Brendan O’Neill laments the spirit of New York as it is strangled by the health puritans in the mayor’s office. He makes an observation that is flawed. It is flawed because language has become so corrupted that words no longer mean what they used to mean. They no longer mean what they should mean. Etymology be damned, these people make words mean whatever they decide they should mean.
In condemning Michael Bloomberg’s health fascism and the effect it is having on New Yorkers, he asks why liberals are apparently laissez faire about this nasty authoritarianism.
For me, the most striking thing is the lack of criticism of Bloomberg’s antics. Liberal commentators, especially at that bible of East Coast righteousness the New York Times, have either turned a blind eye to his authoritarian bans on smoking, fatty foods and soda pop, or have cheered them on. Where liberals were often scathing in their attacks on former mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s intemperate policing of Central Park and late-night bars and strip joints, they have raised barely a peep about Bloomberg’s policing of lifestyle.
This rather confirms that there is a stifling conformism today in relation to state intrusions into personal health. Where those who fancy themselves as edgy, state-suspicious liberals are more than happy to lambast old-style authoritarianism, they have little to say about the new-fangled state nudging of the allegedly fat, feckless masses towards lives of thinness and sobriety.
There is a simple answer to the question, though. It is because they are not and never have been liberals. These people are progressives (and that, too, is a word being misused somewhat) and progressives are not the same thing at all. When someone announces to the world with smug self-righteousness that they are a progressive, I’m not sure whether I want to shoot them in the face or put a bullet through my own brain (but that might have something to do with an overdose of Ed Milliband, so I could be getting confused a little here). These people are themselves authoritarians – they merely dislike authoritarianism from those with differing political views, hence their distaste for Giuliani’s zero tolerance regime.
Bloomberg’s health fascism isn’t being castigated as highly illiberal by the liberal establishment because these people applaud it, this is good authoritarianism. This is nice, cuddly leftist authoritarianism. This is authoritarianism for our own benefit – well, the benefit of New Yorkers, anyway (but what they have we get sooner rather than later – and watch out for Big Society nudges in a street near you). They are themselves authoritarians of the worst sort because they believe that it is for our own good, because they, all knowing, all wise, believe that they are best placed to nudge us in the right direction – because it is in our best interests and they know better than we what those best interests are. This, then, is the worst sort of tyranny. They have turned the word “liberal” from its etymological roots; libertas where it means “free” to something so corrupt, so utterly distorted, it is no longer recognisable. A liberal these days is the very antitheses of a liberal in the true, dictionary sense. A liberal these days is a nasty authoritarian.
Which, of course, answers O’Neill’s question. When it comes to nudging, nagging, nannying, cajoling, hassling and bullying, these “liberals” are right up there with Bloomberg and the rest of the nasty little tyrants, cheering them on every time they steal another of New Yorkers’ liberties. Of course they aren’t complaining, they’re loving it.