Freedom Is a Pandemic Casualty in Authoritarian Regimes and Liberal Democracies

Around the world, governments are taking advantage of COVID-19 to tighten the screws on their subjects.


It will be months, at least, before we have a full accounting of pandemic casualties. For now, though, you can confidently add to that list a healthy measure of human freedom. Around the world, governments are taking advantage of the public health emergency to tighten the screws on their subjects. That's true of the usual-suspect authoritarian regimes, but citizens of liberal democracies have also seen their liberty curtailed. And not only is it unclear how much they'll get back once the crisis passes, it's not obvious that everybody will even want to reclaim the freedom they've surrendered.

It's not surprising that regimes traditionally contemptuous of the give and take of an open society see in the spread of COVID-19 a new opportunity for punishing dissidents and extending their power.

"The Thai authorities are prosecuting social media users who criticize the government and monarchy in a systematic campaign to crush dissent which is being exacerbated by new COVID-19 restrictions," Amnesty International reports. "Authorities have wasted no time using existing repressive laws in order to censor 'false' communications related to COVID-19," the organization adds.

Thailand isn't alone.

"Cambodian authorities are using the Covid-19 pandemic to carry out arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters and government critics," according to Human Rights Watch. "The authorities have arrested at least 30 people, including 12 linked to the dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), on charges of spreading 'fake news' and other offenses since the global outbreak of the pandemic."

You could say that arresting political opponents for criticizing public health efforts has gone viral.

"Across the globe, illiberal leaders—facing questions about their preparedness to deal with a pandemic that has killed nearly 45,000 people, at a time when too few states appear to be equipped for the challenge—see fake news bans as convenient tools to suppress criticism and accurate information just as readily as misinformation," Foreign Policy acknowledged a month ago, before the death toll climbed to its current level.

Despite controversial social media efforts to tag and sometimes yank (allegedly) misleading information, the pandemic hasn't been widely used in democratic countries to stifle political speech—yet.

Then again, as governments around the globe use the force of law to close businesses, restrict travel, and confine people to their homes—by the beginning of April, half of all humans were under lockdown orders of varying severity—aiming barbs at political leaders may be one of the few liberties that remain intact in many traditionally free-ish countries.

"If somebody wants to stay in the house that's great," Tesla chief Elon Musk complained in an April 29 conference call. "But to say that they cannot leave their house and they will be arrested if they do… this is fascist."

Musk is one of the more high-profile figures to push back against lockdown orders. But protests have erupted against restrictions across the United States, Canada, Germany, and elsewhere. In France they turned violent in reaction to harsh police enforcement tactics.

Some leaders are doubling down. California's Governor Gavin Newsom indicated that he would close all beaches and state parks to deter people from congregating under the open sky. Almost simultaneously, a Michigan judge refused to uphold a constitutional challenge to Michigan's bizarre and draconian (if recently softened) pandemic restrictions. That last bit of news should be little surprise since U.S. courts generally abandon anything resembling a protective role toward constitutionally protected rights during health crises.

"Historically, the courts have been very deferential to the executive branch in times of pandemics," constitutional expert Josh Blackman of the South Texas College of Law told The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "People always go to the courts. They tell the courts, 'We're not having our rights respected. We're having our rights violated. Do something!' And in almost every case, the courts say, 'Ehhh… Not for us … We're going to sit on the outside and look in.' And that's really been the story of the law in the time of epidemics."

Why do they fold so easily? Judges are people like anybody else, and they're as prone to panic and to abandon principles at the mention of "disease" as the rest of us. With a majority of Americans supportive of lockdown orders, and even of requiring people to postpone "non-essential" medical care, judges protecting individual liberty would be swimming against the current of public opinion.

Enough Americans are sufficiently frightened of becoming sick that many have taken to snitching on neighbors who they suspect of stepping beyond the bounds of pandemic rules.

"Covid-19-induced terror has hijacked the nation," worries Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo, an associate professor at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. "The battle against Covid-19 is gradually morphing into a battle over civil liberties," he wrote in an April 29 Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Ladapo is concerned not just by restrictive stay-at-home orders but also about what's to come, as efforts to control the spread of the novel coronavirus become a regular part of our lives.

