If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the public’s understanding and practice of liberty from the pandemic, it’s that some when pushed to the brink will rebel. Sometimes, for humans to learn, takes a loss of liberty to awaken them.
Currently, millions want their states to “open up” while local governments say “no.”
People lost much during this pandemic: livelihoods, freedom of movement and assembly, freedom of worship, and freedom of association. Never has our modern society been so restrictive on American’s civil liberties. As a result, mental and emotional health suffered, the economy tanked, and some lost loved ones with whom they were never able to visit during their illness. Weddings, graduation parties, and celebration of life memorials were forbidden unless compliant with whatever government restrictions were implemented in that region.
Simultaneously, there was no comfort to be had, as visiting friends, family, and churches were relatively off-limits; travel cross country much less across town wasn’t a viable option. Going anywhere without covering one’s face was often prohibited. Businesses were shutdown. “Essential” was defined by bureaucrats.
Others have watched in horror as their cities and its businesses have been destroyed by rampaging rioters and vandals, with the police doing little if anything stop stop it. Lawlessness in the streets amid enforcement of liberty-restricting policies is the reality in some municipalities.
What have the American people had the chance to learn from this calamity?
Infringement on the fundamental rights recognized and enshrined in our founding documents is the greatest threat to America. It’s far more dangerous than external threats as it erodes the basis upon which we thrive. Without these rights respected, we lose what makes us unique in the world. Even in the face of an unknown threat such as COVID-19, the known threat of government overreach looms.
COVID-19 is a disaster. A health disaster, an economic disaster, it’s a tragedy of epic magnitude. A thriving economy went to zilch. Its effects will last for years, along with the disastrous repercussions of government policies.
The limited and debatable benefits to many of the government mandates implemented in this time are far outweighed by the losses. Do people suffer from viruses? Sure. That’s nothing new. It’s part of life. Do people suffer when the government restricts our personal choice? Yes, and with ongoing consequences.
Less intrusive and respectful of American liberty would have been allowing the free market to adjust, as it would have. A free people can arm themselves with knowledge, research, and decide for themselves what social contact they accept.
In retrospect, examining the past seven months, giving up intrinsic rights did not make us safer, it made us poorer — in spirit, in liberty, and financially. What was to be a temporary two-week shutdown to limit a hospital overload due to an anticipated influx of patients, devolved into municipalities and states nationwide implementing their own controls, which many do not now want to relinquish. The precedent has been established that one’s freedoms of movement, association, and assembly are subject to the arbitrary edicts of mayors and governors.
The sadness of suffering in its many forms from this pandemic is immeasurable. Yet, with it comes an opportunity, which some have finally taken to reject infringements on our rights and freedoms. Many people are realizing that such infringements cannot be tolerated, as its precedent poses a grave danger to the way of life we treasure. A concern for our people and nation cannot be allowed to destroy our liberty and our well-being.
As for “public health,” health and medical care are personal, not public. Or, at least they should be. Likewise, the market should be free. Had this been the case, Americans would have had to suffer (or not) the consequences of their own decisions rather than suffer the consequences of politicians and bureaucrats whose vacillating messages neither inspired confidence nor helped us cope. How, when, and where patients should be treated would be privately decided between doctors and patients. Truly “public” properties are the only ones which should be subject to whatever restriction deemed necessary – and inherent in that is the realization that much of what is now “public” (education, for example) should be private to begin with. As such, controversies over teachers in government-run schools not wanting to come back to work would be non-existent (as would the mandatory vaccines for children attending government school dispute).
As for me, I appreciate businesses taking the lead, whether enforcing “no mask, no service” or permitting entry to all. I applaud volunteer activities that have blessed millions. And I wisely choose for myself what precautions I take for myself and my family. Should people be restricted from private property if the owner does not want them on- premises? Yes. Should people be allowed to gather willingly? Yes. Should masks be mandated? No. Should those who believe masks to be valuable in the fight against this virus be permitted to wear them and require them on their property? Yes. Sharing of research and speculation as well as strong recommendations and even voluntary contact-tracing participation is legitimate, forced mandates on private interactions is not (example: a business which wants to cooperate with contact-tracing can require its patrons to do so — an uninterested citizen can choose not to go to that business).
We live in a wonderfully technologically-developed time, where many people can choose to separate from the world to a more or less degree. Others, people-persons, feel lost without their social contacts. Let those believed to be at greater vulnerability to the virus, decide their priorities. Life is constantly posing risk assessments to the thoughtful. Does letting people decide, knowing there are both rational and stupid in the populous, violate any civil right? No. Let each decide, with restrictions applicable only when one person’s activities would definitely (not speculatively) infringe on that of another. Only in such a liberty-respecting society can we flourish. I think it’s a lesson millions now understand.
Posted with permission from the Future of Freedom Foundation.