The Lenten season has begun. It will terminate with one of the oddest days of the Irish Year, Good Friday. One of only two days a year when the general sale of alcohol is forbidden. The pubs will be shut and the beer and wine displays in supermarkets will be covered over; shrouded from view as once the statues and icons in our churches were.
It is a day that challenges the Tory libertarian. As a rule I reject the notion that the government regulate in any way the sale of drink. I would abolish licensing laws and let bars open and close as they please and adult citizens drink where and when they wish. Obviously I am cheerleading those who want to see this anachronistic ban stricken from the law.
But I am not. The Tory part of me likes the local particularness of the thing. I enjoy its eccentricity. I like the fact that it marks us out and in a world of homogenisation it reminds both locals and visitors that this is not England, Oz or the US. It is a reminder and a connection to our past and our identity.
Yet fine and all that may be, is it enough to deny someone who wants to sell and some one who wants to buy the right do so? That I get warm and fuzzies from this custom seems a very thin reason to infringe on the rights of others. The sale of drink is not of itself a harmful activity. That which is not harmful should not be prohibited. That which is not expressly prohibited is permitted.
Say I launch a campaign of suasion and persuade 99% of citizens to my point of view? Are we then justified in denying free action to our fellows on the basis of moral or aesthetic reasons? Does the size of a majority in anyway effect the underlying morality of a prohibition?
Customs and traditions rarely on first interrogation yield powerful rational reasons for their persistence. Can we be justified in defending them through law? How important to the cohesion and success of a society is a set of shared and respected customs? Can this utility be used to defend what is a minor, limited and temporary reduction of individual freedom ?
I am not sure it can but since I favour the Dry Good Friday I will continue to argue that it does. This is I suppose a manifestation of a little and I hope harmless conservatism. After all Freedom cannot be the only value in a free society.