COVID-19 and ‘Democracy’

April 29, 2020 Updated: May 18, 2020

Commentary

Our national response to COVID-19 has revealed, once again, how little our Establishment, including its henchmen in the media, want “the people” to rule.

As we witness the self-inflicted and catastrophic demise of our economy, some have dared to protest the closure of their businesses and the shuttering of their places of worship. These “right-wing extremists,” we are told, are threatening the lives and well-being of our health care workers, elderly, and ultimately, the entire U.S. population.

We are told that the experts, once again, must decide for us when and if it is safe to return to business as usual. A cadre of carefully vetted scientific, medical, and other technical specialists are stepping in to do the jobs of our state governors and political leadership.

No matter that the governor of New Jersey swore an oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” he recently told Tucker Carlson that considerations about the people’s constitutional rights is “above my pay grade.” He defers to the experts, he says. What, then, is the purpose of Gov. Phil Murphy, who swore to protect his citizens’ rights?

Time and again, governors are “citing the opinion of medical experts” in their political decision-making regarding COVID-19. That raises some important questions about the role of our political class and the place of our Constitution, which seems to be about as essential as churches these days.

Our democracy seems to be veering ever closer to the administrative state that former President Woodrow Wilson envisioned a century ago. Having taken the United States to war to “make the world safe for democracy,” Wilson believed that the Great War was actual Armageddon and that to the victor would go the soul of the world.

With the stakes so high in Wilson’s mind, he couldn’t allow any dissent from the cause. The Committee on Public Information (CPI) served as a vast propaganda machine tasked with educating the public and aggressively stamping out opinions unfavorable to the war.

Wilson’s attorney general summed up the climate in 1917: “May God have mercy on [the dissenters], for they need expect none from an outraged people and avenging government.”

The CPI encouraged citizens to denounce one another and authorized the postmaster general to censor mail between private citizens.

Facebook and other social media “platforms” have assumed the role of Wilson’s postmaster general and removed content that threatens the war effort against COVID-19.

During such an emergency, constitutional rights must give way to expert opinion, and specifically the expert opinion curated by our mainstream and social-media elite. Other experts, who dissent from the views put forth in the major outlets, are quickly discredited with dehumanizing labels: “right-wing extremist,” “pandemic-skeptic,” “data-skeptic,” and the well-worn “conspiracy theorist.”

Any information with conclusions or implications contrary to the prevailing COVID-19 narrative is ignored or censured by the mainstream media.

The stakes would seem to be as high as if we were in an actual war. In a sense, we are. It’s a war between two worldviews: one that upholds the bodily health of those currently living as the ultimate good and another that upholds some non-material good as the final end.

The former is, in the philosophical sense, materialist and holds a progressive view of history, believing that science and technology are bringing us closer to a more humane world with less disease and fewer social and economic ills. The latter worldview is more pessimistic and believes that there is no end-of-history, so to speak, in politics or medicine, and that we must, for the most part, work around social and political givens, including disease.

No one person is entirely given to one viewpoint, but it’s safe to say that most people fall generally into one of the two camps, evidenced by the fierce divide in our country. This divide isn’t simply about what the best protocol is for responding to the new coronavirus, but is about something much deeper, namely one’s worldview.

The divide generally reflects the political division in our country. Those on the left tend to favor continued “shelter-in-place” orders; those on the right would like for restrictions to be lifted.

It seems to come down to a fundamental difference in imagination. One imagination fears for its life, the other for its loss of liberty; both fears may be real. The troubling thing right now is that only one of those fears is being given credence, while the other is dismissed as dangerous, extreme, and irrational.

However, for us to fear merely for loss of life or limb is to open a dangerous door to government overreach and control by so-called experts.

The ghost of Thomas Hobbes is whispering now. He insisted that the social contract stood on a foundation of fear among citizens, fear of one another and, above all, fear of a violent death. Hobbes’s solution? The Leviathan state.

A fearful people who value their lives over all else are incapable of liberty and self-government. We look on our scientific and technical overlords as gods, for, in the words of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, they will bear the freedom that we have found so burdensome: “Make us your slaves, but feed us.”

In other words, take away our rights, but keep us healthy.

Emily Finley holds a Ph.D. in Politics from The Catholic University of America and is a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University. She is the managing editor of Humanitas, a journal of politics and culture, published by The Center for the Study of Statesmanship.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.