Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Freedom Then, and Now

Here's something to think on:

Until August 1914, a sensible law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. . .

* * *

Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale. . .or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. The state intervened to prevent the citizen from eating adulterated food or contracting certain infectious diseases. It imposed safety rules in factories, and prevented women, and adult males in some industries, from working excessive hours. . .Expenditure on the social services had roughly doubled since the Liberals took office in 1905. Still broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.

(A.J.P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, (Ed. Sir. George Clark, Oxford Univ. Press, paperback, 1992) at 1.

Now, just who lives, or lived, in what the Founders of our republic might have called a free country? Pre-1914 Britons in a limited monarchy where relatively few people could vote; or modern Americans in our 2009 land of universal suffrage, civil rights for every hyphen-group imagined or imaginable, global warming legislation, border controls, passports, v-chips, the internet, drinking age regulations, prolix statutes and regulations on jaywalking, the layout of parking lots, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the FBI, CIA and the IRS?
Food for thought.

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