Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Monday, May 16, 2005
The Guardian repudiates the Nanny State. In this leading article, "The Limits of Politics", the Guardian is referring to the recent banning of "hoodies" and baseball caps by Bluewater shopping centre, which for some reason the government felt compelled to comment upon.
But in 10 years of raising the issue, we are no closer to seeing a bigger picture, or solutions that involve anything more than crackdowns, anti-social behaviour orders, or more police out on the beat. Not that the opposition parties have been any better on the subject: the Liberal Democrats recently changed its tack on Asbos and dispersal orders, while the Conservatives had their micro-policies aimed at yobs. In all cases the politicians' reflex is to take actions that they think will influence the tide of society.

But the policies of both government and opposition combined fail to approach the central truth regarding mutual respect: that there is very little any administration can usefully do. Politeness cannot be legislated. Social capital is something that is built and dissolved over generations, a rather longer term than the span of parliaments. Yet that does not mean that genuine issues cannot be identified and dealt with - and it is certainly neither useful nor correct to say in response that public outcries and media scares are always overblown.

What can politicians do in the face of genuine shifts in cohesion and cooperation? In reality, very little. In fact, politicians are not always the best placed to provide answers. The underlying issues are frequently too complex and do not lend themselves to setting targets or crackdowns.

Now they tell us.

It would have been nice if the Guardian had discovered the wisdom of limited government earlier. Like, say, 1945. As it is the leader writer has had his or her epiphany about the wrong subject. There may be indeed be little that politicians can do to actively legislate for civic virtue but there are enormous harms that politicians could stop doing. They could stop paying people to raise their children without virtue, social skills, chance of employment, or fathers. These "genuine shifts in cohesion and cooperation" the editorialist writes about did not arise from an inauspicious conjunction of the stars. If there is one insight (actually there are several) I owe to my time as a socialist it is that bad states of society are not unalterable. How the old-time socialists would have despised the Guardian today, as it sighs like a medieval peasant woman paying to grind her corn at the Lord's mill: "It's just he way things are. There's nothing the likes of us can do." The only problem is that the present weakness of civic society largely arises from the very measures those old-time socialists enacted with such determination. Admitting that and beginning the process of reversal is very painful but it is not complex. The pretence that it is complex is usually just an excuse to avoid the admission.

As for the ban itself, fine, if that's what Bluewater thinks will make the majority of its customers happy. Why shouldn't it operate a dress code? Lots of pubs and clubs already do. If you don't like the code, shop elsewhere. Bluewater will keep it if it works and drop it if it doesn't.