I would like to discuss a previous thread by one of our anonymous posters who wrote “about the only thing of note that I haven’t mentioned is the hysterical meltdown of those on the libertarian side of things to just about any government reaction to the current crisis” and I stress the word “any”. Peter Hitchens is apparently “one of the very worst offenders”, someone whom I have quoted a couple of times, “an hysterical female-like counterpoint to his deceased brother”. He is apparently “dancing around with his hands in the air in mortal abject terror of any government imposed change to his daily routine whatsoever” (my bolding). You can read the whole thing for yourself here.
I cannot speak for Peter, but will speak for myself. And I am already all too aware how readily all too many are prepared to throw away their freedoms at the mere whiff of some socialist grapeshot. You want to hear the sound of hysterical, try this:
Our responsibilities at the moment are to sit tight and do our best to not add to the problem. Yes we are suffering some discomfort. Yes, we are also taking a financial hit. Yes, some people are taking a bigger hit than others, either due to their own unpreparedness or suffering the ill fortune of this being very bad timing. But what are governments supposed to do? Take everyone’s individual circumstances into account? Even if they could, which they cannot, exactly why should they?
Our great handicap is that so many of us are conditioned to looking to government to solve our problems. So that when a very big event such as this happens then our only recourse is to scream and shout that something must be done or must not be done as the case may be. But the situation is not normal and screaming at the sky is beyond useless. What we must do is batten down the hatches and rely on ourselves and family and communities first. We must find ways to get things done.
I never classify myself as a libertarian, but I do line myself up ideologically with F.A. Hayek who is, like myself, a classical liberal, a conservative using today’s mode of classification. On Hayek’s attitude to governments in a crisis, Steve Hayward went into that just this morning: HAYEK ON EMERGENCY POWERS OF GOVERNMENT. This is a direct quote from Hayek’s Law, Legislation and Liberty. The bolding this time is from Steve Hayward.
The basic principle of a free society, that the coercive powers of government are restricted to the enforcement of universal rules of just conduct, and cannot be used for the achievement of particular purposes, though essential to the normal working of such a society, may yet have to be temporarily suspended when the long-run preservation of that order is itself threatened. Though normally the individuals need be concerned only with their own concrete aims, and in pursuing them will best serve the common welfare, there may temporarily arise circumstances when the preservation of the over-all order becomes the overruling common purpose, and when in consequence the spontaneous order, on a local or national scale, must for a time be converted into an organization. When an external enemy threatens, when rebellion or lawless violence has broken out, or a natural catastrophe requires quick action by whatever means can be secured, powers of compulsory organization, which normally nobody possesses, must be granted to somebody. Like an animal in flight from mortal danger society may in such situations have to suspend temporarily even vital functions on which in the long run its existence depends if it is to escape destruction.
The conditions under which such emergency powers may be granted without creating the danger that they will be retained when the absolute necessity has passed are among the most difficult and important points a constitution must decide on. ‘Emergencies’ have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded – and once they are suspended it is not difficult for anyone who has assumed such emergency powers to see to it that the emergency will persist. Indeed if all needs felt by important groups that can be satisfied only by the exercise of dictatorial powers constitute an emergency, every situation is an emergency situation. It has been contended with some plausibility that whoever has the power to proclaim an emergency and on this ground to suspend any part of the constitution is the true sovereign. This would seem to be true enough if any person or body were able to arrogate to itself such emergency powers by declaring a state of emergency.
Speaking for myself, I feel in many ways I am already living in a police state. Very benign for the moment, but they are only just starting to get used to the idea of using the police to take away our historic rights. What has amazed me more than anything in this latest episode is how few people actually seem aware of how much is at stake. There are a handful of deaths from the coronavirus but we are not in the middle of the Black Death. What we may well be in the middle of is the death of our personal freedoms. There are plenty around who would like to take them from us already and who they are ought to be visible to us all since they never stop threatening us for going out to take a walk in the park. Once you are used to that, who knows what will come next?