David Cameron yesterday hardened the Tory attack on Britain\’s "broken society" by calling for an end to "moral neutrality" whereby society refused to distinguish between good and bad behaviour.
In a personal speech in Glasgow East, one of Britain\’s poorest constituencies, which plays host to a crucial byelection on July 24, the Conservative leader said society should not be afraid to say what was right and what wrong.
It\’s an attractive idea of course. In one example he uses (although not quite in this language) instead of saying that someone "suffers from obesity" it might be more correct to call them fat greedy bastards.
However, there\’s a much greater problem with the idea of society (by which he means government of course) saying what was right and wrong: according to whom? It\’s not all that long ago that homosexuality was agreed by society to be wrong and that thus it was a crime (one slightly odd factoid I\’ve dug up. Between 1800 and 1827, some 40 people were hung for sodomy as against just under 400 for murder, umm, England and Wales figures I think, not GB). Iran apparently still operates on this basis. We can\’t even use the straight Millian definitions of as long as it doesn\’t harm others or their own rights: adultery certainly causes emotional pain, but does that mean we should adopt the Saudi approach to it of whippings and beheadings?
On the face of it telling everyone what is right and what is wrong is extremely attractive: the problem comes as above, in defining what it is that we are going to be telling people. We might indeed be more enlightened to be telling people that racism wrong, shagging not, but looking around at other human societies (both geographically and in time) shows that plenty of other not so enlightened ideas have been considered right and wrong, those latter something that society should righteously punish.
Not a can of worms I think we want to open, eh?