IS THIS REALLY THE HILL YOU WANT TO DIE ON? Lionel Shriver evaluates the British foxhunting ban, finds it wanting.
Self-evidently, class antagonism plays a part. Decrying fox hunting as a decadent diversion of the aristocracy, Labour is now in the saddle, and will hound the toffs in their poncy red outfits. The fact that latterly fox hunting bridges class barriers, bringing rural communities of varying incomes together, has failed to diminish this class bloodlust, since most ban advocates are proudly ignorant about the sport they would abolish, and have never been on a fox hunt.

Yet the deeper modern rift between the urban elite and the disempowered countryside is more salient. The urban professionals backing the ban have ideas about themselves, very precious ideas. They are civilized. They recycle. They believe that meat grows in cellophane packets. They abhor genetically modified foods and animal testing. They are good. Britain's country dwellers, who actually make things, grow things, raise things and, yes, kill things, are too busy to worry about being good.

Fox hunting turned an unpleasant necessity, the eradication of livestock predators, into a ritual--an excuse for a frolic on horseback, fresh air, fellowship and a warming drink. And therein lies the nugget. For the virtuous, killing animals grimly is OK, but killing animals and enjoying it amounts to sadism and is therefore unacceptable. What was legislated was not so much what rural sportsmen are allowed to do as what they are allowed to feel.

Alas, Europe in general is suffering under the tyranny of Goodness. The same impulse to legislate virtue drives the antismoking lobby. Hate-crime legislation levies additional jail time on criminals not for what they did, but why. And recycling is embraced as an intrinsically virtuous idea, whether or not its economics or even its environmental merits add up. Thus Goodness is not about doing good but affecting it, and about telling moral inferiors what they may or may not enjoy. In sum, the hunting ban is about vanity.

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