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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
When Freedom Isn’t Free
In Britain, compulsory virtue stifles individual liberty.
April 14, 2010

Selected Responses:

Sent by David Moore on 04-15-2010:

Yeah - and those good ol' folks in the civil rights era who didn't want blacks polluting their schools, restaurants, swimming pools and bed and breakfasts should have just been left alone to discriminate as they saw fit.

Sent by [Name withheld] on 04-15-2010:

You can invite whom you like into your own private space, but if you choose to run a business, benefit from the laws that protect businesses, use the tax breaks to write off the cost of your new carpet, and feed yourself on tax deductible bacon & eggs, then you have to abide by the law. Bigotry is bigotry whether tied up in a faith bow or not. It wasn't clear from the media coverage if the proprietors also turn away unmarried straight couples, adulterers, and remarried divorcees.The Bible's not very keen on these either.I guess that if they do then there's always room at the inn.

Sent by Kevin Monk on 04-15-2010:

How refreshing. We need more champions of liberty such as yourself.

To those detractor comments - I can only assume that you've failed to understand Dalrymple's argument.

In my opinion, you shouldn't be able to criminalise someone's beliefs and thoughts, however repugnant you might find them.

Sent by Mark Morgan on 04-15-2010:

Those who point to a history of forced segregation to justify revulsion at the idea of voluntary freedom of association are almost certainly not old enough to remember when segregation was the rule.

If they were, they would also remember that what made segregation so pernicious was that it was written into law and enforced by government- i.e., not voluntary at all. It also took place in the context of many other *laws* that put minorities (especially blacks) at a distinct disadvantage socially, economically, and politically.

Dalrymple has it exactly right. Yielding to others the freedom to make and act on their own moral judgments is a small price to pay for the freedom to make and act on our own.

Sent by gordon woolley on 04-15-2010:

You are usually a beacon of reason and sense, but in this case I fear you have it wrong. Certainly, in our private lives we should be free to take whatever attitudes we like, but the B&B owners did not restrict their attitudes to their private lives; they were providing a public service.

There are many practices and human characteristics which are castigated and condemned in religious texts - fornicators, adulterers, jews for their 'deicide,' heretics and kufr and so on. Should everyone be free to discriminate against those whom we, on whatever grounds, disapprove of? How about if we work for a public service? An emergency service?

Private attitudes should be that - private. In stepping into the public realm you should be prepared to accept public standards of behaviour.

Sent by [Name withheld] on 04-14-2010:

Your excellent column reminded me of a visit a few years
ago that my husband and I made to Key West. We found a
really cute B&B only to be told it was gays only. We were not
offended. We did not feel diminished. We just figured, Okay,
that's the way it is and perhaps everyone is more
comfortable that way.

Sent by Daniel on 04-14-2010:

Remember the days when blacks were refused service in the
same establishments as whites? I suppose that was also the
owners' freedom "to treat with, or to refuse to treat with,
whomever they choose, on any grounds that they choose,
including those that strike others as repellent." You should
be ashamed of yourself. On my end, I see no reason to
continue my subscription to City Journal.

Liberal reformers, who might once have wished to extend the realm of liberty, now wish to restrict it in the name of compulsory political virtue.

There was a perfect recent illustration of this in Britain. An evangelical Christian couple, the Wilkinsons, ran a bed-and-breakfast business in a place called Cookham. They refused a middle-aged homosexual couple, Michael Black and John Morgan, accommodation because they believed that homosexuality was wrong; it is condemned in the Bible.

The spurned couple said that they felt like lepers; moreover, they felt that their legal rights, enshrined in the Equality Act of 2006, which makes it illegal to discriminate in the provision of services on the grounds of “sexual orientation,” had been infringed, and they complained to the police. As yet, no prosecution has followed. But shortly afterward a senior politician, Christopher Grayling, who might be a minister in the next government if David Cameron wins the forthcoming election, said that he thought that the owners of bed-and-breakfasts ought to be allowed to refuse homosexual couples if they so wished.

From the furious denunciation that Grayling’s remarks attracted, you might have thought that he had advocated medieval punishments for homosexuals. Instead, he was merely pointing out that the law as it stands is tyrannical, and that in a free society not everyone will make the same moral judgments. It is a necessary condition of freedom that private citizens should be allowed to treat with, or to refuse to treat with, whomever they choose, on any grounds that they choose, including those that strike others as repellent. Freedom is freedom, not the means by which everyone comes to precisely the same conclusion and conducts himself in precisely the same way.

The depressing, and perhaps sinister, aspect of the public commentary on the case is how largely it has ignored the question of freedom. For liberals, it seems, any trampling on freedom or individual conscience is now justified if it conduces to an end of which they approve. Thus liberalism turns into its opposite, illiberalism.

Messrs. Black and Morgan, who said they felt like lepers and went to the police as a result, condemned themselves out of their own mouths. They said that they had been together for decades, and that this was the first time they had ever experienced what they called “homophobia.” Not only does this suggest that the Equality Act was not, even on the false assumptions of liberals, necessary, but it means that anyone more mature than they would simply have found somewhere else to stay for the night.

Moreover, to waste police time on such a matter in a country with the highest crime rate in the Western world is nothing short of scandalous, a manifestation of the worst kind of inflamed egotism.

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