Monday, March 14, 2011

Peter Hitchens Elaborates on Prohibition

In Defence of Prohibition - and other matters

People who call themselves 'Libertarians' are of course welcome to take this position, and say that nobody has the right to interfere in such choices. But they can only do so, in my view, because the huge temperance campaigns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries actually greatly reduced drinking in this country, helped by Lloyd George's clever use of World War One as a pretext to bring in the wise and effective licensing laws which did so much to reduce the menace of drunkenness in Britain in the 20th century. I'm told this was only a problem with seaports. Well, I doubt it, but even if true, look at a map and see how many of our great cities fit that description. Interestingly temperance is still a major issue in works of fiction written in 1932 ('South Riding') and 1959 ('No Love for Johnnie'). In the former, a corrupt and presumably Labour councillor is a Methodist lay preacher and temperance advocate (who secretly drinks when away from his home area and unrecognised) . In the latter, an ambitious but frustrated Labour MP breaks a huge taboo and risks offending many of his voters by taking his first drink, a step which turns out to lead him on to general failure.

I don't think they really understand just how devastating unrestricted drinking is in the lives of poor people, though I think we are soon going to find out.

They have also swallowed whole John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty' as if it offered a definitive answer on a question which must surely always be very carefully shaded.

Hence the silly false parallels that are sometimes made, suggesting that there is no difference in principle between telling someone what to think (the case of the Johns) and stopping someone doing himself physical or mental damage, damage which will also ruin the lives of others.

What principle is this, actually?

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