Most Americans who graduated from high school before the mid-1960s — when patriotism was still a permissible attitude — would know that the man who said, famously, “give me liberty or give me death” was Patrick Henry. Henry said it at the end of his speech to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775. The speech convinced the convention to pass a resolution to provide troops for the Revolutionary War.
What Henry said applies with full force in today’s crucial moment, when the fearful are being goaded and coerced by state-worshipers into abandoning what is left of their liberty. The final sentences of Henry’s speech put today’s choice starkly:
What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
The difference between then and now is that the citizens of Virginia had on their side — the side of liberty — the stalwarts who adopted the resolution and put it into effect. Those stalwarts, in addition to Patrick Henry, included Richard Henry Lee (grandfather of “Light Horse Harry” Lee and great-grandfather of Robert E. Lee), Benjamin Harrison (father of future president William Henry Harrison and great-grandfather of future president Benjamin Harrison), Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.
Where are their spiritual descendants today? I ask because there is much truth in a piece that is making its way around the internet:
When the State tells you it’s safe to go to The Home Depot to buy a sponge but it’s too dangerous to go to a florist and buy flowers—it’s not about your health.
When the State shuts down millions of private businesses but doesn’t lay off a single government employee—it’s not about your health.
When the State bans dentists because it’s unsafe, but deems abortion visits safe—it’s not about your health.
When the State prevents you from buying cucumber seeds because it’s too dangerous, but allows in-person lottery ticket sales—it’s not about your health.
When the State tells you it’s too dangerous to go golf alone, fish alone or be in a motorboat alone, but the Governor can get his stage make up done, and hair done for 5 TV appearances a week—it’s not about your health.
When the state puts you IN a jail cell for walking in a park with your child because it’s too dangerous but lets criminals OUT of jail cells for their health—it’s not about YOUR health!
When the state tells you it’s too dangerous to get treated by a doctor of chiropractic or physical therapy treatments yet deems a liquor store essential—it’s not about your health!
When the State lets you go to the grocery store or hardware store but is demanding mail-in voting, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOUR HEALTH.
Yes, there’s a good deal of conspiracy-minded paranoia behind sentiments like that. But the screed also points to a truth: Governments across this once-free nation are making dictatorial decisions that are harming tens of millions of Americans, socially and economically, instead of letting those Americans decide for themselves what risks to take. That is to say, Americans are being deprived of (more of) their liberty because of the possibility that a small fraction of them might die.
Reducing the small fraction to an even smaller one is the official excuse for inflicting economic and social devastation on Americans. What’s the truth of the matter? There are many truths:
1. Elected officials prefer to err on the side of caution — in the guise of “caring” for the health of their constituents — to guard against second-wave effects. Rightly or wrongly — and mostly wrongly — they suffer electoral consequences for things that go wrong when they are in office, even those things are unavoidable or have nothing to do with official actions.
2. Elected officials (and government employees generally) are insulated from the economic effects of lockdowns, and have no skin in the game. Moreover, most of them — especially in the central government, State governments, and governments of cities — mingle with and take their cues from information, media, and academic elites who likewise have no skin in the game. Thus their focus, according to #1, is keeping the death toll low.
3. The personal consequences of economic devastation, for the tens of millions of Americans who aren’t insulated from it, aren’t big news. The media instead plays up the consequences of the disease — debilitation and death — in keeping with its age-old tradition: If it bleeds, it leads.
4. The tens of millions of Americans who are suffering economically are represented by demonstrators (often armed) who are portrayed as “selfish” Walmartians. They are the present equivalent (for elite snobs) of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables”. And Trump is the leading “deplorable” because of his “racist” insistence on calling a virus that originated in China the “China virus”.
5. To the extent that the destruction of small businesses and the nation’s soaring unemployment rate are news, they stand (somehow, in the mind of smug elites) as proof that the “Trump economy” was somehow phony.
6. Therefore, Trump is discredited and doesn’t deserve reelection. Especially because his early, optimistic pronouncements about COVID-19 somehow caused the federal bureaucracy (a.k.a. the deep state) and many State and local governments (mostly those run by Democrats) to respond inadequately to the pandemic.
All of this plays well, not only to the insiders who perpetrate it but also — and importantly — to the tens of millions of Americans who haven’t a clue about what it means to lose a business or a job because they are economically secure thanks to a government job (or other sinecure), retirement income (especially from a government source), parental support, or ample savings. Fear wins with them because they might die but aren’t going to suffer financially.
To look at it another way, in America the COVID-19 pandemic is another front in the culture war between “cosmopolitan elites” (and their cosseted sycophants) and “real people“.
It is also another way for the ruling classes (for that is what they are) to secure their economic and social dominance, as Joel Kotkin explains in “The Pandemic Road to Serfdom” (The American Mind, May 1, 2020):
Even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, America, like most higher-income countries, was already heading toward a neo-feudal future: massive inequality, ever-greater concentrations of power, and increasingly widespread embrace of a uniform (albeit secular) religion. The pandemic, all too reminiscent of the great plagues of the Middle Ages, seems destined to accelerate this process….
