Americans today should be asking themselves some serious questions as political leaders turn their lives upside-down. At what point do sensible and logical precautions designed to mitigate the growth of a pandemic become counter-productive, oppressive, or even self-destructive? Is there any logic or reason in crippling the economy to stem the spread of a virus that is non-fatal in the vast majority of cases? If an elected body puts individuals in a position where they cannot afford to feed their families, should not that body be held accountable? If a state government issues a rule that prevents a private citizen from earning a paycheck – or even costs that citizen his or her job – is it not doing that individual immeasurably more harm than would have been done by the virus itself?
As James Fite, Liberty Nation’s editor at large, writes: “When Coronavirus dies down, whether in two weeks or two months, what will these people have left? Some will draw unemployment, but not all – and even that is nowhere near a full replacement for the lost wages.”
If the government (state or federal) prevents a person from working, should not that person expect full compensation from the government body in question?
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced during a press conference on March 17 that every American would soon be receiving a check from the federal government. “We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin said. “Americans need cash now. The president wants to get cash now. I mean now – in the next few weeks.”
Mnuchin did not go into the specifics of this decision except to say the amount Americans will receive would be significant. Whether this is a smart move or not could be debated endlessly. In principle, though, it is nothing more – and perhaps far less – than many Americans deserve, considering the massive disruption to their lives and, for many, their incomes.
More generally, people should be asking themselves how much they are willing to let their government restrict regular, everyday activities, in the name of protecting them. For, if a government is allowed to enact any measures it deems appropriate – without restriction or complaint – are we truly living in a free society? As Liberty Nation’s Legal Affairs Editor Scott D. Cosenza writes: “We should keep our heads and maintain a vigilance that ensures our executives — from the mayor’s office to the Oval Office — honor our rights.”
Complacency is not an option: If Americans simply shrug their shoulders and blindly accept that the federal or local government is acting in their best interests and automatically has the authority to do so, then all is lost. Those who write the laws and regulations – be they elected politicians or unelected bureaucrats – will never pass up the opportunity to assume more power.
It is not merely paranoid to suspect, even, that certain governors and state legislators are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to enact all kinds of new restrictions. It almost seems as though they are using this opportunity to experiment, to test how far they can push the limits of their authority.
Published in 1972, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics is a collection of essays by author C.S. Lewis. One of the most quoted excerpts from this body of work begins: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.” The point Lewis made is timeless. In the guise of promoting “the common good” – or, in constitutional terms, the “general welfare” – governments can justify almost any law or regulation and seek to exert control over any aspect of society and commerce.
The United States will survive COVID-19. Life will return to normal, even if it takes several months. The real lesson to learn from the crisis, though, is not how best to deal with a pandemic. It is how the nation’s leaders will quickly use such events to grab power they do not legally have – if left unchecked – or, at least, how they will circumvent normal restraints upon the powers they do have. In the name of keeping the American people safe, these leaders – Lewis’ “moral busybodies” – will softly impose tyranny, grimly shaking their heads in concern as they do so.
Before the next pandemic comes along, Americans must ask themselves and their leaders these questions – and not relent until they get some straight answers.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.