The London Spectator has an excellent article by Roger Scruton this week on different views of the function of law. He discusses the degradation of tolerance in Britian, one of the two healthiest democracies:
Law, in a liberal democracy, is concerned not to impose moral conformity but to maintain peace, order and goodwill between people, all of whom are free to pursue their own conception of the good life, to the extent that they can do so without harming others. The main contours of this view � tellingly argued by Mill in On Liberty � were until recently accepted among educated people, most of whom would concur in the judgment that it is both reasonable to regard adultery as immoral, and oppressive to make it a crime. . . .
The reason why the case of hunting is important, even for those who disapprove of hunting and would like to see it banned, is that it is the cornerstone of an indigenous way of life. To ban hunting is to criminalise a large and generally law-abiding minority. To justify a ban therefore requires some other argument besides the mere fact of moral disapproval: we need a clear conception of the benefits not only to animals but also to people. But the parliamentary opponents of hunting have refused to enter the argument about these complex matters, having seen that it is an argument that they might lose. Morality seems to them like a better resource, since of its very nature it is absolute and irrebuttable. Invoking morality is a way of saying, with Luther, �Here I stand; I can do no other� � in other words, a way of refusing to engage with your opponent.