Arguably Britain's greatest contribution to human civilisation is the "Great Writ" of habeas corpus. In our time, it has been shamefully abrogated. Yet only a few "cranks," "swivel-eyed loons" and "libertarians" care. The free press doesn't give a damn, because its readers care even less. Even a highly-intelligent, legally-qualified university chum I lunched with this week was unaware that there are men in this country held without charge; denied not only the right to a trial, but the right to know why they are detained.
JuliaM's linked article highlights once again just how ignorant our people are of the most basic concepts of liberty. That security guards should take it on themselves to interfere with people photographing Olympic sites from public ground is depressing but unsurprising. That their management and the police should back them is infuriating. Yet are those idiots actually to blame? There was a time when guards, management and policemen would have been disgusted to hear themselves utter such twaddle. There was a time when Englishmen and women on the receiving end of such 'Little Hitler' tactics would have named them as such in robust Anglo-Saxon terms. That time has gone. The English are a dwindled, pale, sickly version of our historic selves. We inhabit the ruins of the people we once were.
I was discussing this over dinner this week with Suboptimal Planet. I found myself advancing this depressing notion in explaining why I don't blog so frequently these days. I used to write enthusiastically in the hope of turning opinion against the politicians attacking civil liberties. I thought they were the problem and could be influenced. My enthusiasm is gone because I no longer blame them. I came back to England to find the country I knew had died. An ignorant, infantilised electorate expects government to act whenever it feels threatened. In the wake of 9/11 and 7/7 the most dangerous mob cry of all went up; "do something!" For the politicans not to change the law would have been seen -stupidly - as siding with the terrorists. Politicians competently using the massive resources they already had to bring terrorists to justice would have been seen as inaction.
If a people can't clearly articulate what they want, politicians should probably ignore them. But for the greater part of the British electorate, thinking about what should be done is simply not their job. They cry like babies for the state to act and expect politicians to respond in some soothing way. The politicians who are to blame are those who created the Welfare State and raised this expectation of protection from cradle to grave. They are, sadly, beyond useful reproach. The current bunch are as helpless as they are hopeless. Perhaps a leader of Thatcher's charisma could turn the tide. But in all our centuries of history we have been blessed with only one of that calibre. We would be very lucky to get another in our lifetime.
In economics there is a doctrine of "moral jeopardy", whereby actors (such as banks) take too much risk precisely because they confidently anticipate being bailed out when things go wrong. Perhaps there is also a political moral jeopardy in the electorate's crazed but confident expectation that, whatever threats materialise, the state will avert them? Perhaps the growth of the welfare state in our country and elsewhere has made electorates themselves the problem?
If the people of a democracy are the issue, however, there can surely be little hope. There may be nothing for the wise to do but quietly stockpile resources useful in times of anarchy and wait for civilisation to collapse under the weight of insane expectation. That's not a cheerful prospect and I would love to hear a better. Tell me, please, how we get from from here to a new birth of freedom.