[A]s jobs are destroyed on Main Street, others, like those at well-positioned Amazon, are created by the hundreds of thousands. It is also a rosy new dawn for online collaboration applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Rooms, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, the fastest-growing business app on record. Also greatly enhanced will be those who provide the infrastructure for the conquering digital economy, including chipmakers like Intel and cloud-computing behemoths like (yet again) Amazon and Microsoft.
The pandemic seems likely to further consolidate the tech industry shift from its garage-based startup past, with firms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon increasingly resembling Japan’s long-dominant keiretsu. The pandemic may have squashed many new companies that are now short on capital. In contrast, the oligarchic firms, which control upwards of 80% of such key markets as search, social media, cloud computing, and computer operating systems, now enjoy an even greater edge in garnering ever more of the nation’s technical talent.
Ultimately the pandemic will provide the new elite with opportunities to gain control of a whole set of coveted industries, from entertainment and media to finance and space travel. Perhaps most concerning will be their ability to control all aspects of information as the last vestiges of local and small-town journalism face Covid-driven “extinction level” events. What is now left of the “legacy” media—the Atlantic, Time, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times—has fallen increasingly under their control. Nine of the 13 richest people under age 40 are in the tech industry: the odds are favorable that the new elite will maintain their control over information for generations….
In contrast, the pandemic has proven an utter disaster for much of the Third Estate [the “commoners”]. The most evident damage can be seen at the malls, or on Main Street, where millions of small firms have been forced to close and, at least in some locations, may be forced to stay locked down for many more months….
In the aftermath of the lockdowns, small independent firms will be harder-pressed to compete against larger competitors with better access to capital and better positioning to wait out the pandemic. In the coming months, we might see many of our favorite local gyms and bars, or taco stands and family-owned Chinese restaurants, replaced by either online options or larger chains….
With the yeomanry thundering mostly from the Right, the protests of “essential” blue-collar workers could help boost the socialist cause. Roughly half of American households have no emergency savings and face an uncertain future as jobs disappear. A new class of ex-workers now finds the dole a more amenable or viable option than hard and dangerous work for relatively low pay. Bernie Sanders may have lost the nomination, but the message he ran on is amplified at a time when soup kitchens, as during the Depression, are now serving New York artists, writers, and musicians. The pandemic will likely increase the strong socialist tendency among both millennials and the successor Z generation….
Ultimately … disorder [born of joblessness] threatens the power of both the oligarchs and the clerisy. Their likely response may be embracing what I call “oligarchal socialism,” where the very notion of work disappears in favor of a regime of cash allotments. This notion of providing what Marx called “proletarian alms,” widely supported in Silicon Valley, could prove a lasting legacy of the pandemic. This is how Rome, as slaves replaced the middle orders, kept its citizenry in line, and how the Medieval order in times of economic stress relied on the charitable efforts of the Church.
The virus that now dominates our daily lives may soon begin to slowly fade, but it will have a deep, protracted impact on our society and class structure. Covid-19 will likely leave us with conditions that more resemble feudalism than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago.
As Rahm Emanuel, then Obama’s chief-of-staff-in-waiting, said during the financial crisis of late 2008,
You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.
What that means now, in addition to the entrenchment of the ruling oligarchy, is probably a permanent expansion of governmental power. As with the New Deal and Great Society, the current wave of handouts has engorged the rolls of those who depend on government and look to it (mostly in vain) for “solutions” to whatever problems seem beyond their (government-enfeebled) ability to solve through private action. And, “deplorables” aside, government’s role as nagging nanny (however incompetent) has been reinforced, and will be exploited to a fare-thee-well.
That’s what the mere possibility of death has done to liberty in the year 2020 A.D.
Other related reading:
F.H. Buckley, “What’s at Risk in Redivided America?“, The American Spectator, May 9, 2020
Wendell Cox, “Majority of COVID-19 Deaths in Nursing Homes: New Report“, newgeography, May 12, 2020
Dov Fischer, “A Time to Hate“, The American Spectator, May 11, 2020
Daniel Horowitz, “Simple Arithmetic Demonstrates that the Epidemic, outside Nursing Homes, Is Essentially Over“, Conservative Review, May 7, 2020
Arnold Kling, “The Future That We Won’t Have“, askblog, May 10, 2020
Francis Menton, “Why Are Government Employees Supposedly Immune to Layoffs?“, Manhattan Contrarian, May 6, 2020
Norbert Michel, “1% of Counties Home to Half of COVID-19 Cases, Over Half of Deaths“, The Daily Signal, May 12, 2020
Dave Middleton, “‘Predictive Models’ Rarely Are Predictive“, Watts Up With That?, May 8, 2020
Dave Middleton, “Lockdown Fail in One Easy Graph“, Watts Up With That?, May 12, 2020
Wilfred Reilly, “The Lockdowns Still Aren’t Working“, Spiked, May 8, 2020