The forces of totalitarianism have been chiseling away feverishly at our liberties for many years now. Their efforts have taken the guise of radical equalitarianism (income redistribution), radical diversity (whom one may hire or accept into a position normally reserved for those of the greatest merit), radical environmentalism (what one may buy, sell, or freely use), and political correctness (a blatant attack on free speech). Like all totalitarian movements these forces co-opt the language of true liberty, notably “progressivism” and “liberalism”. George Orwell warned us of the power of “Newspeak” in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
But these forces now are taking on a new tactic, seizing the power to restrict our liberties to move about freely, peacefully associate with others, and to earn a living from peaceful, social cooperation. I refer, of course, to the lockdowns imposed in response to the coronavirus. George Orwell would recognize these tactics and, I hope, be appalled at how complacently populations all over the world have not only complied with these diktats but many have actively supported them to the point of proselytizing others for non-compliance.
The Lockdowns Violate Ethics
Principles are important. Without them a society has nothing more than arbitrary rule. That is why even dictatorships such as the now thankfully defunct Soviet Union had detailed constitutions. Constitutions outline the limits of government. Constitutional conventions are serious events and may take months. But even constitutions must be based upon an ethical foundation. Two unsurpassed explanations of the limits to which government may legitimately rule have been penned by Immanuel Kant and Frederic Bastiat.
Immanuel Kant’s Humanity Formula, penned in the middle of the eighteen century, exhaustively explains that man is an end in himself and may not be used as a means to an end. In other words, due to man’s inherent humanity, no man may have his liberties or property curtailed in any way in order to benefit others. A simple example will suffice. Mr. Smith is a very wealthy man, and Mr. Jones is very poor. Mr. Jones’ son needs an expensive operation to save his life. He goes to Mr. Smith and asks for his financial assistance. Mr. Smith refuses. Mr. Jones does not have the right to take Mr. Smith’s money in order to save his son’s life. Kant would point out that taking Mr. Smith’s money would be using Mr. Smith as a means to another’s end, a violation of the Humanity Principle.
Frederic Bastiat wrote The Law in 1850. In this short book Bastiat explains the difference between just law and unjust law. Posted on June 11, 2020 on the Mises Wire, Lee Friday applied Bastiat’s principles of just and unjust law to the current lockdown diktats: Bastiat Leads the Way on the Morality of Forced Lockdowns. Every man has a God given right to life, liberty, and property. No man nor any collective of men (government) may deprive any man of this God given right. Any law that purports to do so is unjust.
Do Your Liberties Threaten Others and Yourselves?
So much for ethics, but what about the claim that a man at liberty is acting irresponsibly by opening his business or traveling freely; that liberty does not apply to those who are a threat to others; plus, you yourself are too ill informed or just plain bloody minded to be allowed to exercise your liberties? Furthermore, to do so would mean that you are taxing the healthcare system unnecessarily and denying its resources to others who are more worthy. Or so the argument goes. Note that this is NOT an ethical argument but a practical one by which supporters of the lockdown wish to end all further debate. The argument sometimes is enhanced with the claim that one cannot place a value on human life, so sacrifices must be made, etc. Of course, this argument violates Kant’s Humanity Formula, but what about meeting it on its supposed merits? Are people who open their businesses or travel freely threatening others? If so, how?
I have asked supporters of this claim to explain how one can “catch the virus” if he self isolates–i.e., does not patronize businesses or travel freely himself–or wears a mask, gloves, etc in his few necessary excursions to public places . The usual answer is that such “irresponsible people” have a greater chance of catching the virus and spreading it. But why is this a concern, whether scientifically valid or not? Do not those who do not self isolate tacitly accept the increased risk? Naturally, some people are more risk averse than others, so are we to force everyone into forced isolation until the most risk averse among us are no longer fearful of their fellow men? The most risk averse among us have the right to self isolate but they have no right to force others to do so.
No Logical Criteria for What Is Excessive Risk and Should Be Prohibited
There is no logical criteria to guide the state in what risky activities, willingly pursued, should be prohibited. Many risky vocations (lumberjacks, high iron workers, test pilots, commercial fishermen, etc.) plus many avocations (mountain climbing, sky diving, scuba diving, hang gliding, etc.) undoubtedly would be at the top of the any radical risk averse prohibited activities list. As for taxing the healthcare system unnecessarily, end socialized medicine and let the market place a price on those who engage in risky pursuits. The insurance industry already does this where not prohibited by statute law. Your automobile insurance premium will increase if you have an accident. If you live in an area of the country with severe weather, such as tornadoes, your home owners insurance premium will reflect that risk. Some insurance companies will not write life insurance for those in very risky professions. I experienced this myself in my younger days in the Air Force.
In Conclusion: More of the Same in Our Future
In conclusion, it has become clear that officeholders in our once constitutionally limited government have exceeded their bounds of authority and, once these officeholders have tasted unlimited power, it is very unlikely that this power will be relinquished voluntarily. The pronouncements of which businesses may reopen and under what kinds of restrictions would be comical if they were not so tyrannical. (One is not allowed to touch the flagstick on a golf course. One is not allowed to touch someone else’s tennis balls. Park playground equipment not only was cordoned off but in some cases actually made unusable: a basketball court in a park near my son’s house was sabotaged by township workers.) Now that government has found that it has unlimited powers to prohibit and regulate personal liberties that once were constitutionally protected we can expect more of the same in the future. I fear that the genie is out of the bottle and we’ll have a hard time getting him back in. A so-called “second wave” of the coronavirus will be instructive. If government locks down the economy again, I personally doubt that the public will comply…and that would be a very good thing.