Defiant Disorder,” serve to marginalize, if not demonize, the quintessential traits and virtues of American character: protective of personal freedom and autonomy, dislike of self-proclaimed moral betters, and rebellion against the petty tyrants who think they’re better fit to push everybody else around. You know, bossy progressives and snotty Eurocrats, both of whose anti-Americanism is predicated in part on hatred of these traditional American traits.
Our “soft despots” understand that their ambition to centralize power and expand it at the expense of the citizens’ freedom has a huge block of resistance in the American national character. From our Colonial beginning, this inclination has been obvious. It appears on every page of history and literature, and in highbrow and lowbrow culture alike. A whole genre of popular literature and movies, the western, has celebrated (or demonized) this icon of American character.
Indeed, anti-Americanism is basically an assault on these defining traits of Americans. As early as the 19th century, as James Cesar has documented, European intellectuals and other elites looked down on Americans for prizing political freedom, equality, and self-government regardless of education, wealth, or class––the foundational ideas of our Constitutional republic. Early 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine, for example, called the U.S. “the pig-pen of freedom/Inhabited by boors living in equality,” a “gigantic prison of freedom” in which the “most extensive of all tyrannies, that of the masses, exercise its crude authority.”
Other dimensions of American character, such as the work-ethic and ambition to better one’s self, or its preeminence in industrial production and technology, likewise were attacked, and still today are targets of sneering elite criticism. Friedrich Nietzsche accused America of reducing life to materialism, domination and wealth: “The breathless haste with which [Americans] work . . .is already infecting old Europe and is spreading a spiritual emptiness over the continent.” Later, erstwhile Nazi Martin Heidegger labeled America as the “site of a catastrophe,” the “monstrousness of modern times.”
We can easily hear in these charges the clichéd smears that our own progressive cognitive elites regularly indulge about ordinary Americans who refuse to submit to the technocratic arrogance of the “managerial elite”––the “bitter clingers to guns and religion,” the “basket of deplorables,” and the “smelly Wal-Mart shoppers” who eagerly became Donald Trump’s dupes. They are soulless, selfish, greedy, money-grubbing and intolerant lowbrow philistines, and as such are not worthy of self-rule, or unalienable rights like the First and Second Amendments, natural rights that progressive Charles Beard in 1912 dismissed as “obsolete and indefensible.”
Weakening our Constitutional structure of limited government, federalism, and unalienable rights, then, is necessary for those who want to limit political power to the technocratic elite. The American character and its individualism, localism, patriotism, and self-reliance thus must be transformed from citizens into subjects, and from adults into children who need government guardians to run their lives. And that dependence is what F.A. Hayek called “the road to serfdom.”
Fortunately, enough of the American character, upon which our Constitutional order is predicated, remains to empower us to fight back. The bungling, disastrous, politicized Covid mitigation polices sparked widespread resistance by “Dontells” who reject the self-proclaimed “experts” and busybody “Karens.” And perhaps a governor like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who has become national figure because of his vigorous pushback against the “woke” elite’s power-grabs, can grow a political movement to restore our American traditions of self-government by free citizens.
Meanwhile, we all need to push back more against the regulatory regime assaulting our economy and our autonomy. In short, more and more of us need to keep shouting, “Don’t tell us what to do!”