Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

—C. S. Lewis. God in the Dock, 1948.

In February 2010 the French National Assembly voted unanimously to pass a law criminalizing ‘psychological violence’ in relationships. The new law bans repeated verbal actions ‘intended to hurt the victim’s dignity’ upon pain of up to three years in prison. No doubt the French legislators, in their rhapsody of consensus, imagined the law would be used against some horrifically abusive husband. But such a law, while appropriate if enforced by God, in mortal hands can only be implemented by giving discretion to bureaucrats, judges, and juries.

This law violates the most intimate and private of all human bonds. A married couple will have to worry about whether their neighbor will report them to the police over a spat. When spouses are forced to recount their private argument from the witness box so a judge can deliberate on whether anyone’s ‘dignity’ was harmed, freedom is extinguished. Thus a person would have more liberty as a serf living in France 300 years ago; at least the aristocrats did not venture into the serfs’ hovels and interfere with their personal relationships.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove