After Testing it With COVID, Experts Weigh ‘Authoritarianism’ to Fight Climate Change Too

recent study published in American Political Science Review, a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal published by Cambridge University, begins with a teasing question: “Is authoritarian power ever legitimate?”

For many, the answer is clearly no, concedes the study’s author—Ross Mittiga, an assistant professor of political theory at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. But Mittiga, in the abstract to the study, suggests otherwise:

“While, under normal conditions, maintaining democracy and rights is typically compatible with guaranteeing safety, in emergency situations, conflicts between these two aspects of legitimacy can and often do arise. A salient example of this is the COVID-19 pandemic, during which severe limitations on free movement and association have become legitimate techniques of government. Climate change poses an even graver threat to public safety. Consequently, I argue, legitimacy may require a similarly authoritarian approach.”

The study caught the eye of Alexander Wuttke, a Twitter user who studies political behavior at the University of Mannheim in Germany.

“In my reading, it explicitly argues that we must put climate action over democracy and adopt authoritarian governance if democracies fail to act on climate change,” tweeted Wuttke.

In an extensive thread, Wuttke explained why he disagrees with Mittiga.

“I am genuinely puzzled about the origins of this anti-democratic intuition that seems to give rise to the entire endeavor of exploring whether we should sacrifice democracy for the sake of a higher good,” Wuttke says at one point. “The article argues that crises not only can legitimize but may require authoritarian governance. This is not true. Democracies have fought the pandemic without giving up being democratic.”

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COVID-19 Made Democracies More Authoritarian and Authoritarian Regimes Even Worse

The COVID-19 pandemic is contributing to a significant decline in democratic values across the globe as many countries have taken aggressive and authoritarian steps to attempt to curb the virus.

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past two years, that’s probably not much of a surprise. Still, a new report from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a global nonprofit based in Sweden, offers a comprehensive look at the worrying trend of democratic erosion—a trend that has been helped along by the pandemic even though its roots go deeper.

“The world is becoming more authoritarian as non-democratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and many democratic governments suffer from backsliding by adopting their tactics of restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law, exacerbated by what threatens to become a ‘new normal’ of Covid-19 restrictions,” the IIDEA warns. The number of countries that are becoming “more authoritarian” by the group’s calculus is three times the number of countries that are moving toward democracy. This year is the fifth consecutive year in which the trend has been moving in that direction, the longest uninterrupted stretch of pro-authoritarian developments since the IIDEA started tracking these metrics in 1975.

That trend predates the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, but governmental responses to the virus have made things worse.

A number of democratic countries—the report specifically mentions the United States in this section—have implemented COVID measures “that were disproportionate, illegal, indefinite or unconnected to the nature of the emergency,” according to the IIDEA report. Those include travel restrictions and the use of “emergency powers that sometimes sidelined parliaments.”

The last two years have indeed been littered with examples of previously unheard-of government powers on display in the U.S. That includes everything from statewide lockdowns in which governors decreed which businesses were “essential” to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with the backing of both the Trump and Biden administrations, making it nearly impossible for property owners to evict deadbeat tenants. It took until this month for the U.S. to reopen its border with Canada for supposedly “nonessential” travel, even though there was probably no good justification for closing the border in the first place.

Outside the U.S., places like Austria and Australia continue to rachet up authoritarian restrictions on public interactions and economic behavior—even for people who have been vaccinated. According to the report, 69 countries have made violating COVID restrictions an imprisonable offense, with two-thirds of those countries being ones the group considers to be democracies. Albania and Mexico have the most punitive laws on the books, allowing prison sentences of 15 years and 12 years, respectively, for violating pandemic-related protocols.

More than 20 percent of countries have used their militaries to enforce COVID controls, which the report warns could contribute to “the normalization of increasingly militarized civil life after the pandemic.” Meanwhile, 42 percent of countries have rolled out voluntary or compulsory apps used for contact tracing, which may be effective in curbing the spread of the virus but create concerning new opportunities for government surveillance in a post-pandemic world. Of particular concern to IIDEA are the eight non-democratic regimes (AzerbaijanBahrainChinaKazakhstanQatarSingaporeThailand, and Turkey) where those apps have been made mandatory for all smartphone-using residents.

