Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has a column today provocatively titled “Why I Am Pro-Life.” Of course he doesn’t mean that he wants the government to protect life in utero. Instead he turns to a standard Democratic theme: How can you say you’re “pro-life” and oppose welfare, environmental regulation, and every other government program? Friedman doesn’t miss a beat: “common-sense gun control…the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet…. programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children….”
But then he takes it a breathtaking step further:
the most “pro-life” politician in America is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While he supports a woman’s right to choose, he has also used his position to promote a whole set of policies that enhance everyone’s quality of life — from his ban on smoking in bars and city parks to reduce cancer, to his ban on the sale in New York City of giant sugary drinks to combat obesity and diabetes, to his requirement for posting calorie counts on menus in chain restaurants, to his push to reinstate the expired federal ban on assault weapons and other forms of common-sense gun control, to his support for early childhood education, to his support for mitigating disruptive climate change.
Thomas Friedman’s vision of “pro-life” policies is, in every case, a network of bans and mandates forcing us to live our lives in ways that are pleasing to him and Mayor Bloomberg. No “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for him. No, his pro-life vision is Ira Levin’s dystopia in This Perfect Day, a world in which the state takes care of our every need.
When Hayek, in his essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” wrote about “the party of life,” he described it as “the party that favors free growth and spontaneous evolution.” Not Tom Friedman’s party! And certainly also not the party that seeks to ban drugs, gay marriage, and the discussion of evolution in science class. In her book The Future and Its Enemies, Virginia Postrel wrote at length about “the party of life,” and she didn’t have in mind Friedman’s crabbed view of a government that “protects life” by snuffing out liberty.
Some years ago I wrote a column titled “Pro-Life,” and I too had the Hayekian, not the Bloomberg-Friedman, view of life and liberty in mind. But long before that, as usual, Alexis de Tocqueville, in “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear,” warned us that one day Thomas Friedman and Michael Bloomberg would come for our liberties:
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.