Grandmotherly Legislation


It is often asserted that the modern State interferes more with the private affairs of individuals than at any other period in history. State interference, however, of a somewhat different and more intimate nature did take place in mediaeval times. An Act of Edward III. ordained that no man should be allowed more than two courses at dinner or supper, and all who did not enjoy a free estate of £100 per annum were not allowed to wear furs, skins or silk. Frederick the Great endeavoured to suppress the use of coffee as a harmful luxury. The Scottish Parliament went a step further, and attempted to regulate women's dress, to save the purses of the "puir gentlemen their husbands and fathers," a legislative effort that would surely lead to the ruin of any modern government that tried it. The fact that these "sumptuary laws," as they were called, had to be abandoned because it was impossible to enforce them, shows. I think, that legislation of the "grandmotherly" kind nearly always defeats its own ends.

The Irish Times, October 9th, 1930.