Foxhunters paying price of populist prejudice

ALTHOUGH I am no fan of foxhunting, I think that most of the arguments of the pros make at least some sense, while the views of the antis amount to little more than various versions of "I don’t like it".

In countering this, the pros have made surprisingly little use of extremely important general arguments that we owe to the notably anti-totalitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, which comprise essential elements of liberal democracy. He famously said: "The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant." (On Liberty, 1859).

Elsewhere, he made clear that the harm had to be real: revulsion or class prejudice are not enough. These concepts underlie his concerns about the dangers of a dictatorship of the majority in a putative democracy.

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There could hardly be a more relevant comparison than with the recent social history of male homosexuality. Apart from the fact that foxhunting is not associated with harm to others from Aids or Hepatitis B, the cases are rather similar. In both, a small minority seeks tolerance of behaviour that causes in the majority anything from indifference through distaste to abhorrence. Quite rightly, society tolerates non-outrageous homosexual behaviour, while not necessarily approving of it, and both Edinburgh and Westminster governments clearly approve of this live-and-let-live attitude. Their contemptible failure to apply the same standards to foxhunting is symptomatic of their general lack of principles, and their reliance on populist prejudice, where it suits their preconceptions.

Not just foxhunters are at risk: we are probably all in some ways members of unpopular minorities, from football fans to amateur philosophers, and therefore all potential victims of government by populist whim.

Richard Bond, Biggar

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