On the House floor today Delegate Lee Ware(R-Powhatan)commented on the proposed smoking ban, and made many of the points that I did. Well done Delegate Ware, great minds do think alike.
History teaches us that the source of the greatest calamities is to be found in a series of the smallest events. The rise of Hitler can be located in the fine-print of the Treaty of Versailles. Conversely, the world-changing liberty that Patrick Henry thundered in St. John’s Church was born in the hearts of a few brave woodsmen who compelled a king to affirm Magna Charta.
But our liberties are fragile. And government at every level chips away at them every day.
The Virginian tradition of liberty, which became in time the American form of liberty, is founded, not upon governmental action, but upon the daily determination of our citizens to be and to do two things: to be self-governing, through discipline, frugality, and prudence; and, to be neighborly.
The principal craftsman of our Constitution, James Madison, insisted that it is not in a piece of parchment that our freedoms flourish. No, our liberty exists, is experienced, and is preserved in the customs, the social manners, the interchanges between free peoples, the private associations that individuals form, and in the institutions that are “intermediate” between the people and their government.
Today, through a feel-good surrender of another parcel of liberty to The Nanny State, we are chipping further away at the individual liberties and also the social bonds and institutions without which our people can not be free. And of course, predictably, it is in a seemingly “little thing” that this is occurring: the private citizens and private businesses of Virginia are to be compelled by government to ban the smoking of a perfectly legal substance that has for centuries been a cornerstone of our social, cultural, economic, and political life: the smoking of tobacco. And, to justify ourselves, we have first had to discredit (and of course to tax) a single class of people into an inferior status--those of our people who smoke.
We did not need to do this, and we ought not to do it. Free Virginians, through good manners and sound business decisions, have accommodated the quest of non-smoking establishments by many of our citizens. Despite this social achievement, the strong arm of government is now about to dictate a single policy for everybody and for every so-called “public” eating establishment that is in fact a private business on private property.
Many Americans rightly celebrate new manifestations of liberty in some quarters of our national life. But Tocqueville warned us nearly 200 years ago that we Americans face a very subtle danger--the danger of mass conformism to same-ness, to the lowest-common denominator, and to the “tyranny of the majority.” Today, we have fretted Tocqueville’s ghost. Are we also to abandon Patrick Henry’s spirit?