I don't know "Niccolò," the online Twitter name (likely an homage to political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli) of a European user whose recent thread on the long-term impacts our COVID response will have on Western Civilization went viral. But somehow, through the wonders of social media algorithms, the tweets ended up highlighted on my feed. And I'm glad they did.
The author's comments have had me thinking deeply about the issue for several days now, and I find myself agreeing with many of his conclusions.
I think that last line is very significant. There's no reason to argue over the question of whether draconian suspensions of civil liberties occurred. I remember the scenes of Italian citizens all on house arrest, sitting on their balconies in the evenings, singing collectively through the streets. I remember "essential travel only" being declared in my own community, just a step away from martial law.
Until 2020, would any of us have ever believed that hundreds of millions of freedom-loving people in the world would have voluntarily given up their right to travel, to engage in commerce, to run their businesses, and to see their families at will? Again, this has nothing to do with whether or not we think all those things were justified. It has everything to do with acknowledging this was a monumental, shocking paradigm shift – that the world's "free" people were willfully placed under house arrest by their governments.
Once we've all agreed on that point, take note of how our governments convinced us these actions were necessary.
I am sympathetic to the position that initial governmental orders were made in good faith. Though I'm sure there were plenty of questionable actors, I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to those making difficult decisions that they thought were in people's best interest.
Hindsight is indeed 20/20, but at the time, no one knew anything about this novel disease, including the world's leaders. Given the choice of temporarily hampering someone's lifestyle or subjecting the masses to an unknown contagion was not an easy call, and one that would bring criticism no matter what course of action was taken.
The problem, obviously, came in the fact that once we did know plenty about the disease, those leaders' approach did not change accordingly. And that includes more than just political leaders.
There's little doubt that had Trump won the 2020 election, the response from academia, intelligentsia, and pop culture elites would have been different. But alas, with left-wing control of every branch of elected American government, with entrenched left-wing dominance in the federal bureaucracy and regulative state, the "expert" class has given itself over completely to advocacy of the government's line.
As the author notes, that philosophy has filtered down into religious institutions as well. Christians have publicly harangued ministers and churches who have attempted to keep their doors open, accusing them of not "loving their neighbor," of failing to "submit to governing authorities," of "pridefully" endangering their flock for the sake of vanity.
All of these observations bring disconcerting feelings when I survey the landscape of where we now stand in the West. Despite knowing that the mortality rate of this virus is extraordinarily low, there is a significant portion of the population that not only remains panicked about returning to a normal life, but expresses antipathy and anger towards those who don't share their crippling paranoia.
Watching the Australian government's vicious crackdown on lockdown protests, or the slightly-less-volatile-but-still-contentious suppression of similar demonstrations in Europe, it isn't difficult to envision large portions of the West's population turning on their fellow citizens, assisting authorities as they round up the troublemakers who refuse to comply. And notice that those who would be working on behalf of the authoritative state would be doing so from a position of moral superiority – that is, they would be convinced they were doing the right and just thing in handing over their neighbors to the powerful.
It makes me wonder, now that COVID has opened that door, what about the next novel virus, public health scare, or similar issue? Has the lid on Pandora's box come completely unhinged before our very eyes? It's hard not to come to that frightening conclusion about what awaits the West – a truth Niccolò, the self-described progressive European Christian, couldn't help but observe himself.
The words of former Secretary of State George P. Shultz have never been so fitting: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and a willingness to act in its defense."