Friday, September 17, 2004

Hunting

The hunting debacle continues, and raises issues at the heart of classical liberalism, and any political belief system that is serious about freedom in any meaningful sense - pluralism.

Not liking something is not sufficient reason for prohibition.
Being in the majority is not sufficient mandate for prohibition.
Political belief systems that do not, however loosely, conform to these principles are fundamentally illiberal. That is a bad thing.

If being one of a number of people (who happen to form a majority in a given geographical area) who dislike something (hunting...) were sufficient, we would have all sorts of frankly stupid populist policies. For example, spurred on by Green hysteria, the public would probably ban most forms of modern technology. This is an unavoidable part of the fiction of the democratic consent of the people, but it can be mitigated by respecting pluralism.

I take this to be one of the points Mark Steyn makes in The Telegraph:
For all the talk of vibrant "multi-culturalism", Blair's Britain is strikingly unicultural - diversity of race, gender and orientation, but a ruthless homogeneity of metropolitan modishness imposed by a highly centralised politico-media culture. America is a federal state and thus local majorities prevail: in New Hampshire, we like hunting; in the gay environs of Fire Island, the thrill of the chase lies elsewhere. Each, as I said, to his own.
In Britain, Soho's views on hunting should be no more relevant than Somerset's opinion of gay leather bars. But they are. And those Left-wing columnists who go on about the "climate of fear" in Bush's America ought to remember that, even in their wildest power-crazed dreams, Bush and John Ashcroft will never be able to issue a national ban on centuries-old traditions merely because they offend metropolitan taste.

In The Times, Anatole Kaletsky makes a similar point:
Why, then, do opponents of hunting feel so passionately about saving foxes, but do not worry about the suffering of fish, cows and sheep? Why do many of the same activists attack women wearing mink or sable, but do not give a damn about leather shoes? The difference is not about morality but about class and tribe. Hunting, like fur, is identified with the rich and the toffs. Fishing, like leather and hamburgers, is an indulgence of the urban working class.
While it has not been in the interest of either side to acknowledge the class origins of the struggle over hunting, this nasty reality is going to emerge with a vengeance in the coming months. Viewed in isolation, the poll tax was also a small and eccentric issue. But it sparked a wave of protest which helped to bring down Margaret Thatcher because it seemed to condense in one symbol the injustice and arrogance of Thatcherism, which the country had started to hate.


Thus, there is the procedural point: Why should one group of people be able to tell another what to do?

Furthermore, there are the substantive points, that banning hunting is inconsistent because other forms of worse animal abuse are tolerated, and also, that banning hunting would not increase the welfare of the average fox (see here).

Put these together and you have a policy that is wrong in every meaningful sense, and illustrates one of the main fallacies of democracy: that majoritarian decision making confers legitimacy..

Lastly, should the thousands of soon to be criminals (hunters and associates) continue to protest? Do they have a duty to consent to the law if they consider it a bad law? This touches on legal areas I am not qualified to comment on, but given that all governments rest solely on consent (see David Hume and Etienne De La Boetie on this), and for it to be meaningful, consent must be voluntary and unanimous, the more important question is, why should they not protest and disobey?
The rural affairs minister is quoted as saying: If you don't like this, don't vote for us.
Presumably, the protesters don't like the ban, and won't vote for Labour (and didn't), so what now? The minister's argument is therefore entirely empty. I am not suggesting that unanimous governance is possible or even desirable, but simply that for consent to be meaningful, there must be the ability to dissent. Perhaps the minister is suggesting a new form of democracy: you only get the policies you vote for. Unfortunately, I don't think so.

UPDATE:
Once you get past the toff-bashing, you find that even Polly Toynbee thinks the situation is a preposterous waste of political energy.

Stephen Pollard, despite being against the ban, confuses majoritarianism with legitimacy:
The people have spoken in both 1997 and 2001 and returned landslide Labour majorities and a government pledged to allow a vote. All that has happened is that MPs have now had that vote.
The fox hunting lobby has lost. Sure, they have every right to campaign to have the soon-to-be-law reversed, just as any group can seek to persuade the rest of us of the need for a change in policy. But there is no justification, either moral or legal, for their current behaviour and support for violent tactics.

He is correct to state that nothing unusual is going on regarding parliamentary procedure and law-making (and I agree with some of his sentiments on the political economy of the countryside) but this is beside the point.

Why should the hunters not protest? Democracy ought to be more than inter-class/group bashing: oh well, today I lost these liberties due to the lobbying of these groups, but it's ok, because next week, I'll take some of their liberties from them. This is the road to ruin on which we travel.

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