Column on The Times’s Kudos to Petty Tyrants

The Times’ kudos to European Petty Tyrants

Tibor R. Machan

In The New York Times of Monday, June 27th, an editorial heaps compliments upon the bureaucrats of many European cities who have imposed innumerable obstacles to their fellow citizens who want to use the automobile for transportation. This piece of cheer-leading in support of these would be tyrants is an embarrassment in a country that’s about to celebrate its becoming independent of precisely such meddling European governments.

First of all, “cities” are people. They aren’t some kind of supreme consciousness sitting atop the inert bodies made up of the rest, the serfs. So in fact the story should have begun as follows: “Some people in Europe want other people not to drive.”

OK, but then so what? Why are these people privileged with power to have their desires imposed on their fellows? (Why not have an editorial about that very important issue?) “Cities” aren’t some holy persons who know best and who are all virtuous. Cities–meaning the people who rule them–can be tyrannical as all get out. And too many people in Europe’s cities are guilty of just this one-size-fits-all rule about driving. I say break it up, let folks discover their own best form of transportation.

So, you may say, but the roads are public spheres and require making all conform to a set of one-size-fits-all rules, isn’t that the truth? No, it isn’t As with everything else, a principled approach to governing, including governing cities, requires finding out and implementing policies that do not do violence to the principles involved. One may need to get to the grocery store quickly but it is not an option to trespass on the properties of one’s neighbors. One may wish to have a constant companion but it is not an option to enslave some unwilling “partner.” One may wish to spend more on amenities but it isn’t an option to go into endless debt so one is able to do it, nor to rob one’s neighbors so as to build up one’s resources.

Of course, the people who rule cities in Europe and elsewhere, including sadly in the United States of American which is supposed to be the leader of the free world, are eager to forget all this and make the cities their own personal domain where they can impose policies that they prefer, never mind the rest of the citizenry. They have that typical governmental hubris of believing that their preferences trump those of everyone else.

It is perhaps time for prominent advocacy journalists such as the editors of The New York Times to affirm the principles of the American Declaration of Independence and promote liberty instead of all the bits and pieces of tyranny that pleases the meddling bureaucrats around the globe. How about teaching them a thing or two about why freedom matters, including the freedom to make use of whatever transportation one can afford? And if this doesn’t appear feasible at this point, why not investigate the option of, say, private roads (one that has been laid out by several scholars, such as Professor Walter Block of Loyola University of New Orleans) instead of following the discredited and immoral practice of subjugating everyone to the methods of transport-imperialists.

Of course, it is difficult to teach liberty when one refuses to practice it. And those at The New York Times have only one liberty they scream about all the time, namely, the liberty of the press. Which is, no doubt, a vital species of liberty but it ought not to function as a special privileges others may not enjoy because they want to be free not in writing and publishing but in using a great variety of transport. By making it appear that public roads are the only option, these champions of petty tyrannies give clear evidence of the famous insight William Pitt (the younger) who taught that “Necessity is the plea of every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” (1783)

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