"Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest." ~ John Stuart Mill
I Despair of My Fellow British People
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What has happened to the proud, free, self-confident people who fought off the fascists in WW2? Once the war had finished, the British people forced the State, which had insinuated itself into so much of life as part of the war effort, to retract. Resistance to conscription rose, identity cards, and the legislation that went with them was increasingly seen as onerous, and food rationing was slowly lifted.
Of course, in the way of States everywhere, these things, so easily and quickly introduced, took many years to be abolished. Conscription (called 'National Service' in the UK ) lingered until 1960, steadily more pointless and irrelevant, its sole function in the end being to give teenagers something to rebel against, and respect to them for doing so.
ID cards were finally abolished in 1952, following a court case (Willcock v. Muckle (1951, 49 LGR 584)) in which the judge sided with a member of the public who refused to produce his card for a policeman. Famously, the judge attacked the police in his summing up, saying "Because the police have powers, it does not follow that they ought to exercise them on all occasions as a matter of routine. From what we have been told it is obvious that the police now, as a matter of routine, demand the production of a National Registration Card whenever they stop or interrogate a motorist for whatever cause . . . This Act was passed for security purposes: it was never intended for the purposes for which it is now being used." Does this sound familiar? It should.
My favourite example of the tenacity of those who would impose government diktat on every aspect of everyday life, food rationing was finally abolished in 1954. Nine years after the war finished, it went on for longer than the war itself. Necessary during the war and the immediate aftermath, the 'Civil' 'Servants' who ran the scheme obviously could not bear to have their fingers pried from the shopping baskets of the nation.
Sadly, the lessons of those times seem to have been utterly forgotten, other than by the State. The British Government spews forth regulation after regulation controlling this, licensing that and forbidding the other (fortunately not, for those familiar with British idiom); it is now illegal to move a power socket without a piece of paper from a bureaucrat, woe betide he who puts up a light fitting in his bathroom or composts horse manure or, soon to be introduced, wants a hot bath (bath taps [faucets] are to be mandatorily thermostatically controlled in order to reduce incidents of scalding).
And now, the example of 'Willcock v. Muckle' long forgotten, ID cards are to be reintroduced. The functionality is already creeping beyond the original 'entitlement' card, and they have not even been introduced yet ' which bit of 'it was never intended for the purposes for which it is now being used' is it that people do not understand?
What surprises and saddens me about these and so many other similar examples is not that the government seeks to control, restrain, forbid, tax and license, that is after all what States do, but that the British people put up with it. And not only put up with it, but welcome these strictures with open arms. 'If it saves only one life' they say. 'The innocent have nothing to fear,' they parrot. Apparently 74% of the British public are in favour of ID cards. Why? Do they actually believe the mendacious nonsense that the politicians tell them? They don't on other topics, so why this?
What has happened in the intervening years between the British shrugging off wartime regulation and today's compliant populace? Where has the spirit of independence, of self-reliance, of telling bureaucrats 'where to get off' gone? When I try to debate these issues with non-libertarian acquaintances, it seems that we have so little common ground that they may well be from Mars. Or more likely, that I am, since I am apparently the one with the 'wacko' views.
I don't really know the answers to these questions, but I despair of my fellow British people, I really do.