Hitchens on COVID and Conservative Impotence
The commentator diagnoses why so-called conservatives are unable (or unwilling) to fight draconian rule in the age of the pandemic.
Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens during a warm-up question before the start of BBC One’s political debate program “Question Time”, hosted for the first time in the history of the program from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. (Photo by Yui Mok / PA Images via Getty Images)
After a decade-long career in journalism that has taken him around the globe and often earned him a place in the front row of historical events, Peter Hitchens is one of the most well-known conservative commentators in the western world. A columnist for The post on Sunday, his bitter and contrary opinions were published in The audience, First things, The American Conservativeand a variety of other publications. These days, Hitchens seems to be everywhere, attending TV shows, podcasts, and talk radio to argue that the government’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are jeopardizing fundamental freedoms and destroying economic and political stability.
“I have been dismayed in every Anglosphere that governments have disregarded the freedom and rule of law that they uphold,” Hitchens told me via email. “This has been shown not only by leaders and cabinets, but also by lawmakers who have not resisted or properly discussed emergency measures and by courts who have not questioned the executive. Freedom under the law exists in the hearts of men and women. If you don’t keep it up at such moments, nothing and no one else will do it. We are as free as we want to be. It seems that our political, legal and media elites no longer want to be free. These reversals may well prove permanent. Submission to claims (wrong in my view) of necessity is easy to do and, once generally accepted, difficult to escape. “
Indeed, it has been easy for leaders and media outlets (who have no control over their income) to make fun of those who protest against unconstitutional lockdown orders and other draconian measures, but these dissenters perform an essential democratic function: they remind them Bureaucrats and the politicians to whom they are ultimately accountable. Many politicians have shown impatience when faced with questions and contempt for those demanding evidence of actions that are devastating their livelihoods, and protesters, despite their occasionally embarrassing antics and conspiracy theories, are early reminders of the limits of their power to lead it with dedication.
I asked Hitchens why many of the governments that are implementing draconian measures in the UK and elsewhere consider themselves conservative. “I don’t think there have been Conservative parties in Anglosphere for some time, if there ever were such things,” he replied. “Pre-tax defense of personal wealth has never been a good foundation for conservatism, and the Reagan-Thatcher era was an era of liberalism, not conservatism. The remnants of conservatism were at home on issues such as abortion and criminal justice (about which “conservative” parties had actually not done anything for decades) and started stupid wars abroad. “
“In the meantime, after 1968, the left has fundamentally reformed, shedding its Bolshevik and Soviet baggage, focusing on social, cultural and sexual struggles,” noted Hitchens. “The supposed ‘right’ has never understood the goals or the nature of the new left. Its own lack of ideas has made it ready (because it cannot see the danger) and ready (because it wants office at all costs) to accept the ideas of the New Left. It still doesn’t understand what it’s accepted, but when it implements egalitarianism, multiculturalism, third wave feminism, and political utopianism, it doesn’t seem to mind. The idea behind the unprecedented COVID measures is fundamentally utopian, a belief that all kinds of actions are justified in order to achieve a beautiful idea. Lo and behold, they did that. “
One of the main reasons it was so easy for politicians to implement these measures is that a fear-driven majority in many places has given them permission to do so. For example, in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, home to 14.57 million people, lockdowns are causing hundreds of small businesses to go bankrupt and are regularly conducting high-support surveys. Those who ask questions are accused of being persistent about the lives of the elderly and vulnerable, and politicians are quick to capitalize on those sentiments and insist they have no choice. This is how breathtaking and previously unheard of raids are taking place, with governments dictating who can be accommodated in their homes and sending police to private properties to make sure their rules are followed.
“It’s been clear for some time that people accustomed to inherited freedom don’t mind if it’s taken away, provided a compelling excuse (terrorism or disease) can be found,” Hitchens said. “I’m not sure that so many people like freedom so much. As someone who often contradicts, I fear for the future. Freedom of expression and thought cannot survive long in such an atmosphere. If our Soviet enemy in the Cold War Hadn’t been such an obvious enemy of freedom, I doubt NATO governments would have gone to great lengths to defend it. But they have been caught up in their own rhetoric not to attack it so much. Governments in general don’t like freedom. “
As for the justification for draconian measures – that we are faced with breaking health systems and seeing rising deaths without them – Hitchens is a skeptic. “I actually expect verifiable causal evidence that this is so. I haven’t seen any, although I see a lot of evidence that the measures have caused serious irreparable damage, social, educational, economic, personal, cultural and political. In short: I see a lot of broken eggs. But where is your omelette? “The response of many governments to the pandemic is disproportionate, according to Hitchens.” You’re not burning your house to get rid of a wasp’s nest.
When I asked what the next five years might look like, Hitchens was characteristically pessimistic. “I am not a prophet. The first year was bad enough. I think the economic ramifications of what we (or rather they have) done will severely limit any chance of recovery to our previous levels of freedom, prosperity and civilization. Even if someone tries. As long as the precautionary principle is in place, all it will take is one new, supposedly devastating virus, and we’re about to slide back down the line for another futile and disgusting fit of government-sponsored fear and house arrest. “Given the previous precedent of lockdowns to stop the spread and trigger new locks by 2021, it’s difficult not to agree.
In fact, most governments seem to have put all their eggs in the vaccination basket and have no answers to simple but very important questions. What happens if the relief money runs out? What if another coronavirus mutation renders the vaccine ineffective? What if there is a third and fourth wave? When do the economic and psychological effects of the lockdown outweigh the alleged benefits? Can the authorities simply invent new powers if they claim that the situation calls for it and the voting public tolerates it? We’ll all find out together, and I suspect we won’t like the answers when they come.
As always, I hope Peter Hitchens’ dire predictions are wrong. As always, however, I suspect that it isn’t.
Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His comment appeared in National reviewThe European Conservative, the National Post and elsewhere. Jonathon is the author of The culture war and Seeing Is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face Abortion Victims as well as being co-authored with Blaise Alleyne from A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide.