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Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children Hardcover – September 18, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Denver Post columnist Harsanyi's libertarian opus makes the case that government meddling in private lives demands our full attention. Whether bureaucrats are banning trans fats, trying to reduce drinking or legislating where citizens can smoke, Harsanyi objects. Such regulation, he believes, insults a freeborn citizenry. As he puts it: the five most frightening words in the English language: something needs to be done. Aiming at predictable targets like New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he finds no meddler too insignificant to escape his contempt, including a Dublin, Calif., councilwoman who tried to further tighten the city's antismoking law. Harsanyi also trashes the religious right for trying to legislate morality. But the book would have benefited from more anecdotes and original reporting, instead of incessantly naming overzealous do-gooders. Moreover, Harsanyi barely considers business's role, as these dangerous do-gooders fight fast food and tobacco companies armed with hundreds of millions of marketing dollars. There's not much new, but fellow libertarians may enjoy getting carried away by the flood of Harsanyi's outrage. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

Besieged by do-gooder legislators and activists pushing health, safety, or "family values," Americans have been subjected to bans on everything from trans fats to cookie-scented ads in bus shelters to happy hours. Harsanyi offers a catalog of rules imposed by "Twinkie fascists" and "playground despots" who are micromanaging all manner of bad habits and immorality that threaten to remove from citizens the right to choose how they live their lives. For example, he notes that the Centers for Disease Control has evolved from an agency concerned with infectious diseases to one concerned with overeating. Conceding that one person's idea of government intrusion is another's idea of prudent policy, Harsanyi stakes a claim on common sense as the judge. Laws against illicit drugs and prostitution are good for the public welfare; laws against smoking outdoors are intrusive. This is not just a rant against overzealous legislators but a thoughtful look at how the government is overreaching into everyday life and how Americans are quietly going along with it. An interesting look at freedom and personal responsibility. Bush, Vanessa

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; First Edition edition (September 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767924320
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767924320
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,016,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 81 people found the following review helpful By John on September 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Great book on creeping nannyism in the U.S. The good thing about this book is that it doesn't present the case as being only about the "Left" trying to take our freedoms away (it includes an entire chapter on social conservatives). The book is about all kinds of "busybodies", who have a pet issue that they convince the local government to enforce. It usually is something they don't like and consider a "danger" (smoking, fast food, trans fats, alcohol, etc.).

Examples are of course smoking bans, "zero tolerance" alcohol policies, fun-free playgrounds (where any type of childhood exuberance is not tolerated), skateboarding bans, New York banning transfats, the Christian Right trying to ban pornography, etc.

Always, there is what the author calls a "nanny", who of course thinks they know better than us, what is good for us and society, and who then use police power to enforce this morality. The nanny is basically a puritanical authoritarian who can't tolerate anyone living differently than they do.

I can only say that this book rings very true. Having moved back to the U.S. from Germany, I noticed that even compared to Germany, there are a LOT of laws in the U.S. In Germany, there were also a lot of laws, but people were also much less uptight than Americans about certain things. For instance, it is legal in Germany for people as young as 17 or 16 to drink alcohol. And yet, there are not massive societal problems due to this. If you read and listen to the neo-temperance movement in the U.S., you would think that the world would end if we went back to the 18 drinking age.

Ditto many other things.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Sopranzi on January 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thomas Sowell calls them "the anointed." David Harsanyi calls them "Nannies." They are the paternalistic social engineers who have appointed themselves the guardians of the public good.

This group of elite social engineers have appointed themselves the protectors of the public whom they treat like children. Like children the American public cannot be trusted to manage their own lives and must be protected from their irrational decisions by the Nanny elites, those annointed to protect us.

Each chapter of the book is dedicated to dangers from which we must be protected by our Nannies. The list includes fast food, playground equipment, alcohol, smoking, etc. In their quest to protect us from ourselves, these paternalistic social engineers enact often innnane and insulting regulations designed to relieve us of any personal responsibility for our lives. Not to be deterred by a scarcity of data the Nanny class often resorts to scare tactics, "creative logic," and twisting the facts to suit their arguments.

Many of the Nanny laws described in the book would be funny if they were not real. But they are real laws--real laws that take away our right to make our own descisions, and the responsibility to accept the consequences of our own decisions.

I would have given the book four stars if the author had included more discussion about why the American public seems so willing to be treated as a bunch of incompetents. Eventually children outgrow their Nannies and assume an adult role. But the American public seems willing to give up their adult responsibilities. The Nannies are not taking away our right to make our own decisions. We are willingly surrendering our rights to our new Nannies.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think I discovered that there was a latent Libertarian living inside me after reading this book. Helmet laws, seat-belt laws, smoking laws have always bugged the heck out of me, and this book helped me explore why. This is one of those books that you wish every homeowner's association, city council, statehouse and federal house would read, as it systematically chronicles the good-intentioned road to hell that the anal-retentive control-freaks (he calls them nannies) daily pave. The material is endless, the stories are fascinating, but be warned that the feeling of frustrated anger can be about overwhelming at times as you watch a suburban mom spend time in jail for failing to "click it", or listen to how someone has lost the right to disable a (later proven) harmful airbag in his own car. The nannies have run wild, and the cost has been our liberty, and it is incredibly rewarding to hear someone so eloquently pointing out the process. Hopefully it's the beginning of taking back our country from those who would take away our dodgeball, our tag, and our rights to be as dumb as we want to be as long as it doesn't infringe on someone else.

Again, great reading, well-reasoned analysis, and courage to take on and defend the unpopular in the defense of liberty. Actual doing the job the ACLU claims to do and rarely does.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bernard Chapin on December 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Live free or die. That's just about all you need to say about this subject.If one had any reservation about the effects this new paternalism has had on the American people they would be wise to consult David Harsanyi's Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children. It does not tell the entire story but it certainly shares as many lowlights that can be comfortably digested in a six hour period. The specifics of our "low-grade, feel-good tyranny" never fail to horrify.

Harsanyi effectively depicts the invasive nature of this new dispensation along with how misguided and arbitrary the actions of the nanny state have been. As is always the case, if you want to improve society the worst way to do so is to get the government involved. Regulators and enforcement officers often produce false positives, false negatives, and commit atrocious errors of judgment. This is expected as such failings are intrinsic to every state initiative. Our bureaucracies have always excelled at incompetence ...and they always will.

Harsany asserts that "there is no way to legislate the kid out of kids" but the assumption is disputable. The jackboot of the state can deaden a child's spirit and stultify his imagination which is something nanny staters have been highly effective at doing. Some Ohio municipalities even require the acquisition of a Halloween license before one can go out and trick-or-treat.

We find too that dodgeball is going the way of the highball. What we once termed rough and tumble play now has a decidedly anti-social connotations. Joyous anarchic enthusiasm is often characterized by the uncharitable words of bullying, victimization, and aggression.
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