"Testing may be mandatory," Ladapo warns. "Contact tracing may mean government tracking of cellphone data. How much privacy are individuals willing to forfeit for a virus that increasingly appears to pose little danger to a large percentage of the U.S. population?" He worries that, as in Thailand, Cambodia, and elsewhere, new intrusions into people's lives will be "more about the exercise of power than about public health."

The American Civil Liberties Union also worries about "plans to use location data from our cellphones to address the pandemic in ways that would not be effective and would impinge on rights." Likewise, Human Rights Watch warns that "for authoritarian-minded leaders, the coronavirus crisis is offering a convenient pretext to silence critics and consolidate power."

That power, once consolidated, will be hard to take away. And the freedom that power is used to crush—of speech, movement, business, privacy, and day-to-day activity—will be extremely difficult to reclaim.

Freedom will be that much harder to reclaim if many people don't want it back. The subjects of already-authoritarian governments won't be asked their opinions on the subject, but the citizens of countries that were relatively free have themselves to blame if they meekly surrender what they once enjoyed.

NEXT: Ugly Delicious

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  1. JDT didn’t even mention the roadblocks on the interstate which 1000s of times more consequential them an afternoon at the beach. The Republicans in TX were blocking the interstate, interrogating American citizens and either outright denying them transit into the state or across the state. These same Republican authorities were then denying that there was even health emergency literally talking out of both sides of their mouths. It was something straight out of the pages of 1984. Anything is possible with people who are capable of that level of delusion.

    1. “Two Associated Press journalists observed troopers stationed near the state line along Interstate 10 but not pulling over drivers”

      The horror.

      Hint. You fell for fake news.

      1. He seems to be an exceptionally stupid person, with very little grasp of basic ideas. He makes up for it by making references to cultural touchstones he doesn’t understand.

        1. Lying dumb mfers. I live here. You has to present papers saying you were an essential worker to get in. Otherwise you were made disclose where you were going and ordered to quarantine for 14 days. Everyone but the truckers were being stopped and interrogated and turned around or ordered into house arrest.

          1. I’m sure you have proof somewhere to show. I mean, if it is was as draconian as you say, I’m sure you have the ACLU or leftist reporters somewhere documenting said travesty of military like conditions.

            1. You’re arguing with some 15YO gamer with a 2-digit IQ. Facts and logic are not part of his ‘reality’.

              1. He’s not really making arguments, more like low educated insults.

          2. You has to present papers saying you were an essential worker to get in. Otherwise you were made disclose where you were going and ordered to quarantine for 14 days.

            That is a pretty bold lie. I had to fly out and back into Austin second week of April and yes, there were troopers at the airport asking where you were arriving from, but no one asked me to show ‘papers’ of any kind and it was previously announced that they were going to require self-quarantine for people arriving from NYC, SF and New Orleans and follow up with them. I flew to and in from SLC.

      2. Jesse you’re a dumb mfer. That story you cited was from before they locked it down tight. Initially there was uncertainty on what exactly the TX authorities were up to but it turned into exactly what I described.

        1. So I’m sure you can give a story after where they were set up as a military border wall afterwards as you infer.

          See here is the difference between you and me… I actually present evidence for my side. You’ve presented none.

          But I want to add a challenge to this… use a non opinionated piece on your citation. I’ll wait.

            1. Holy crap!!!

              “traveling along I-10 from Louisiana is being asked to exit at the Texas Welcome Center.”

              That is militaristic, you were right!

              1. Papers please, house arrest and then “it never happened”.

                1. Let me guess, you complain about showing ID before boarding a plane don’t you?

                  And do you know what House Arrest is? Nobody here was fit with ankle monitors. Not a single person.

                  1. Texas never even followed up to ensure people were self-quarantining. It was crazy!

            2. Yep, those TX troopers stopping traffic entering LA! Way to go, pod!!

    2. “and either outright denying them transit into the state or across the state. These same Republican authorities were then denying that there was even health emergency literally talking out of both sides of their mouths”

      Not really. It’s pretty easy to envision a scenario where they stop people from coming in in order to prevent a “health emergency” by spreading the disease. Or rather, plausibly claim such.

      Fuck, it’s literally what everyone else did too.

    3. Promoting what has happened in Texas as a ‘Republican’ reaction is a Proggie deception of the highest order. It is an has always been the reaction of ‘health authorities’, the ‘Karens’ of the government, who invariably lean to the left. The fact that they can get judges and cops to enforce their unconstitutional whimsy is what gets to me. And anyone that thinks the cops don’t follow their union leaders and that the union leaders are not Democrats is naive to the point that they should be completely ignored.

