Monday, June 22, 2009

The enemies of liberty. And peppermints.

A quick post from the British Library...

Among the stack of books I'm working my way through is E. S. P. Haynes's 1923 libertarian tract The Enemies of Liberty, which took aim at a broad range of threats, as he saw it, to traditional freedoms.

It's interesting to see in this period how frequently certain writers contrasted English liberties with their presumed opposites elsewhere, typically in Germany (a reasonably common epithet in this context seems to have been 'Prussianism') or, interestingly, America.

As an appendix to his book, Haynes prints an essay from A.P. Herbert on ‘Prohibition in America’, which he wrote after a sojourn of several weeks enjoying that blessed land's freedoms:

‘The truth is, I fear—and I hope my American friends will forgive the remark—that as a nation they seem to have very little idea of social liberty. They are not so much Puritan as persecuted. Formal political liberty and formal social equality they have ad nauseam, but these are poor substitutes. They seem to like it when an Irish policeman flourishes his club at a gentleman in the street and refers to him as “That Man,” for this shows that all men are equal, and the gentleman is a good as the policeman. But he is not—not by many miles. Anyone who shouts loud enough for a long time will put the gentleman in his place—and he seems to enjoy it. For he has no King and no titled aristocracy, and he flatters himself he is a sturdy, independent fellow, standing no nonsense. But in fact I found him a little cowed, with the habit of being dragooned and bullied and sitting down under it—under the policeman, the Press, the politicians, the literary critics, his wife, the Irish, the Middle-West, and any kind of tom-fool League or organisation that has the energy, cash and Publicity organisation to spread it abroad day and night, for years together, that black is white, or peppermints bad for the soul.’

Herbert, 'Prohibition in America', printed in Haynes, The Enemies of Liberty (1923), 179-80.

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