Harsanyi, David

views updated

Harsanyi, David

PERSONAL:

Born in New York, NY; children: two daughters.

ADDRESSES:

Agent—Sloan Harris, International Creative Management, 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Denver Post, Denver, CO, columnist and editorial board member. Has worked for the Associated Press, New York Daily News, and Major League Baseball (MLB) Advanced Media.

Guest on television networks, including the Cable News Network (CNN), Fox Broadcasting Company (Fox), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (NBC), Microsoft/NBC (MSNBC), and American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC). Guest on television programs, including Fox News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC World News Tonight.

WRITINGS:

Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Dogooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America into a Nation of Children, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals and Web sites, including the Wall Street Journal, Reason, Weekly Standard, National Review, Christian Science Monitor, Toronto Globe & Mail, the Hill, and Sports Illustrated Online. Contributor to Web logs, including PoliticsWest, Huffington Post, and the David Harsanyi Web log.

SIDELIGHTS:

Journalist David Harsanyi, a columnist for the Denver Post and a frequent contributor to numerous other newspapers and magazines, hit a nerve among observers of American culture with his first book, Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Bone-headed Bureaucrats Are Turning America into a Nation of Children. Harsanyi argues that excessive government regulation of personal choice threatens individual freedoms and erodes character. Some critics considered this thesis a welcome tonic for current social ills; others disagreed with some of the book's ideas.

In chapters such as "Twinkie Fascists," "Days of Whine," and "Yahweh (or the Highway)," Harsanyi shows how government intervention has affected such diverse behaviors as food choices, adult use of alcohol, and sex practices. Even normal childhood play, according to Harsanyi, is increasingly subject to regulation, as entities seek to ban behaviors that are considered aggressive, exclusionary, or physically risky. Other perceived dangers from which the public increasingly expects to be protected, he writes, include the "harm" of offensive speech—an issue that challenges U.S. Constitution First Amendment rights.

In an interview for Reason Online with Nick Gillespie, Harsanyi elaborated on some of what the "nanny state" of America has wrought. His young daughters, he said, cannot hurt themselves at the playground even if they tried, because activities such as running and playing tag are banned. Hurt feelings, he added, are avoided by no longer keeping score at children's sports events. Such extreme responses, Harsanyi acknowledges, often begin with good intentions. As he explained to Front Page interviewer Jamie Glazov, advocates "are under the mistaken impression that government can create a superior or healthier or more moral person. Almost always they are motivated by good intentions and Utopian idealism. But as C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.’"

Harsanyi's parents defected from communist Hungary in 1969. He explained to Glazov that his parents helped instill in him the deep importance of personal freedom. While he believes it is the government's proper role to protect citizens, in matters of individual choice, he said, the government should act with caution. "It should provide transparency and it can even try to convince citizens to act in a healthy and safe manner," he said. "But the line should be drawn between convincing and coercion." As for attempts to protect individuals or groups from the perceived harm of offensive speech, Harsanyi told Glazov: "Allowing and even encouraging ‘offensive’ ideas is vital for the intellectual health of a free society…. There is a difference between condemning the repugnant … and advocating that government protect us from the repugnant. That's the distinction between a nanny and an active citizen."

In a review of Nanny State for Disposable Lit Reviews, Nathan Shumate noted that the organization of Harsanyi's book "shows that he's not just on a rant against the left end of the [political] spectrum, as the right [end] appears fully as capable of regulating" citizens' lives. Shumate suggested several questions the book could have raised, including different levels of government protection for children versus adults; the proper balance between regulation and freedom; and the appropriate balance between government protection and individual responsibility. Noting that Harsanyi does not discuss these matters in much depth, Shumate concluded that "Nanny State is half of a thought-provoking book; unfortunately, it's the ‘raw data’ half of that book, leaving the exploration of hard questions as yet unwritten."

Booklist contributor Vanessa Bush, by contrast, described Nanny State as a "thoughtful look at how the government is overreaching" into the personal choices of its citizens, and called it an "interesting look at freedom and personal responsibility." Gillespie praised the book's "encyclopedic detail," broad scope, and engaging prose.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, August 1, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Dogooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Bone-headed Bureaucrats Are Turning America into a Nation of Children, p. 19.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2007, review of Nanny State.

Publishers Weekly, July 23, 2007, review of Nanny State, p. 60.

ONLINE

David Harsanyi Home Page,http://www.davidharsanyi.com (July 18, 2008).

Disposable Lit Reviews,http://lit.coldfusionvideo.com/ (July 18, 2008), Nathan Shumate, review of Nanny State.

Front Page Online,http://frontpagemag.com/ (July 18, 2008), Jamie Glazov, author interview.

Nanny State Web site,http://www.nannystatebook.com (July 18, 2008).

Reason Online,http://www.reason.com/ (July 18, 2008), Nick Gillespie, author interview.