Philip Neal has drawn attention to the death of Roger Scruton, and to his paper WHO, WHAT and WHY? Trans-national Government, Legitimacy and the World Health Organisation.
In this paper I consider a matter of growing concern to all who believe that legislators ought to be accountable to those for whom they legislate. I shall be considering the way in which a political agenda can be promoted without hindrance, once legislative powers are granted to transnational bodies answerable to no national electorate. And I shall focus on one example: the current attempt by the World Health Organisation to impose, through the machinery established by the United Nations, punitive legislation directed against the manufacturers, distributors and users of tobacco products. There are other examples: European Commission directives, which have the force of law regardless of the will of national legislatures, may be used to advance the interests of lobbyists who have no accountability to those upon whom the directives are imposed; while the UN, through its commissions and ancillary institutions, is attempting to shape the law of its member states in accordance with an agenda set by Western pressure groups and political élites.
Nevertheless, the case of the WHO and tobacco is of particular significance, since it shows how an institution with a purpose that few would question can be turned in a wholly new direction, in order to impose the social and political agenda of a handful of activists. The case will therefore set a precedent, not only for further legislation by the WHO, but for an ever-expanding raft of laws imposed on us by unelected, unaccountable and unejectable bureaucrats. The case is also interesting for another reason, in that it raises in an acute form the question of liberty. What philosophical principles govern, or ought to govern, legislation designed to limit our choice of lifestyle? When is such legislation justified, on what grounds, and by what legislative body?
Written in 2000, this was prescient. Did Scruton write any more along these lines when the UK smoking ban came into force in 2007? Perhaps he did, but I have not read it.
Yet he was no friend of tobacco. He was instead the enemy of unrepresentative government.
I like cigars, and will smoke a cigar if someone offers me one. All other forms of tobacco repel me, and I am persuaded that cigarette smoking on a regular basis is harmful. My father died of emphysema, no doubt exacerbated by the many cigarettes he smoked into middle age. He was 74 when he died, however, and had no regrets. I shall try to prevent my own children from smoking — partly because smoking begins as a kind of insolence. I welcome the law which obliges cigarette manufacturers to warn us against their own product, and often think that the same should apply to the manufacturers of junk food, motor cars and televisions. If it were shown that cigarettes posed a threat not merely to the body but also to the mental and moral health of those who smoked them, I would favour more severe restrictions on their sale and use, of the kind that exist (though with increasingly less effect, it has to be said) in order to control drugs like cocaine and heroin. I avoid places here people smoke, unless I am one of them, and am glad that efforts are being made to segregate smokers and to protect children from a habit which is quite reasonably regarded as a vice, and which has been so regarded since Sir Walter Raleigh first brought it from America. In short, I am against tobacco; though not so much as I am against hard drugs, mobile phones or hard-core pornography.
Does smoking really begin as “a kind of insolence”? Perhaps it does when it’s intended to break rules. But if there’s no such intention, where’s the insolence?
And if he was “glad that efforts are being made to segregate smokers”, then perhaps he welcomed the 2007 UK smoking ban as the best effort yet to successfully segregate them, and “protect chiiiildren” from them.
He says quite openly that he’s against tobacco. But it appears that he’s also against a long list of other things that include junk food, motor cars, televisions, hard drugs, mobile phones, and hard-core pornography.
Three of these items are relatively recent technological innovations. Why was he against them? I don’t watch television, but that’s not because I object to the technology, but rather that I object to the fact that TV broadcasters don’t speak to or for people like me. So mine is a political objection. I don’t use phones very much, but that’s not because I object to the technology, but that I object to something that demands that I stop whatever I’m doing to answer it whenever it imperiously rings. I have no objection whatsoever to “junk food”, which is usually hot, tasty, and nutritious, and to which the real objection would seem to be that it is held in hand rather than addressed with knife and fork on a plate on a dinner table. As for hard-core pornography, it consists entirely of pictures, and to object to pictures is no different from objecting to written words. So all in all, I’m not against any of the things that Scruton was against. Nor do I even think that smoking is a “vice”, or if it is then my voluminous tea consumption is equally a “vice”, along with everything else I habitually do.
Can anyone who is against tobacco ever be a staunch defender of it? I somehow doubt it. Which may be why I never thought of him as one of tobacco’s defenders.
Perhaps the explanation is that Scruton was a professor of aesthetics, and his was primarily an aesthetic objection to junk food, motor cars, televisions, hard drugs, mobile phones, and hard-core pornography. And, in the end, isn’t the objection to tobacco by the antismokers in Tobacco Control, when all the pseudo-science is stripped away, also an aesthetic objection? They just don’t like it.