The American love affair with the automobile provides many lessons in freedom. Thirty years ago B. Bruce-Biggs devoted a book to The War Against the Automobile. In his chapter on the highway system, Bruce-Biggs noted that the one can go almost anywhere in the United States via highway. “If the preferred route is blocked or congested by some failure or by heavy traffic, you can select an alternate route,” Bruce-Biggs wrote:
In theory, as well as in practice, the number of routes between any two points in the United States approaches infinity. In selecting a route, you are not committed in advance — you can change your mind. Furthermore, you may elect to make several stops along the way. In other words, you have control over your own mobility — this is the clincher. There are few things in our society, and fewer with each passing year, that offer us so much individual freedom.
Thus the war on the automobile involving much of the same crowd that seeks to take control of the American health care system.
In writing about the automobile, P.J. O’Rourke has taken the baton from Bruce-Biggs. O’Rourke published his most famous essay in the genre in 1977. In the late ’70’s or early 80’s, I believe, O’Rourke began writing about cars for Car and Driver and Automobile. O’Rourke collected a few of his automotive pieces in 1995’s Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut.
O’Rourke’s recently published Driving Like Crazy ranges over the entirety of his automotive journalism of the past 30 years to cull the highlights. My favorite O’Rourke essay on automobiles remains (I think) uncollected. It is a piece he wrote for Car and Driver on the Yugo.
When Driving Like Crazy was published this summer, O’Rourke sat down for a terrific interview with Reason.tv”s Ted Balaker at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles (video below). Topics include: bailouts, who ruined the U.S. auto industry, politicians’ love affair with trains, how easy women made O’Rourke a youthful socialist and how getting a paycheck turned him into a libertarian.
Car and Driver‘s review of O’Rourke’s book has only one criticism, in my view unjustified. “Driving Like Crazy is funny, all of it,” the reviewer allows, “aside from some gratuitous shots at Barack Obama, whose goal, O’Rourke reckons, is to relieve all Americans of their car keys.”