Totalitarianism Begins With Censorship

Principles of what a free society means are being redefined by collectivists.

Article by Barry Brownstein.


Consider this essay: “Don’t COVID Vaccine Mandates Actually Promote Freedom?” [See link in the original.] Medical ethicists Kyle Ferguson and Arthur Caplan argue, “Those who oppose cracking down on the unvaccinated are getting it all wrong.” Ferguson and Caplan are sure their opponents have a “flawed view of freedom.” They argue “Passports and mandates are hardly ‘strong-arm tactics.’ These strategies are better seen as liberty inducers. They bring about freedom rather than deplete it.”

They add, “a successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign will liberate us — as individuals and as a collective — from the callous grip of a pandemic that just won’t seem to end.” Orwell’s “Party” proclaimed in 1984 that “Freedom is slavery.” Ferguson and Caplan come close to arguing “Slavery is freedom.”

Ferguson and Caplan assure us that the enlightenment view of “the unbound individual” is outdated. They want to reimagine freedom as communal, starting with “the individual’s participation in a community and the kind of community in which the individual lives.” 

[. . .]

For some, flowery visions of the common good have always been seductive. In The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek observes that even well-meaning people will ask, “If it be necessary to achieve important ends,” why shouldn’t the system “be run by decent people for the good of the community as a whole?”

Hayek challenges the axiomatic belief that wise people can tell others what the common good is. He explains why there is no such thing as the common good: “The welfare and happiness of millions cannot be measured on a single scale of less or more. The welfare of the people, like the happiness of a man, depends upon a great many things that can be provided in an infinite variety of combinations.”

Here’s the crucial question: Who decides what the “common good” is? With what authority?

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James Macgregor Burns recounts in his book Fire and Light how Rousseau’s ideas of the general will led to the brutality of his disciple Robespierre. Like Hayek, Burns explains that there can be no agreement about the common good. Claiming to rule by the common good inevitably leads to excesses. Robespierre and the other eleven men who made up the Committee of Public Safety ruled France with “unlimited power” and “terror.”

Burns explains what Rousseau did not understand: “Peaceful and democratic conflict [is] crucial to the achievement of freedom.” Instead, Rousseau imagined, like Ferguson and Caplan “a new society filled with good citizens… working selflessly and with identical minds for the common good.”

Rousseau’s ideas are mantras for censors. In Rousseau’s world, there would be no pesky “long debates, dissensions and tumult” impeding implementation of the common good.

[. . .]

We can never make the best of “imperfect material” when those posing as having superior knowledge are allowed to coerce others. Hayek writes, “What individualism teaches us is that society is greater than the individual only in so far as it is free. In so far as it is controlled or directed, it is limited to the powers of the individual minds which control or direct it.” In other words, choose to be directed by the limited power of Dr. Fauci’s mind or choose a free society’s virtually unlimited and unpredictable power.

Let’s put this together. Health collectivists, behaving like Jacobins, are sure there is one best way; they believe they are the arbiter of truth. Cloaking themselves in the holy robes of the augur of the common good, dissent is not to be tolerated. The end to the pandemic requires not that we follow the collectivists but that we are free to consider different perspectives and discover in the course of an uncoerced social process what really works.

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Final thoughts: What scares many people into the arms of authoritarians and collectivists is precisely the “unlimited and unpredictable power” of a “free society”. That is why God sent us the commandments. They give us a framework that limits the “unlimited” power and channels it into more “predictable” developments. Not only are we free to do anything within the framework of those commandments, He says. He also promises an abundance of blessings if we adhere to them.

(P.S.: Joseph Boot, in his book “The Mission of God“, writes: “Formerly, when the incoming President of the United States took the oath of office it was done, not on a closed Bible, but on a Bible opened to Deuteronomy 28, invoking the blessings and cursings of the law for obedience or disobedience.” Unfortunately, Boot doesn’t tell us “when” this “formerly” time was. But if it’s true, it’s significant nonetheless, as he continues: “All this reveals the fact that biblical law has had a continuous history as an object of relevance and study that makes it unique amongst ancient legal systems, and gives it a ‘claim to historical influence unmatched by any other legal system of antiquity.'”)