Coronavirus and Civil Liberties

In a recent Newsweek piece, an article typical of so many, left and right, that incorrectly view the philosophical questions related to Coronavirus. Painting the struggle as one of liberty versus safety, the freedom of the individual versus the power of the centralized state the article misses entirely the question of the implications of such a struggle. It also ignores the question of what role should other important institutions be playing and to mitigate evil, and suffering as well as encourage citizens to use freedom ethically and government to act as little as required.


 

A recent Newsweek article[i] is representative of the much of the zeitgeist of the current state of American politics, left and right. A view of Natural rights, shaped by the Lockean view, have come to dominate both sides of the political spectrum, manifesting over separate issues, but deriving from the same root. Roger Parloff’s piece approaches the issue from the left-liberal progressive position; he is concerned with voting rights and abortion. One could easily find a piece approaching gun control[ii] or religious freedom deriving from the same flawed foundation. All such appeals begin with errors found in Locke’s conception of the state of nature, an incorrect view of natural law. Essential, both right and left approach these issues from a form of Pelagianism[iii] and an extreme focus on the individual; these approaches assume man alone can consistently choose good without divine aid and that the needs and rights of the individual are equal to the importance of the community and tradition and convention. Such a view is of course theologically flawed (James 2:8) but also is contrary to our history and traditions. It is a binary view that places the law and the central government’s role at odds with the individual, it completely ignores the historical importance of other institutions -subsidiarity - and the permanent things of a culture. It is also an appeal to an originalist view, left and right, that holds certain presuppositions about the de facto versus de jure nature of our system and the rule of law, premises that history calls into question.[iv]

Parloff begins his article with an assumption, that coronavirus is an “extreme crisis” that creates a conflict between safety and liberty. In this, he demonstrates two errors. First, it is impossible to know that Coronavirus is a crisis in and of itself because we simply do not know the nature of the thing.[v] Second, his assumption that a liberty/safety conflict must exist demonstrates the fundamental flaw of the ideologies of liberal societies. He goes on to equate delaying primaries as an affront to voters rights, prisoners being denied a ‘right to life’ because they may become ill, he conflates basic triage strategies with discrimination against disabled people and finally, the curtailment of medically ending the life of babies in the womb as an afront to human rights.

The conflict between liberty and security is a problem only insofar as the Western liberal democracies have abandoned the partnerships for the common-good Aristotle wrote about in the opening to Politics.[vi] This, compounded with the abandonment of subsidiarity, of institutions that ought to have co-equal roles with the central government in the nurturing and maintenance of culture and people, has led to the conflict Parloff and so many others see.[vii]

Looking to history, the problems that Parloff highlights would be considered absurd. The individual is a member of a community, that is his natural state.[viii] His community is in partnership with others for the common good. John C. Calhoun warned repeatedly that a strong central government without subsidiarity would invariably lead to these sorts of conflicts.[ix] Thus we find ourselves faced with an event we cannot define, partially because we listen to sophists, in a crisis we do not understand, leaving us to discuss balancing liberty with security while applying no philosophic principles other than flawed concepts of man and nature – individuality and fear.[x]

Parloff is not alone in his mistakes and errors, the central theme of all such pieces is their failure to understand that liberalism, progressivism, and individualism is bound to end in authoritarianism and tyranny.[xi] He has framed the wrong question and has failed to ask what role other institutions should play in an event like this to ensure common-good[xii] and morality and virtue at the local level. Instead, he assumes that the individual and the central government are the only actors, an assumption that if true, will invariably lead to the individual losing.

[i] See, Parloff, Roger., “The Coronavirus Crisis Threatens 2020 Voting Rights, Abortion, Other Civil Liberties, Watchdogs Say”, Newsweek, Monday, April 06, 2020. https://www.newsweek.com/coronavirus-crisis-threatens-2020-voting-rights-abortion-other-civil-liberties-watchdogs-say-1496304

[ii] See as one example, Fernadez, Stacey,. “Texas gun stores are essential businesses, may stay open during the pandemic, attorney general says”, The Texas Tribune, March 27, 2020. https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/27/texas-ag-says-gun-stories-are-essential-businesses-during-coronavirus/

[iii] See, “The Pelagian Controversy”, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/pelagian-controversy/

[iv] See, McDonald, Forrest., “Was the Fourteenth Amendment Constitutionally Adopted?”,  The Annotated Secessionist Papers, Second Edition, Abbeville: The Calhoun Institute, 2018, https://books.google.com/books?id=-jVhDwAAQBAJ. pp. 41-60. Dr. McDonald presents an argument that the 14th Amendment was not ratified in accordance with law or convention. This one amendment is the foundation of much left-liberal, progressive and libertarian-conservative ideology yet, it does not comport with de jure law.

[v] It is impossible, simply because the data related to COVID19 is all over the map and ‘experts’ have been wrong at each step to know what the true nature of this virus is and the implications of that. Marcus Aurelius warned in Mediations, Book X, “Focus on what nature demands, as if you were governed by that alone. Then do that, and accept it, unless your nature as a living being would be degraded by it. Then focus on what that nature demands, and accept that too—unless your nature as a rational being would be degraded by it.” The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. United Kingdom, Routledge, 1894. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Meditations_of_Marcus_Aurelius/5qcAEZZibB0C.

[vi] Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. United States, University of Chicago Press, 2012. p. 134. https://www.google.com/books/edition/History_of_Political_Philosophy/E7mScxst9UoC.

[vii] Organized religion, State and local government, business and trade organizations, fraternal and community based organizations – all have had a traditional and historic role in both protecting and nurturing communities and people locally but in allowing people, through voluntary organization to take care of themselves. Liberalism in the west has replaces all f this with Government and the individual.

[viii] Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. p. 121.

[ix] Cheek, H. Lee. Calhoun and Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse. United States: University of Missouri Press, 2004. p. 156. https://amzn.to/2w3agBE

[x] See previous argument, “How Locke and Hobbes Were Wrong: State of Nature”, http://barryclark.info/how-locke-and-hobbes-were-wrong-state-of-nature/.

[xi] See previous argument, “From Radical Progressivism to Authoritarianism”, http://barryclark.info/from-radical-progressivism-to-authoritarianism/ or Clark, Barry, From Radical Progressivism to Authoritarianism (December 19, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3506918 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3506918

[xii] See previous argument, “Government for the Common Good”, https://calhouninstitute.com/government-for-the-common-good/

Author: Barry

Southerner, father, husband, Christian and a retired Army field grade officer. Author of five books and of several papers and articles on ethics, culture, history, geopolitics and military affairs. He is the Executive Director of The Calhoun Institute and a partner at B&B Clark Consulting.

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