Beer Monopoly

 

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Posted February 2011

Readers, I gate-crashed. I know, I know, you won’t approve. It’s not the done thing to turn up uninvited at someone else’s party. But sometimes the means justify the end. As the press had not been invited to an exclusive bash given by Diageo for Berlin’s politicos plus assorted movers and shakers in early February, yours truly turned up nevertheless and walked in hiding behind some lobbyist’s broad shoulders. Alas, my cover soon was blown when Diageo’s charming PR man came up to me. Kindly, he did not have me evicted.

What Diageo and guests were discussing was nothing untoward. Far from it. It was a paper given by the German playwright, novelist and TV host Thea Dorn which sported the rather unwieldy and academic title “Between emancipation and paternalism – how free are today’s citizens?”

As it soon turned out, Ms Dorn had chosen the thoroughly illiberal anti-smoking crusade by Germany’s government and a local Bavarian pressure group (which toppled Bavaria’s libertarian stance through a plebiscite in which only a handful of burghers took part) to develop her argument.

What did Thea Dorn say? Being a philosopher by training, she pointed out that, considering all the latest moves against alcohol, sugar and our eating habits (pitting vegetarian intellectuals against the meat-eating masses in Germany’s media is the latest), she was forced to conclude that our government seems to regard its citizens as some kind of infantile wards in need of a vigilante nanny – instead of the responsible agents idealised in our democratic constitution.

This infuriated her so much that when Germany adopted its first anti-smoking laws three years ago she wrote a fiery newspaper piece and when she was finished she had a cigarette on her balcony – despite being a non-smoker.

All philosophers worth their mettle would take Ms Dorn’s libertarian stance that citizens everywhere have the right to life, liberty and security of person (see the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights) – all except perhaps the philosopher Pol Pot, who regarded the individual as sacrificial fodder for the so-called “good of humanity”. And see what it’s done to Cambodia! Millions were murdered to create Pol Pot’s “social equality”.

Ms Dorn’s spirited defence of our right to enjoyment and her plea for more tolerance was not to deny the sordid experiences shared by social workers when it comes to abusive behaviour. Yes, quite a few people need our help. But banning this and outlawing that was not the way to treat the overwhelming majority of responsible adults, she said.

It’s a sad state of affairs that we are living in increasingly partisan times and Diageo chose to have this debate behind closed doors. But Diageo were probably right: if anyone had got wind of their forum, masses of screaming fundamentalists would have gathered outside their doors demanding entry, and not just a single journalist like me.

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