10.7 C
London
Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Europe’s latest wave of Covid authoritarianism has set a dangerous new precedent

Across Europe, basic norms of civilised society are giving way to panic. The unvaccinated are being excluded from an ever-wider range of basic rights. Austria has criminalised them. Italy has stopped them doing their jobs. The Dutch police have fired on anti-lockdown demonstrators, seriously injuring some of them. We are witnessing the ultimate folly of frightened politicians who cannot accept that they are impotent in the face of some natural phenomena.

If lockdowns, forced closures of businesses and other brutal countermeasures work, then why are these countries on their fifth wave of the pandemic and their third or fourth lockdown? How long must this go on before we recognise that these measures simply push infections into the period after they are lifted?

The logic of persisting with them now is that they can never be lifted. What were once justified as temporary measures to hold the position until vaccines were available are in danger of being forced on people as permanent changes to their way of life. Perhaps the ugliest feature of the crisis is the politicians’ habit of blaming others for the bankruptcy of their own policies. Opposition to vaccines is foolish. They are highly effective at preventing serious illness and death. But they are not as effective against infection or transmission as was once thought.

The Austrian Chancellor has been in the front line of the blame game. Others are tempted to follow him. Yet the proportion of fully vaccinated people in Austria, at 64 per cent, is well above the European average (57 per cent) and not far short of our own (68 per cent). The Netherlands and Belgium are among the most thoroughly vaccinated countries in Europe, at 74 per cent, but have seen some of the steepest rises in infection. Meanwhile, the moral dimension is forgotten. The basic problem is an approach to the pandemic which treats it as a purely technical issue of public health management, when it is a complex economic, social and political issue as well.

This leads to the unthinking assumption that there are no limits to what the frightened majority can legitimately impose on others in the hope of protecting themselves against infection. The absence of moral scruple in pursuit of what is thought to be a public good, is the first symptom of totalitarianism. The reduction of human beings to mere instruments of state policy is the next.

Social interaction with other people is not an optional leisure activity but a basic need of humankind. A minimum of respect for the personal autonomy of our fellows is essential if we are to live together in any kind of harmony. These things are what make us a community. Governments which ignore them cross an important moral line, and inevitably find themselves engaged in a sustained assault on the humanity of their people.

Those who refuse to be vaccinated may be unwise, perhaps selfish. But if they are not even allowed to decide what medical procedures they will undergo and what drugs they receive into their own bodies, then there is not much left of their autonomy as human beings. The way is wide open to despotism and unending social discord.

The rest of us should look on and note how easily liberal democracy can be subverted by fear.

Lord Sumption sat on the UK’s Supreme Court from 2012 to 2018

News
Latest news
Related news

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

64 − = 59