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Bullying Civil Society

Main St. Agenda by from National Review, November 29, 2013

Kimberley Strassel has a fine piece in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighting a senseless, absurd assault on piano teachers by the Obama administration’s Federal Trade Commission. It is yet another example of this administration, which talks so much about the evils of bullying, being so adept at the practice of bullying.

But Strassel’s piece is important not just because it highlights an isolated injustice—of the type that’s no doubt being repeated at the expense of other Americans in nearly countless, less-publicized stories from coast to coast—but because of the larger point at which it hints. To simplify only slightly, Alexis de Tocqueville said that we are either going to be a nation of voluntary civil associations or a nation of centralized federal power.  The latter gains ground at the expense of the former, and vice versa. President Obama need not ever have read or digested Tocqueville (or the Federalist, or Lincoln’s great speeches) to sense the truth of the prescient Frenchman’s contention: Private civil associations are in tension with, and are a threat to, overarching federal control.

Yuval Levin has written a lot on this, Senator Mike Lee has regularly made mention of it in his speeches, and it needs to be a big part of the conservative and/or Republican message going forward. Those who frame the choice as being between isolated individualism and big-government control are, to borrow a favorite phrase of this president, offering “a false choice.” The real choice is between America’s being a nation of voluntary civil associations—formed, joined, and run by free men and women—or being a nation of consolidated and centralized power, often wielded at the expense of those associations and of their members’ liberty.

© 2013 by National Review, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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