Governments and bureaucracies are bigger and more controlling than ever. A citizen's own ability to control his or her own life has never been less than it has today. How did we get to this point? Jim Bovard, bestselling author of Lost Rights, looks at the development of the State into a behemoth that threatens to destroy the individual at the cost of preserving the idea of "statism"--the belief that government is inherently superior to the citizenry, that progress consists of extending the realm of governmental compulsion, and that vesting more arbitrary power in government officials will eventually make citizens happy. Reading through the history of the state and its war on the citizen, Bovard looks at thinkers as diverse as John Locke, Etienne de la Boetie, James Madison, and Bernard Bosanquet among others. He explores the original version of the idea of the state, the development of the welfare state, the progress of the state's judicial system from the original province of the courts into the lives of men and women and the ultimate fraud that is perpetrated as the state's benevolence. Controversial and essential reading in these times of the Leviathan state, Freedom in Chains is must reading for everyone who took Jim Bovard's Lost Rights to heart as well as anyone trying to understand how far we've come from our eighteenth century roots as a community of impassioned patriots to our sorry positions as wards of the state at the end of the 20th century.
Bovard (Lost Rights) throws more red meat to angry libertarians in this antigovernment jeremiad. While he provides some frightening examples of how governments--mostly the U.S. federal--do more harm than good, his passion leads him to some hyperbolic conclusions. There are many passages that will make readers--not only welfare-state liberals but also moderate Democrats and Republicans--wonder whether they live in the same country as Bovard. One of his biggest targets is the notion of state sovereignty: "The doctrine of `sovereignty' often does nothing more than provide a respectable gloss for some people's lust to control other people's behaviors, or to seize the fruits of other people's labor." That last clause is telling, for it could just as well be turned against Bovard. It is precisely to stop nongovernmental entities (e.g., factory owners) from seizing the fruit of other people's labor (e.g., factory workers) that so many of the regulations and laws Bovard decries (e.g., a minimum wage or corporate taxes) were instituted. But Bovard is well-read and makes entertaining use of Rousseau, Hegel, Hobbes (he's very fond of Leviathan) and other thinkers. He's also consistent and intellectually honest enough to follow his own ideology to its logical conclusion about, for instance, marijuana (legalize it, he says). Few readers will agree with Bovard that the dominant spirit in America today is one that idolizes the state, but most will find that he makes a rousing theoretical case against statism.