Reducing Men to Marionettes

From a letter (supposed to have been written in 1942, to the narrator) in Chapter Fifteen of Octopus* (London, 1947), a novel by Rupert Croft-Cooke:

I think that only since it has been shaken have I realized what the world I lived in was like.  I can see now the slow regimentation that was spreading cautiously and insidiously, reducing men to marionettes on government strings.  For we went on saying that England was free as though we were hypnotized, while all liberty of thought or action was slowly being wrested from the individual, and he became a filler-in of forms, a respecter of conventions, an obeyer of more and more laws and prohibitions, an automaton dedicating his life to the avoidance of offence.  He must cross the road here, leave his car there, drink at this time, eat at that, he must marry—as he must be born and die—once, or pay for his neglect to do so, he must travel at this speed, smoke in that place, keep a dog here, ride a horse there, report this, conceal that, write one way, speak another.  He must educate his children thus, must support his wife at such a rate, must have this document to travel with, that to die with, must cut his hedge, treat his animals, grow his crops according to orders.  The common freedoms of the past are forbidden to him—he cannot even have a fair fight with his enemy without offence, or drink his liquor at an inn except at times specified.  He cannot sing or shout in the street, address his fellows at the corner, make a cash bet on a horse or use an oath in public.  He must pay to live in his own house, keep a dog, sell tobacco, get married, go abroad, drive a car, own a field, kill a cow, use a crest, fire a shot-gun. He may not brew beer or grow tobacco, go to the theatre on Sunday or beat his wife.  He must sleep under a roof, insure his motor car, sell his cows’ milk to a certain person at a certain price.  He may not take drugs, print books which an illiterate magistrate may consider indecent or gamble for money except in certain ways most scrupulously laid down.  And to support the vast army of state employees necessary to devise, revise and enforce these regulations he pays taxes, rates and duties till what money they allow him to earn is reduced by very much more than half.  […]
The legitimate enterprise of a man has been ruthlessly stubbed, the old imaginative and adventurous ambition which sent him trading over half the world or boldly risking his all in his own town or village is no more, not because it was predatory but because man must be moulded to the set form, must work for a fixed wage, serve a corporation, fit into the scheme of amalgamation and monopoly, or be thrown into poverty and actual disgrace.  And when he has unconsciously learnt that humiliation, and taken his place in the long line, the privileges and pleasures for which alone he is prepared or willing are as contemptuously provided as the bread and circuses of Rome.

* titled Miss Allick in the US.

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