Lockdown: The New Totalitarianism

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By Jeffrey A. Tucker 

Every political ideology has three elements: a vision of hell with an enemy that needs to be crushed, a vision of a more perfect world, and a plan for transitioning from one to the other. The means of transition usually involve the takeover and deployment of society’s most powerful tool: the state. For this reason, ideologies trend totalitarian. They depend fundamentally on overriding people’s preferences and choices and replacing them with scripted and planned belief systems and behaviors.

An obvious case is communism. Capitalism is the enemy, while worker control and the end of private property is the heaven, and the means to achieve the goal is violent expropriation. Socialism is a softer version of the same: in the Fabian tradition, you get there through piecemeal economic planning. 

The ideology of racism posits something different. The hell is ethnic integration and race mixing, the heaven is racial homogeneity, and the means of change is the marginalization or killing off of some races. Fascism imagines global trade, individualism, and immigration to be the enemy while a mighty nationalism is heaven: the means of change is a great leader. You can observe the same about certain brands of theocratic religious traditionalism. 

Each of these ideologies comes with a primary intellectual focus, a kind of story designed to occupy the mind. Think about exploitation. Think about inequality. Think about race theory. Think about national identity. Think about salvation. Each comes with its own language to signal one’s attachment to the ideology. 

Most of the above ideologies are well worn. We have plenty of experience to draw on from history to observe the patterns, recognize the adherents, and refute the theories. 

This year has given us a new ideology with totalitarian tendencies. It has a vision of hell, of heaven, and a means of transition. It has a unique language apparatus. It has a mental focus. It has signalling systems to reveal and recruit adherents. 

That ideology is called lockdown. We might as well add the ism to the word: lockdownism.

Its vision of hell is a society in which pathogens run freely. Its heaven is a society managed entirely by medical technocrats whose main job is the suppression of all disease. The mental focus is the viruses and other bugs. The anthropology is to regard all human beings as little more than sacks of deadly pathogens. The people susceptible to the ideology are the people with various degrees of mysophobia, once regarded as a mental problem now elevated to the status of social awareness. 

This year has been the first test of lockdownism. It included the most intrusive, comprehensive, and near-global controls of human beings and their movements in recorded history. Even in countries where the rule of law and liberties are sources of national pride, people were put under house arrest. Their churches and businesses were closed. The police have been unleashed to enforce it all and arrest open dissent. The devastation compares with wartime except that it was a government-imposed war on people’s right to move and exchange freely. We still cannot travel. 

And remarkably, after all of this, what remains missing is the empirical evidence, from anywhere in the world, that this shocking and unprecedented regime had any effect on controlling much less stopping the virus. Even more remarkably, the few places that remained fully open (South Dakota, Sweden, Tanzania, Belarus), points out Will Jones, “lost no more than 0.06% of their population to the virus,” in contrast to high deaths lockdown New York and Britain. 

Early on, most people went along, thinking that it was somehow necessary and short term. Two weeks stretched to 30 days which stretched to 7 months, and now we are told there will never be a time when we don’t practice this new public-policy faith. It’s a new totalitarianism. And with all such regimes, there is one set of rules for the rulers and another for the ruled. 

The language apparatus is now incredibly familiar: curve flattening, spread slowing, social distancing, targeted layered containment, non-pharmaceutical intervention. The enemy is the virus and anyone who isn’t living their life solely to avoid contamination. Because you can’t see the virus, that usually means generating a paranoia of The Other: someone unlike you has the virus. Anyone could be a super spreader and you can recognize them by their noncompliance. 

If Robert Glass or Neil Ferguson deserve to be called the founders of this movement, one of its most famous practitioners is Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes for Health. His vision of the future is positively shocking: it includes restrictions on who you can have in your home, the end of all large events, the end of travel, perhaps an attack on pets, and the effective dismantlement of all cities. Anthony Fauci explains: 

“Living in greater harmony with nature will require changes in human behavior as well as other radical changes that may take decades to achieve: rebuilding the infrastructures of human existence, from cities to homes to workplaces, to water and sewer systems, to recreational and gatherings venues. In such a transformation we will need to prioritize changes in those human behaviors that constitute risks for the emergence of infectious diseases. Chief among them are reducing crowding at home, work, and in public places as well as minimizing environmental perturbations such as deforestation, intense urbanization, and intensive animal farming.

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