“A fundamental difference between modern dictatorships and all other tyrannies of the past is that terror is no longer used as a means to exterminate and frighten opponents but as an instrument to rule masses of people who are perfectly obedient.”
~Hannah Arendt ~ (The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1966)
As a recipient of an E.C. Harwood Visiting Research Fellowship at the American Institute for Economic Research, I am inspired by tales of the principled battles that Colonel Harwood fought in support of the ideals behind the US Constitution. Taking his oath to support that great document as a lodestar, his support for the cause of human liberty and personal dignity led him to be a vocal opponent of the policies of FDR’s New Deal. As such, he continued doing so despite orders from his military commanders to cease his criticisms, eventually choosing to take early retirement from a promising military career as a graduate of West Point.
My lesson from his brave acts against the most powerful institutions in the US is that being a true patriot requires supporting an ideology of individual freedom rather than accepting partisan interests that violate foundational precepts. As such, Americans wishing for a united and prosperous country should follow Edward Harwood’s example to challenge the authority of government officials and question assertions of “experts” they use for support.
This contrarian behavior is even more urgent given the drift of public policy in recent years that would expand political powers beyond FDR’s wildest dreams, at the expense of private property rights and human liberty. As it is, public policies have become increasingly pointed towards responses to claims that irresponsible actions by humans are causing environmental degradation and climate change.
While the emergence of a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and the disease that it might cause, Covid-19, are now at center stage, they share equal billing with the former only slightly in the background. In all events, this pair of menaces offers a convenient pretense for government officials to seek expansions in their powers that give them greater control over human actions and private resources. Initially, the specter of climate change was not enough to induce most citizens to accept enhanced political power that would diminish their liberty and curtail their personal rights.
However, fear ginned up during the recent pandemic based on pronouncements reflecting “expert” authority caused individuals to stop thinking of health as a personal issue and to embrace “public health.” The notion that “public health” reflects an objective reality must be challenged, especially since so much focus is on only one among many viruses and on only one disease among many ailments that afflict mankind. It is troubling that these political feats of legerdemain have induced many citizens to accept an artificial collective construct, with solidarity dominating individual autonomy and security elevated over human liberty.
While human health and protecting or rehabilitating the natural environment are indisputably worthy goals, a holistic approach to these matters requires considering their impact on the individual lives of humans.
Curbs on individual behavior and resource use to serve “public health” or the natural environment involve an unhealthy confusion of politics and “science.” In the end, the nonpharmaceutical interventions related to the Covid-19 pandemic might turn out to have been a dress rehearsal that serves as a roadmap for “climate action” to offset global warming.
Even if there is agreement on problems arising from human activity, the debate should be about the efficacy of the range of remedial actions that are available. As such, the quest for solutions should begin with an understanding that government interventions can often cause problems rather than be an appropriate remedy.