We're not only in danger of losing our liberties, we're losing the culture of liberty. Three recent pieces make me think this.
1. Simon Heffer claims to be a "committed libertarian" but then says casinos "for the masses" are a "preventable evil" that will lead to drug use and prostitution.
But this is a contradiction. The case for liberty is that, as John Stuart Mill said, "over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." This means the state has no business stopping a man gambling his money away, or taking drugs or using prostitutes (assuming women have entered that noble profession voluntarily.) Even if there are adverse social consequences of such actions, the solution is not to ban them, but perhaps to tax them, to internalize the externality.
Of course, you might disagree with this. But you cannot do so whilst calling yourself a libertarian. That's just a perversion of language.
2. Mick Hume rightly attributes the governments proposals to curb pub opening laws to the fact that:
Ministers agree, with the anti-booze and anti-gambling crusaders, that we are all basically weak-willed, vulnerable victims-in-waiting, just a binge or a bet away from addiction; suckers waiting to get hooked like those smokers in the adverts.
This raises two questions. First, even if you subscribe to this view, why does it justify restricting freedom? What's wrong with Mill's principle?:
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him.
Second, is the premise that we are weak-willed suckers valid? Since Mill's declaration
for liberty we've had a century and half of the Flynn effect and tens
of billions spent on education. Shouldn't all this mean individuals are better judges of their interests than Mill presumed.
3. Motorists' Voice, is David Aaronovitch says, an expression of middle-class self-pity. What it fails to see is that driving is an other-regarding act which imposes harm - congestion, pollution and inconvenience - upon others. It's entirely legitimate for the state to tax these harms to internalize them; you can of course object to how this is done but the issue is merely one of empirics, not principle.
That there can be such a powerful pressure group defending a non-existent "right" to engage in unrestrained other-regarding actions, whilst there are no equivalently influential groups pressing the legitimate rights of drug or prostitute-users suggests that Britons just don't grasp the basic distinction between self- and other-regarding acts.
So, isn't it time for a backlash against this erosion of the culture of liberty? Shouldn't we be louder about the following principles:
1. Adverse social effects - even if they can be established - are insufficient reason for banning an activity.
2. The fact that an activity is disatasteful is irrelevant. I think rugby union, Tottenham fans and public schoolboys are distasteful, but I don't really want them banned.
3. Libertarianism is not the defence of privilege.
4. People are the least bad judges of what's best for them.
5. There is a (rough) distinction between self- and other-regarding acts.