Which is more important, freedom in the little things or the greater freedoms? Rousseau of course realised that an authority derived from the 'general will' was far stronger an authority than that of Kings and their tax-collectors. The fight against smoking, for instance, has little to do with health and a great deal to do with establishing a dominant authority. Toqueville was clear as to the importance of the small freedoms; "It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life. For my part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in the great things than in the little ones, if it were possible to be secure of the one without the other".
Justice Brandeis, too, was alert to the dangers that the establishment of such authority brought; "Experience should teach us to be most on guard to protect liberty when the governments' purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachments by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."
But what has brought us to the pass in which our freedoms are so constrained? When did we give away such power over our own lives? Why am I not today permitted to view a cigarette packet on threat of imprisonment? Robert Nisbet wrote of this new despotism some thirty-five years ago;
Nothing seems to have mattered more to such minds as Montesquieu, Turgot, and Burke in Europe and to Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin in the United States than the expansion of freedom in the day-to-day existence of human beings, irrespective of class, occupation, or belief. Hence the elaborate, carefully contrived provisions of constitution or law whereby formal government would be checked, limited, and given root in the smallest possible assemblies of the people.
What we have witnessed, however, in every Western country, and not least in the United States, is the almost incessant growth in power over the lives of human beings-power that is basically the result of the gradual disappearance of all the intermediate institutions which, corning from the predemocratic past, served for a long time to check the kind of authority that almost from the beginning sprang from the new legislative bodies and executives in the modern democracies.
What has in fact happened during the past half century is that the bulk of power in our society, as it affects our intellectual, economic, social, and cultural existences, has become largely invisible, a function of the vast infragovernment composed of bureaucracy's commissions, agencies, and departments in a myriad of areas. And the reason this power is so commonly invisible to the eye is that it lies concealed under the humane purposes that have brought it into existence.
The greatest single revolution of the last century in the political sphere has been the transfer of effective power over human lives from the constitutionally visible offices of government, the nominally sovereign offices, to the vast network that has been brought into being in the name of protection of the people from their exploiters.
You see, Rousseau's idea of freedom had nothing to do with self-determination. It was a common, 'State' freedom, centrally defined, in which everyone had an equal share whether they wanted it or not. Thus I benefit from the common freedom from exploitation by the tobacco companies by being forbidden to view their cigarette packets.
But somehow this feels as similar to slavery as though I were loaded with chains.