Meanwhile, some public health officials in America are wishcasting for even more aggressive restrictions. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, recently praised the “really strict lockdowns” deployed by China—a country that no healthy democracy should be using as a model for good policy making.

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Orwell’s 1984 As Manual For The Woke

On learning that Twitter sanctioned Rep. Jim Banks for daring to refer to Assistant Secretary of Health R. Levine as a man (and that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene also referred, but without sanction, to Dr. Levine as a man) I turned, for insight on this peculiar assault on the concept of objective reality, to a classic novel on the nature of totalitarianism:  1984, by George Orwell.  Here are, I believe, relevant passages from the novel, from a torture scene, with torture applied to Winston Smith by O’Brien.

O’Brien to Winston Smith, undergoing torture: 

“Who controls the present, controls the past…” Signet Classic (paper), p.248

This is what Critical Race Theory is all about.

O’Brien to Winston Smith, undergoing torture, on the nature of reality:

“Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see  something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external.  Reality exists in the human mind,  and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.”  Ibid, at p. 249

The Party says R. Levine is a woman; therefore, he is a woman.

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Dr. Fauci: A tyrant from out of The Twilight Zone

This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector. —Plato

Observing Doctor Fauci’s behavior since the start of this COVID-19 pandemic, I am reminded of an episode of the original Twilight Zone series written by Rod Serling: “On Thursday We Leave for Home.”  According to The Twilight Zone Companion, by Marc Scott Zicree, Serling considered it the best episode of the fourth season.  It is an excellent example of tyrants — how they are made and how they behave.  It’s also consistent with Plato’s succinct definition.

James Whitmore plays William Benteen, the leader of a colony of Earth people who have been living on a colony planet.  They left Earth because of the conditions there and went in search of their own paradise.  The colony planet was anything but a paradise.  In order to keep up their spirits, Benteen tells the people stories of how wonderful Earth was when he lived there.  Many of the people are too young to remember or were born on the colony planet.

Benteen learns that a rescue ship is coming to take everyone home on Thursday.  When the people learn of this rescue mission, Benteen changes his stories about Earth.  When they remind Benteen of the fact that he told them stories of how wonderful Earth was, his response is, “I lied to you to make you feel better.  Now I’m telling you the truth for your own good.”

This is consistent with the flip-flops that Doctor Fauci has given us from the beginning.  He said masks don’t protect you.  In fact, years earlier, he said that very thing.  At the time, he called them a paranoid tool.  Then he changed his tune and said everyone should wear a mask.  Next, he suggested a mask mandate.  When he was confronted with his own words, he echoed Benteen’s response: I lied to you so there wouldn’t be a rush on masks.  Now I’m telling you the truth for your own good.

It’s troubling that he didn’t concern himself with the hoarding and shortages of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, or food.  That’s exactly what happened when he called for a home quarantine for fourteen days to “flatten the curve.”

Benteen begins to respond in such a way that it becomes apparent that he is afraid of losing his power over the colony’s people.  He changes from the great protector to the authoritarian.  He insists that if they return home, the colonists must remain isolated from the rest of Earth for their own good.  Doctor Fauci refers to this same mandate as “social distancing,” which he said may be necessary until 2022.  He has stated that he wasn’t sure if we should cancel Christmas this year again, like his Grinch-like mandate of 2020.

Think back to how Doctor Fauci was portrayed by the media at the beginning of this pandemic versus now.  In the beginning, he was the great protector, just as Plato describes in his definition.  A baker in my hometown made a Doctor Fauci donut to honor the great doctor.  There was other fawning over him, including a disastrous first pitch at a baseball game.  The accuracy of that pitch parallels his medical advice.

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