PETTY PATERNALISM

Sir Basil Thompson, K.C.B., formerly head of Scotland Yard, who lectured yesterday at Symphony liall, points out a notable difference in the British and American attitudes toward the law. In England, the "bobby" carries no gun; he needs none, for he is "always right". The crowd will support him in a pinch. It is ingrained in the English that the law, which the "bobby" represents, is right, and must be respected. Here, the "cop" undoubtedly represents the law, but the sympathy is too likely to be with the culprit. Evading the law is often more popular than obeying it. And there is a sound reason, if not a justification, for what may be hailed as modern lawlessness.

In the last score of years, American law-makers have multiplied petty regulations with such unrestricted ardor that the wonder is that any statute is obeyed without compulsion. Examples of foolish, needless legislation are plentiful. In South Carolina, the playing of pool or billiards has been forbidden. The prohibition of checkers, of cards, of tiddledy-winks may well follow. Arkansas has been considering a bill abolishing bathing in the waters of the state, and minutely describing the sort of garments appropriate for public exercise. Arkansas athletes will appear in trunks extending below the knees, and short-sleeved shirts, and memories of the "ole swim in' hole" will pass with other discarded antiquities. In France and England, even the women athletes wear the convenient "shorts" condemned for everyone in Arkansas; such brazen people would probably be guillotined here. The next legislature will no doubt design evening dresses. In Utah, Kansas, and South Dakota, smoking is unlawful. What could be more inconsistent than raising cigarette funds to help "win the war", and then stamping out the "deadly weed" as soon as its usefulness is not so apparent?

When such ill-advised measures become laws, their enforcement casts the shadow of their own insignificance on other laws, made wisely and rationally. The effect is to cause disregard of the whole mass of legislation. While the statutes are laden with these trivialities, respect for the law, for its own sake, can hardly be demanded.