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The Fascism of Virginia’s Smoking Ban

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The Washington Post carried a nostalgic article about Virginia’s state-wide smoking ban, which just went into effect. The article reminded people of Virginia’s long heritage of tobacco growing.

Not surprisingly, however, the Post failed to mention a far more important legacy of Virginia that has been rejected by the smoking ban — the legacy of individual liberty.

After all, don’t forget: this is the state of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution, and George Washington, father of our country, as well as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and many others.

Jefferson pointed out in the Declaration that people’s rights are inherent and fundamental. They don’t come from government. They come from nature and God and, thus, preexist government. Such rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Or as John Locke, the English philosopher from whom Jefferson drew his inspiration, enumerated such rights: life, liberty, and property.

Liberty entails the right to live your life any way you choose, so long as you don’t initiate force or fraud against another person.

As part of the economic aspects of liberty, you have the natural, God-given right to sustain your life through labor, to pursue any occupation or profession you wish, to engage in economic exchanges with others, and to accumulate unlimited amount of wealth and property.

And you don’t legitimately need the state’s permission or approval to exercise such natural, God-given rights. As the Declaration also pointed out, government is merely a servant whose job is to protect the exercise of such rights.

How does economic liberty pertain to Virginia’s state-wide smoking ban?

Economic liberty includes the right to run your business any way you want, again so long as you’re not trespassing on the rights of others.

A restaurant belongs to the owner, not to the state and not to society. As such, the owner has the right to run it any way he chooses. If he wishes to permit smoking in his establishment, that is his right. That’s what ownership is all about.

What about the adverse effects of second-hand smoke? Don’t they constitute an assault on the rights of people who eat in the restaurant?

No. Because people are not forced to patronize the restaurant. If they object to the restaurant’s policy of allowing smoking, they have a remedy: stay away. They don’t have the right to force their wishes and preferences onto the owner of the restaurant.

By the same token, the restaurant owner has no right to force people to patronize his restaurant. If he loses customers as a result of his smoking policy, he bears the responsibility.

In a free society, some restaurants permit smoking. Others ban smoking. Still others have smoking areas and non-smoking areas. Consumers are free to decide which restaurants they wish to patronize and not patronize. No one is forced to submit to anyone else’s preferences. That’s what individual liberty and free markets are all about. That’s what the Declaration of Independence was all about.

Alas, modern-day Virginia politicians think differently. They think that freedom and free enterprise entail government control over private property.

Now, it’s true that they they’re not (yet) calling for government ownership and operation of restaurants, as they do with liquor stores here in Virginia, but their mind-set is really no different in principle than that of the standard socialist.

A socialist would call for a state takeover of the restaurant business, much as President Obama has had the federal government take over the automobile industry.

Modern-day Virginia politicians say: Let’s leave businesses in private hands but have the state control their operations. It’s an economic philosophy that economists call fascism.

How ironic. If Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and the other Founding Fathers were alive today, they would find the economic philosophy of their modern-day statist successors to be downright revolting.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.