Don't lose your bottle

Ignore the health fascists - drinking is a matter of personal choice

Sophie Scruton has begun to give her husband a hard time in the matter of drinking. I plead professional responsibilities, my duties as Cellararius to the socialist Establishment, the need to encourage virtuous consumption - the right amount on the right occasion of the right quality and in the right frame of mind - the need to take a principled stand against Islam. But it does no good. She snatches the bottle from its place beside my plate and shoves it to the other end of the table. Is this fair, I ask. Since when have you advocated fairness, is her riposte. Only when I concede defeat does she top up my glass, reminding me the while of the dangers of addiction.

Each day, therefore, I turn my attention to this concept, from which a thousand health fascists have made their careers. Is there such a thing as addiction? Is my habitual drinking a case of it? And if addiction exists who is responsible for preventing it?

Only the last question has a current answer. The fashion is to blame those who make a profit from the alcohol, tobacco, soft drinks and burgers on which we are hooked. This is one of those injustices against which the heart of an old conservative rebels. You alone are responsible for what you ingest voluntarily, and to persecute the provider is to invert the true morality of the case, like those American juries that award vast damages against innocent companies, merely because the defendant is wealthy and the plaintiff is poor.

And is there such a thing as addiction? Sometimes vital parts of the metabolism become dependent on a drug. This happens with alkies and junkies, and it is why they experience painful symptoms when the drug is withdrawn.

But my desire for a glass or two with dinner is different. It is not a form of dependency. It shows weakness of will, selfishness, irresponsibility. I should be punished for it, and Sophie goes as far in this direction as her gentle nature will allow. But I can stop without any life-threatening effects and with no real discomfort. I do not need the glass for which I thirst at the end of each day. And any harm that it causes me is my own stupid fault.

Unless we hold fast to these simple truths our entire morality is turned upside down. The grounds for describing drinking, in its habitual form, as an addiction apply also to television, pornography and internet surfing. But these are all vices that we are free to renounce.

I am happy to be blamed for those drinks of mine, since I want to blame those who are hooked on television. I want to say that it is their fault that they have become distracted, mean-minded and solipsistic. And I would offer to give up drinking for ever, if everyone else turned off the telly. Which means that my bad habit is secure.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, High-street robbery