The Corner

Regulatory Despotism

Pierre Lemieux is a libertarian Quebecer, which makes him a member of what may be North America’s least electorally significant minority. He’s a gun owner, and a couple of years back he was obliged to fill in the relevant government paperwork:

Before renewing his gun permit in 2007, the authorities decided to inquire into Lemieux’s bedroom history. Did he divorce anyone in the last two years? Did he break up with a girlfriend? If yes, use a separate sheet to explain.

Pardon me? Explain?

Well, it was nothing personal. Apparently, Canada’s government feels it ought to know the romantic status of all firearm owners.

The Government of Canada has modified the old Mae West line: If you want a pistol in your pocket, you’d better be pleased to see her. Like any self-respecting citizen (if you’ll forgive the expression), M. Lemieux told the government to take a hike, and for good measure explained his reasons to the prime minister:

“You will note that, as a proud descendant of the disobedient French Canadian coureurs de bois,” he wrote, “I have not answered one of the [permit renewal] form’s indiscreet and obscene questions. I answered that my love affairs are none of your business.”

Needless to say, the government declined to issue his permit, and he’s now taking them to court for the next five-to-ten years.

No elected politicians passed a law in any legislature mandating that would-be gun-owners explain why they bust up with their sweethearts. But some no-name official somewhere in the permanent bureaucracy did, and that’s that. Two centuries ago, Tocqueville wrote:

There was a time in Europe in which the law, as well as the consent of the people, clothed kings with a power almost without limits. But almost never did it happen that they made use of it.

True. The king was an absolute tyrant — in theory. But in practice he was in his palace hundreds of miles away, and for the most part you got on with your life relatively undisturbed. As Tocqueville wrote:

Although the entire government of the empire was concentrated in the hands of the emperor alone, and although he remained, in time of need, the arbiter of all things, the details of social life and of individual existence ordinarily escaped his control.

But what would happen, he wondered, if administrative capability were to evolve to make it possible “to subject all of his subjects to the details of a uniform set of regulations”? That moment has now arrived in much of the western world, including America.

The proper response of free men to the trivial but degrading impositions of the state is to answer as Pierre Lemieux did. But it requires a kind of 24/7 tenacity few can muster — and the machinery of bureaucracy barely pauses to scoff: In an age of mass communication and computer records, the screen blips for the merest nano-second, and your gun rights disappear. The remorseless, incremental annexation of “individual existence” by technologically all-pervasive micro-regulation is a profound threat to free peoples. But do we have the will to resist it?

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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