TCS Daily

The Fox Report

By S.T. Karnick - December 16, 2004 12:00 AM

I'm no great fan of foxhunting, nor am I against it. But regardless of one's personal feelings about the sport, this issue is important to Americans as well as the English, because the United States has numerous laws based upon the same premises and principles that motivated the UK's recent ban on foxhunting.

The English House of Commons passed a ban in 2003, then reversed itself and went back and forth for a while, fighting over whether to allow regulated foxhunting. Recently a full prohibition went into effect, with Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Commons invoking the rarely used 1949 Parliament Act to make the bill law without it passing through the House of Lords.

Such agreement between the two houses of Parliament is normally required in England, as it is in the U.S. Congress, but the Labour majority in Commons concluded that an accord was not going to happen in this case. This in itself is interesting and relevant to U.S. voters, as another example of how easily well-meaning political belligerents are driven to ignore constitutional or institutional processes that stand in their way, especially when environmental, animal-rights, or education matters are in question.

The foxhunting ban will go into effect in England and Wales early next year. Scotland outlawed the sport two years ago.

There is an important political principle being ignored here. It is perfectly reasonable for the British government or any other to ban all kinds of jolly pastimes on public land, but to outlaw foxhunting on private property is another matter entirely. A recent story in the Times of London indicates that a good many British citizens feel the same way and are fighting back. That story and several others in recent days also show that the law has managed to be both annoying and ambiguous, as so many American environmental and animal-protection laws have been.

It is simply indefensible for a government to intrude on a person's land in this manner. If we have not the right to use our property as we see fit, in any way that does not diminish others' enjoyment of theirs, what rights do we really have? For centuries, the English respected this premise more fully than any other great culture in the world.

Unfortunately, it has been a long time since that kind of attitude prevailed in Great Britain. Today, alas, an Englishman's home is his government's castle.

It is not as if reducing the population of foxes by means of foxhunting will lower our neighbors' property values or reduce the unbounded joy they get from the presence of tick-infested predators lurking around their back porches and garbage cans. Foxhunting has a negligible effect on the overall number of these creatures in a given area. In addition, foxes are vermin and killers of domesticated animals. Obviously, people should have every right to kill them on their own property. One could in fact make a strong case that people should be encouraged to do so.

Provided, of course, that the critters arrive uninvited and have not been planted there simply for the fun of hunting them. That would seem to be a fair enough provision, as it comes under the heading of perfectly sensible laws against animal cruelty. There is a great difference, after all, between enjoying doing something necessary, which foxhunting can and should be, and wantonly inflicting distress and pain on a sentient being.

But the present situation in England is that one can't even hunt foxes that have invaded one's own property. One can have them exterminated professionally. (At least, that seems to be the case at this point; the anti-foxhunting law has all the ambiguities we have come to expect from environmental-slash-animal-rights legislation.) That is to say, it is legal in England and Wales to kill foxes as long as one refrains from enjoying it.

That fact reveals what appears to be a very important but unacknowledged motivation behind the ban: exclusivity of enjoyment. Obviously there is a certain amount of class envy behind this law, as foxhunting is not something the average middle-class suburban homeowner can bring off in a 1/5-acre backyard. Thus the enjoyment is limited to the few who can afford it.

This creates a problem because of the Anglo-American Left's tendency to combine egalitarianism with hedonism. That mixture of motives instigates continual efforts to prevent people from having any enjoyment somebody else cannot have. Laws discouraging tobacco use, modest alcohol consumption, large automobiles, hunting, fishing, urban sprawl, and the like are examples of this impulse, as they prevent people from enjoying things others do not or cannot take pleasure from.

That is perhaps the most objectionable aspect of the British foxhunting ban, and the one that has the most relevance to and resonance with Americans: the objection to foxhunting is clearly not motivated by a love for foxes but instead by a desire to eliminate a pleasure that cannot be shared by a great majority of the population.

If the Commons' concern were for preserving foxes, a ban on foxhunting on public land would surely suffice. (Indeed, excessive killing of predators typically results in a huge increase in populations of the animals they hunt, with consequent depredations of the environment.) The urge to extend such a ban to private property reveals a destructive mindset with which English-speaking people on both sides of the Atlantic are all too familiar.

The author is Senior Editor at the Heartland Institute, an Associate Fellow at the Sagamore Institute, a Contributor to National Review Online, and Co-Founder and Proprietor,


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