We need to see beyond the myopia of the current crisis to its long-term consequences. What awaits us when the pestilence passes? What sort of world will we be living in? Will the lessons learned lead to the restoration of lost liberties, or will we find that the freedoms we relinquished in this time of emergency are never returned to us?
There is no doubt that we are living in confused and confusing times. The “experts” have shown themselves to be as clueless as the rest of us with respect to how the crisis should be managed. People are divided between those who advocate continuing the lockdown and those who favour a phased reopening of the economy. Particularly distressing has been the manner in which people have abandoned any semblance of charity in their dealings with those who disagree with them. Even those who claim to be Christians have been turning on their neighbours with unrestrained splenetic scorn. In the midst of this irrational and irascible dogfighting, we need a restoration of fides et ratio and the charity and clarity that they provide. We need to practice what we preach with respect to loving our neighbor, even when our neighbour has become our enemy.
We also need to see beyond the myopia of the current crisis to its long-term consequences. What awaits us when the pestilence passes? What sort of world will we be living in? Will the lessons learned lead to the restoration of lost liberties or will we find that the freedoms we relinquished in this time of emergency are never returned to us? Will the coronavirus signify the descending of a dark night which presages a new dawn, or is it the twilight that precedes the darkness?
In such times as those in which we now find ourselves, and with these axiomatic questions in mind, we would do well to heed the cautionary words of Winston Churchill:
[W]e must not be led into adopting for ourselves the evils of war in time of peace upon any pretext whatever. The word ‘civilization’ means not only peace by the non-regimentation of the people such as is required in war. Civilization means that officials and authorities, whether uniformed or not, whether armed or not, are made to realize that they are servants and not masters.
If we take these words of Churchill in conjunction with Lord Acton’s axiom that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely,” we will apprehend the danger that lurks in the shadows of the post-virus future.
As in time of war, the COVID-19 crisis has necessitated a state of emergency in which governments world-wide have wielded unprecedented power over the people they govern. As for the people themselves, they have accepted a curtailment of their civil liberties as they would do in time of war, knowing that a clear and present danger requires great sacrifice, including the sacrifice of liberty in the short term so that such liberties might be preserved in the longer term. This is all very well, as long as we are aware, as was Churchill, that we must not accept the draconian use of government power once the crisis has passed, “upon any pretext whatever.” And we can be sure that those who hold power, and have held it with a tighter grip than ever, will offer all sorts of pretexts for holding it more tightly in the future. Such is the nature of power and such is the nature of those who seek it and hunger for it.
Before we dare prophesy about the post-viral future, it will be helpful to learn the lessons of the past. Indeed, we need to know that the past is a prophet and that we can only see the future clearly if we are seeing it through the lens supplied by history. The whole of history, understood in terms of political philosophy, is an oscillation between the centralization and decentralization of power. There are times when power is centralized in fewer and fewer hands, periods of tyranny and empire, and times when power decentralizes to localities, periods of relative freedom. In the twentieth century, with the exception of the break-up of the Soviet Empire and the consequent restoration of localized governments, the tendency had been towards the centralization of power into fewer and larger political entities. This process of centralization has accelerated in our own century in the headlong and heedless rush towards globalization and the rise of the globalist political structures that are guiding it.
How might the virus impact this process of centralization? Will the lessons learned by the globalized pestilence cause people to question the globalized political pestilence of globalism itself, or will we be hoodwinked into believing that global problems require global solutions and that, therefore, we need more globalization and tighter globalist control over the world’s economy? Will the virus cause the pendulum to swing away from globalism and towards the decentralization of power, or will it mean that it swings even further towards the increasing encroachment of centralized power?
We can be sure that the advocates of globalism will argue that big problems require big governments to solve them, as the centralized government intervention in the present time of crisis indicates. We can be sure that there will be calls for the World Health Organization to be given more power to manage future global crises.
So much for the woefully predictable response we can expect from the advocates of globalism. But what of the lessons to be learned from the crisis which point to the need for the decentralization of power away from the globalist model?
We know that the wielding of the sovereign power of individual nations was crucial to the combating of the global spread of COVID-19. The closing of borders was the means by which geographical localities self-quarantined, even if, in many cases, the globalist mentality of national governments prevented them from closing their borders until it was too late. If we return to the path of globalism, with its insistent and incessant erosion of national sovereignty, such self-quarantining will be less effective or perhaps even impossible in the future.
Another response to the pandemic is the restoration of necessary industry to individual nations, rather than the headlong abandonment of manufacturing to China and the Pacific Rim. If some things, such as food, pharmaceuticals and fuel, are necessary, it is necessary to have ready access to them in time of need. It is, for instance, heartening to see Senator Tom Cotton and others seeking to return pharmaceutical manufacturing to the United States. Prior to the present crisis, very few people were aware of the complete dependence of the United States on China for the supply of pharmaceuticals, the consequence of following the globalist mantra of so-called “comparative advantage.” It came as a shock to discover that China produces around 40 percent of the total world supply of “active pharmaceutical ingredients,” including 97 percent of the U.S. market for antibiotics, and that it produces 50 percent of the world’s surgical masks.
In the face of alarming facts such as these, some other words of wisdom from Winston Churchill spring to mind:
We cannot afford to confide the safety of our country to the passions or to the panic of any foreign nation which may be facing some desperate crisis. We must be independent. We must be free. We must preserve our full latitude and discretion of choice.
As for the inevitable globalist calls for the further empowerment of the United Nations and its World Health Organization (WHO), we need to recall that the WHO continued to oppose the closing of national borders and the imposition of travel restrictions, weeks after President Trump closed our borders to China, on the grounds that such restrictions would be economically harmful. What might have happened had the UN and the World Health Organization had the political power to prevent nations from acting unilaterally? What if globalist political entities had the power to prevent nations from self-quarantining on the grounds that the free movement of peoples across national borders was a “human right”?
With the foregoing in mind, perhaps we should spend less time squabbling over the right way to handle the present crisis and start preparing ourselves for the political struggle which will follow in its wake. Things will never be the same after COVID-19. The question is whether they will be better or worse. The battle lines will be drawn and the ensuing struggle might prove to be a fight to the death. Will it be the death of globalism or the death of freedom?
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The featured image is courtesy of Unsplash.