Chris reckons the totalitarians have won, citing some recent examples of managerialist control-freakery. He might also have pointed to the ever more regimented hothousing of teenagers and this creepy letter from a primary school, threatening parents with a ‘Racial Discrimination note’ for refusing to let their children go on a school trip.
But is our country more authoritarian now than it was in previous decades or is the control-freakery just different?
Go back to the 1950s and the government forced young men to do two years in the armed forces. This was regarded as normal. Until 1967, children could be separated from their parents and shipped overseas with neither having any contact with the other for the rest of their lives. In the 1950s you could be arrested for dancing to rock n roll in a cinema and it was God-help you if you got on the wrong side of the police. As for being gay, don’t even think about it.
Most of us today, if we were beamed back only as far as the early 1960s, would find the laws and social norms very repressive. It was in the 1960s that deference began to decline and the cracks in the old authoritarian order began to open up. It may be (and I say may be because I can’t really remember the period) that the late 1960s and 1970s were the apogee of libertarianism, after the oppressive structures of the 1950s collapsed and before the new authoritarian liberalism began to appear. There were a few years when, it seemed, anything went. In the crazy freewheeling’ spirit of the age, for a time, even the Paedophile Information Exchange was deemed to be right-on.
A few years ago, I read an amusing article (I can’t remember where) which contrasted the old authoritarianism of Big Brother with the new authoritarianism of Big Sister. Big Brother forces you to join his gang and fight for him. He beats you up if you disagree with him or if you do anything ‘queer’ like dance to funny music or fancy people of the same sex. Big Sister nags you to do your homework, eat healthily and play nicely. She admonishes you if smoke, call each other rude names or wear t-shirts that might upset the other children.
Maybe in the 60s and 70s there was a brief interregnum between Big Brother and Big Sister. Maybe. But control-freakery is nothing new. It just takes different forms according to the spirit of the age.