by Angelo Codevilla
As panic over the COVID-19 virus has gripped the country, the alarm has made it possible for many government officials to advance agendas that portend permanent accretions of power to themselves and diminution of others’ freedoms.
There is nothing new about claims that ordinary people must surrender their goods and freedoms in exchange for salvation from real, hyped, or imagined emergencies. These instances have occurred in societies ruled by magic, in ancient democracies and empires, in the context of religion, as well as under the presumed aegis of science. Plagues, comets, famines, anniversaries, computer problems (remember Y2K?), and global warming, have provided the fear. Power stokes panic, which perverts all judgment and emboldens the willful.
In Western civilization, and in America especially, the specific consequences of such panics are smaller than the corrosive effects they have on the civilization and the regimes themselves—based as these are on reason. What follows sketches the larger problem.
On April 8, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked about his agency’s guidance for classifying the relationship of COVID-19 infections to deaths, specifically: “In cases where a definite diagnosis of COVID-19 cannot be made, but it is suspected or likely (e.g., the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty), it is acceptable to report COVID-19 on a death certificate as ‘probable’ or ‘presumed.’”
The question proceeded from the fact that, as the number of deaths attributed to the Chinese coronavirus has risen, the number of deaths normally attributed to causes such as influenza, pneumonia, heart failure and complications from diabetes has declined significantly. Fauci was asked to explain why. Since the vast majority of serious COVID-19 cases occur in people with precisely such conditions, is it not possible that the high count of COVID-19 deaths is in part an artifact of CDC’s guidance?
The integrity of the numbers regarding infections and deaths is of the highest importance because these numbers are the basis on which Fauci, followed by model makers, followed by politicians, have estimated COVID-19’s lethality. And that estimate is the basis on which the state of emergency has been imposed, which is revolutionizing millions of lives. Besides, these estimates are diverging from reality ever farther with each passing day.
Yet Fauci did not address the numbers’ integrity. He dismissed the question. Above all, he dismissed the questioner’s right to ask it: “You will always have conspiracy theories when you have very challenging public health crises. They are nothing but distractions.”
Leave aside that Fauci and other unelected persons have no authority to decree anything; that, at most, they speak for the president of the United States. For anyone to dismiss legitimate questions and questioners, thereby claiming a right to rule in defiance of reason, is to negate nature as our civilization understands it – especially in America.
This civilization is based on the book of Genesis. And the United States of America is based on the Declaration of Independence. Both affirm that the universe is created according to reason, and is intelligible by human reason; both also affirm that all human beings are created by one God, equally in the image and likeness of God. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger summed it up in his 2006 Regensburg lecture, “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God.”
The practical meaning of “all men are created equal” is that no one may rule anyone else without his consent. And the consent of equals must be obtained by persuasion. To impose strictures on someone else while dismissing reasonable questions as to the basis for them is no trivial offense. It is an offense against our regime quite as much as it is on the individuals being treated as beings so inferior as to be placed beyond reason’s reach.
In the time of COVID-19, the primary practical problem is that any number of persons who hold positions of power have taken to exercising their statutory authority—and often much more—to please themselves or to act out their dreams of power. This has resulted in such assaults on common sense as the release from jail of common criminals, failure to arrest others, and the arresting and even jailing of those who defy orders to stay indoors or not work.
Just as galling is the coalescence of America’s ruling Left in demanding that the country remain shut down indefinitely, pending their own decision to release some restrictions conditioned on obeisance to their prescriptions for new ways of life. Fauci himself has said that he would allow those who can be certified to have recovered from a COVID-19 infection to return to work—subject to twice-daily temperature checks. Who gave him the right to so order?
The most consequential of the consequences of all this is precisely the dismissal of argument. Who are we, the presumably non-expert to question the experts?
Reasonably, the question should be turned around: Who are you to presume to rule over me? Who gave you such authority? I did not.
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Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).