Halloween Cancelled in the North East?

November 1, 2011

Political Theory


Halloween is an annual holiday that many citizens have a difficult time outgrowing. Driving around campus this past week as early as Tuesday night, college aged students were all dressed up in costumes. Ann Arbor truly got into the Halloween spirit, as did

Snowy scene in the Northeast

other universities around the country; with that being said it becomes fairly obvious that Halloween is a “fan favorite” and an event that people of all ages look forward to every year.  As a result, the events that occurred in the Northeast are especially troubling and maybe even immoral.

In a plethora of municipalities across the northeast, Halloween has been cancelled! How could this happen? In Summit New Jersey, Halloween activities have been postponed due to in-climate weather, power outages, and fallen power lines. At this juncture I think it is should be mentioned that the municipalities have a responsibility to their citizens to look out for their safety and the downed power lines and in-climate weather could present unsafe conditions for young trick-or-treaters. As already noted, Halloween is a very popular holiday with young children and many first hand accounts of disappointed children can be seen in this article.

While it is understandable in this example that the municipalities are looking out for their citizens safety, do they really have the right to postpone or even cancel the national holiday? Despite the humor in this example and the fact that the local governments are doing everything they can to fix the situation to satisfy the young trick-or-treaters, the issue requires examination on a much larger scale. In my mind the subject of governmental power is something that we as a people need to look at and evaluate.

Everyone loves Halloween!

If the government can cancel or postpone a holiday that occurs on an annual basis with such ease, what else can they do with out opposition? Additionally, the government in our country is supposed to be a representation of what the people want, clearly in the case of postponing Halloween it was not what they wanted. Keeping that in mind only strengthens my curiosity about other instances where the government could abuse their power and whether or not they would even think twice.

We can look back to the Patriot Act and the No Fly list, and even president Obama’s most recent college loan plan, which can be viewed more in depth in article 1 and article 2. From the most elementary levels students are taught that each branch of the government is kept in check by the other two branches but with these examples it becomes evident that the governmental branches can essentially do whatever they want. A main point of the Hobbes material we encountered is fear and that the emotion of fear leads people to give up their natural freedoms while agreeing to conform to what the government requires. As trivial as the example may be, what stops the government from canceling halloween in years to come? If they come up with a good enough reason to scare the citizens into believing Halloween could be detrimental; the government could in theory cancel the holiday. More importantly than Halloween, the government could take this on a larger scale and would potentially receive minimal opposition. We could ask ourselves, how far does the power of the state actually extend? In my opinion, the lack of opposition is a scary thought and something that should be considered by all.

As I already stated, the government is supposed to be acting in the best interest of the people but what happens if they stop acting in our best interest? When the government passes acts, does it mean that this is what the people they represent wanted? Hobbes believes that fear of the government will force us to conform to whatever changes they make and in a way he may be right.  When the government does put forth policies like the Patriot Act or the No Fly list there are always radical groups that voice their opinions and protest but does this group ever include the majority of people? Do the opponents of the governments policies ever include prominent public figures or is it just a group of adamant people?

In the end all of this comes down to one question, is the government actually a reflection of what the people want and if not, what do we do about it?

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6 Comments on “Halloween Cancelled in the North East?”

  1. adamskt Says:

    I agree with the idea in this post that the government is, indeed, a powerful entity. It has evolved in such a way that it can cancel a holiday without opposition. However, I think it is this very lack of opposition that is critical to this analysis.

    First of all, the fact that there was no opposition suggests that people, in general, agreed with the actions the government took. The people in the northeast agreed that the weather was dangerous enough to allow for the cancellation of a beloved holiday. Although a small minority may be offended by this, most people understood and accepted. This does admittedly represent a tyranny of the majority, as John Stuart Mill would describe it. However, this tyranny is impossible to completely avoid in practice in a democratic society. For the sake of this argument, the fact that most northeasterners agreed that it was too dangerous to trick-or-treat suffices.

    Second, as there was no opposition, it is difficult to extrapolate this situation out to a scenario in which people do not agree with the government. If people had actively opposed the actions the government took, who knows what they would have done. They could have retracted their statement on the basis of general dispute, or they could have stood their ground. As there is no way to predict exactly what would have been done, I feel that the cancellation of Halloween is not an ideal platform upon which to discuss the powers of the government. A situation in which a group of citizens audibly opposed the actions of the government would be more functional.

    And finally, in this situation, I believe that the fear of death, as Hobbes would describe it, was more related to the inclement and potentially dangerous weather than to any punishment the government could dole out in response to a Halloween celebration. The citizens of the towns in the Northeast feared bodily harm from downed power lines and unsafe weather, not from the government had they not followed their announcement. Overall, the government may or may not have too much power, but the postponement of Halloween is not the best situation in which to discuss it.

  2. cobyj17 Says:

    You mention that the government is supposed to be representative of what the people want. While this is true to an extent, I would argue, however, that one of the principal functions of government is to protect citizens when their interests may lead them to partake in risky actions. For example, I would not contest the idea that the government should require the use of seat belts. Similarly, I feel it is within the reasonable bounds of governmental power to protect children during storms who may otherwise engage in risky behavior.

