I have to admit to having had a moment of quiet satisfaction while walking along the street earlier today. I spotted the police preparing to tow away a car whose owner had decided that it would be okay to illegally park in a disabled parking bay. Let’s face it, it would be difficult to argue that they shouldn’t be doing this (though there would clearly be some position on the extremes of the political spectrum where opposing it would seem reasonable to some).

The point was that it felt good to see it happening as it seemed that justice was being done. Here was an example of the state (or at least the local municiple law makers) intervening in people’s lives for the greater good – there must surely be countless others. What about the smashed bus stop windows I had seen earlier this week in the quiet rural area that I live in? Wouldn’t it be nice if the vandals were made to pay for their actions?

Someone told me about a Spanish friend of theirs that went to live for a while in Basel and decided one day to dump some rubbish in the street – something that the average Madrileño wouldn’t think twice about. She was rounded on by a local member of the public and when she asked ‘what difference does it make to you?’ was given a lesson in civic responsibility, and a reminder that it was everyone else would have to pay for her selfishness.

All of this is fine, and we could produce a long wish list of situations in which the rule of law should prevail no doubt. Nevertheless, at a time of disruptive and threatening actions by ‘terrorists’ and others who are inclined to tire of waiting for the democratic process to produce the results they would like, there is perhaps an overzealous tendency on the part of the state to intervene in the lives of its citizens.

The desire of the British government to create digital databases of all its citizens’ online communications is a case in point. The Australians’ plans to create a stranglehold on the internet for its population by prescribing the sites they can visit is another. Both of these actions should be regarded as intolerable by those that believe in liberal democracy, despite the fact that some feel inclined to argue that supposed threats to liberty somehow justify totalitarian methods that undermine liberty themselves.