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Harsh liberalism

Jock Coats has a very good article up on what he calls the "neo-puritans" - those who would roll back relaxation of the cannabis laws, twenty-four hour drinking and so on.

On drugs, Ming and Clegg should speak out right now, while the issue is to the fore, about our own party policy for decriminalization and social supply of cannabis and a full commission on the best way to handle all drugs in future.

We know that up to 80% of property crime at least in some places is related to the illegal drugs industry. We can wipe that out almost entirely almost instantly, and save billions - perhaps the equivalent of a fifth of the public sector budget.

With the savings we can be harsher on people who use their new freedoms to harm others.

Which is the crux of the matter of course. When Joe Public sees people fighting and puking in the streets at two in the morning, or selling drugs of streetcorners, his natural reaction is that twenty-four hour drinking is a nonsense. He wants to see the status quo ante restored and views any argument to the contrary as, well, liberalism gone mad. So when Jock says that we can be "harsher" on people who abuse their new freedoms, he's right, but this point needs to be expanded. The whole argument will be shot down in flames unless it is explained to people why it will be safe to go out on the streets at night after the repeal of the drugs laws. What exactly is the proposal for dealing with drunken yobs? Why will drugs not be sold at my childrens' school gates?

Personally, I would be in favour of corporal punishment, something that Chris Dillow argued for recently. I would have thought the reintroduction of the birch or the stocks would concentrate even the dullest minds among drunks and drug peddlers, and it would certainly reassure people that a liberal approach was not the same as anarchy.

Harsh punishment for people who abuse their freedoms is probably a necessary condition for a free society. We can have puritanism and soft punishments, or freedom and harsh ones. Proper liberals need to demonstrate that they understand this. Until they do they will be written off as "woolly liberals" by society at large. 

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Reader Comments (4)

If a society is reluctant to enforce its laws with vigour, it is a sure sign that it has too many.
Jul 20, 2007 at 7:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterTom Paine
I did think about how Singapore, for example, keeps the peace when I wrote that. Of course their liberties are also very much more circumscribed, but you don't get to hear of too many people abusing the freedoms they do have.

And since the focus of such harsher action is on people who would do violent harm to others once they have had their fill of loopy-juice or whatever, it does seem appropriate that the punishment fit that type of crime!
Jul 20, 2007 at 8:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterJock
Why on earth would anyone suppose that liberals (big or small 'l') would be capable of enforcing harsh penalties on people who have transgressed whilst imbibing the sort of potentially harmful substances that they, the liberals, have just decriminalised?
Jul 20, 2007 at 5:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Duff
Well, given that people don't believe a word politicians of any persuasion say, that's probably not a decisive issue!

Off the top of my head, one could always introduce the new punishment regime first.
Jul 20, 2007 at 5:42 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

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