    There is an important difference between the government saying Halloween is cancelled, and them doing something to enforce it. Halloween is predominantly defined by individual people’s actions. I would agree with your view that government abuses their power if they were forcing people to stay indoors or arresting people in costumes. However, since this doesn’t seem to be the case, the government’s actions can be better classified as a recommendation to the people that they postpone actions associated with the holiday.

    You bring up a good issue of government accountability. It is essential to our democracy that government be responsive to the wills of the people to a certain extent. While elections do keep government somewhat accountable, they may not be frequent enough to exert influence over individual policies. The Occupy Wall Street movement gives us an example of how individuals can influence policy decisions. The movement is no longer a fringe movement, and because of its widespread backing, its putting political pressure on politicians to adress income inequality. If the government tried to cancel Halloween permanently, I think it would cause major unrest and that people would be able to exert legitimate opposition.

  3. Jake Weimar Says:

    The U.S. government is a very powerful institution. Only a powerful organization could cancel a national holiday without any opposition. By canceling this holiday the government showed their legitimacy.

    According to John Locke a government is legitimate if its citizens delegate authority to it. By canceling a holiday without opposition the government demonstrated its legitimacy. The citizens of the north east consented to the government by letting them pass this decision. This is called tactic consent.

    Hobbes another contract theorist would also say the U.S. government was just showing its legitimacy. Hobbes would say the government was just keeping its social contract. According to Hobbes a sovereign is legitimate if it is powerful enough to either kill it people or protect them. The government was fulfilling its contract to the ruled by protecting them and keeping them out of the in-climate weather. The government was showing its legitimacy by having the power to keep its inhabitants safe.

    The government had the right and ability to cancel Halloween. It had the ability by being powerful and legitimate. It had the right to cancel Halloween by fulfilling its social contract and protecting the peoples it rules over.

  4. springsteen1 Says:

    I would agree with the argument that one of the principal functions of government is to protect citizens when their interests may lead them to partake in risky actions. This is also why we have separation of powers and checks and balances, let alone a system of judicial powers at all. I also would not contest the idea that the government should require the use of seat belts. Similarly, I feel it is within the reasonable bounds of governmental power to protect children during storms who may otherwise engage in risky behavior.

    While not risky, marriage is a correlation here. People of radical beliefs (and now we are venturing into opinion, so heads up) think that it is dangerous to see homosexuality on television. I have met and interviewed many of these people; who say that among their reasons for opposing same-sex marriage (besides religious beliefs, etc.)is that their children and future generations should not be exposed to the ‘vulgarity’ that that exposes them too.

    If the government can make marriage sacred, then can it give us all a place in the world to come, too? And if there is a legal “sanctity of marriage” that the government would be interfering with by allowing marriage rights for same-sex couples, then doesn’t that imply government support for some pretty controversial heterosexual marriages?

    I not only agree with the reflection on John Locke, but agree with his point within (mentioned in one or two posts above as well) that is, by canceling a holiday without opposition the government demonstrated its legitimacy. The citizens of the north east consented to the government by letting them pass this decision.

    Great post – great insight. Excellent relation to many other current events / news topics.

  5. shmily4k Says:

    It is true that the government might not be reflecting what the people want, because our desire might not be the same. However, when it comes to the issue of safety, I think the municipalities do have the right to postpone or even cancel the Halloween. As we have mentioned in class, the government’s responsibility is to offer protection to its citizens. In other words, what the government meant in postponing the Halloween in the affected region is to protect the citizens from danger. They are just performing their duties, even though they might not be acting in our best interest. When the government passes acts, I think they are representing the majority’s opinions. This is because for the government to pass an act, they have to get the majority of people to vote “support” for the act. However, there will always be a minority of people who would oppose to the acts. It is impossible to get all of the citizens to agree on a single act. Therefore, the government would not be able to reflect the preferences of all citizens. On the other hand, if the municipalities choose to do whatever they want to without considering the opinions of the public, the citizens should overthrow the political leaders.

  6. Connor Baharozian Says:

    The poster of this states that government is supposed to be a representation of what the people want. Though I partially agree with this, I also think that government is there to protect the people under its jurisdiction. Sometimes government must give us what we need instead of what we want. Often, when what government considers what we need to be different from what the people want, we get objections from citizens. I argue that every decision government makes is not in line with what some people want. By trying to protect its citizens, which I would consider to be a responsibility of government, citizens can see government as paternalistic. As adults, we don’t like being told what to do. By cancelling Halloween, government was attempted to prevent harm done to citizens. Yes, it was an overwhelmingly unpopular decision, but government is there to make these unpopular decisions.
    On Halloween, I called home (Massachusetts) to have my 11 year old sister crying about Halloween being cancelled. At first, I was upset as well, but the more my parents told me about the conditions back home, the more the decision made sense. The conditions described to me were: a foot of snow, 30 mph winds, 3/4 of the town was without power. Even if one person were to get hurt due to the extreme conditions outside, would not cancelling Halloween be worth it? Maybe, but why would government place its people in a risky situation. Also, governments could see that Halloween was not practical due to the weather and specific conditions. They believed that people should have remained safe and indoors. Government was looking out for its people.

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