At war, Britons can be trusted to do the right thing –

Posted: March 22, 2020 at 1:44 am

Today, it is clearly being told not to go to the pub, as the Prime Ministers father has demonstrated. Perhaps, following Stanley Johnsons example, we shall soon start drifting back, just as people in 1940 soon stopped carrying their compulsory gas masks.

Although voluntary acceptance of unpleasant necessity is indispensable because the states power is limited, it is rarely if ever enough, or not for long. It has been pointed out that Boris Johnson is a natural liberal, even a libertarian, who is reticent to tell people what to do. However, in moments of genuine crisis, such instincts have had to be supplanted. Regulation and compulsion become necessary to back up voluntary action not to contradict it, but to supplement it. The best example in wartime is military service.

Until 1916, Britain relied on volunteers. But when volunteers dried up, conscription was accepted as necessary, not least because the families of volunteers wanted all other families to share the burden. I am proud of the fact that the Government today has begun by appealing to our sense of public spirit, and did not immediately turn to compulsion.

Perhaps the French are different: one French epidemiologist believes that they find it very difficult psychologically to accept social distancing, and certainly Macrons early appeals were ignored. Nevertheless, our own national tradition is not simply one of unfettered libertarianism. Even in the 19th century, when every Englishmans home was his castle, local health authorities had far more powers to interfere than anywhere on the Continent. There, troops were deployed to enforce mass quarantines; here, the sanitary inspector came to call.

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At war, Britons can be trusted to do the right thing -

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