    4. That’s funny. In my state it’s the alt left pushing this narrative

  2. The fact that people were all riled up last year about being digitally tracked by commercial and social enterprises, and now are begging to be tracked (or at least track others) in order to fulfill authoritarian promises of limited freedom, just proves that most people cannot think for themselves. They respond to manufactured opinion-making, usually sold as the latest headline crisis.

    As it always has been.

    1. That’s because before it was those eeeeeeeevul KKKorporashunz trying to sell us stuff we might want.

      This is good, benevolent government we’re talking about.

  3. If not for media hysteria and Authoritah! abuse, nobody would even know there was anything medically significant going on this year.

    1. “Do you know anyone who’s had the virus? Me, neither.”

      1. I know two people in their 40’s and 50’s who died from it and about a dozen who have/had it. If you have any kind of network at all you certainly know people who have/had it. I mean it’s more than a million. Are you that socially reclusive?

        1. “How did Trump get elected? No one I know voted for him!”

        2. 1 million out of 360 million people is very small. If you don’t live on the east coast, it is likely you don’t know anyone. Everyone I knew who thought they had it, quarantined, and who eventually got a test back did not have tests back positive.

          My county has 270 “related” deaths. My city alone is near 2 million people when you count the surrounding areas.

          It isn’t a reclusivity thing.

        3. “I know two people in their 40’s and 50’s who died from it and about a dozen who have/had it”

          Same every year. That’s my point.

          1. I have never known anyone who has died from the flu.

            1. Are you socially reclusive?

    2. Yes Tom (I like your moniker). I’m an RN and that’s exactly what I’ve been saying

  4. “Basically, every death certificate that comes across our desk now has COVID on it,” said a funeral director in Williston Park, N.Y., on a recorded phone call with Project Veritas in a newly-released video.

    “They are putting COVID on a lot of death certificates because people who are going to their hospital with any kind of respiratory distress, respiratory problems, pneumonia, the flu — the flu-like symptoms lead into the COVID-19,” said Joseph Antioco of Schafer Funeral Home. “To me, all you’re doing is padding the statistics. You’re putting people on that have COVID-19 even if they didn’t have it. You’re making the death rate for New York City a lot higher than it should be.”

    Dimiceli had other shocking tales to share. One nursing home assumed all its patients were positive without testing. “The guy that I just buried a little while ago from Long Island National Cemetery, they called me from the nursing home. They said, ‘Did Raymond have COVID-19?’ She said, ‘Well, no. It was a failure to thrive. But we’re assuming they all have it.’ And I’m all, ‘Why would you assume? Why aren’t they all in the hospital?’ She had no answer. ‘I can’t answer you,’ she said. They put it down on Raymond’s death certificate,” said Dimiceli. “He didn’t have COVID-19.”

    1. “Basically, every death certificate that comes across our desk now has COVID on it,” said a funeral director in Williston Park, N.Y.

      “Good Lord, man! Disinfect those things outside or face prison time!”

    2. Just another scam by Big Covid.

  5. It will be months, at least, before we have a full accounting of pandemic casualties.

    “Ladies and germs, it gives me great pleasure to release “The COVID-19 Task Force Report”.

    1. There will be more giveaways than Oprah. You have covid, and you have covid, everyone who dies has covid!

  6. Where oh where is the ACLU during this most tyrranical moment since FDR rounded up tens of thousands of Japanese? Our Civil Liberties are being abused left, right, and upside down and we don’t hear a peep out of those hypocrites. F the ACLU!

    Time to remove the oppressive tyrannical governors, health ‘czars’, and busybodies of all stripes. Government should be giving advice, not restricting freedom now that the curve has been flattened. We have done our bit, now get off our backs!

    1. It’s for your own good.

      1. Isn’t it always?

  7. If you could see this virus. If say the virus turned your face blue in an instant and you saw it happening around you as you were playing on the beach, you mfers would be hiding in your basements.

    1. Probably true. Who wants to be blue? Like that awful movie Avatar.

      We need for young and able adults to get out and provide some herd immunity for us oldsters.

      1. I basically agree it’s time to do that.

        1. Then it is time to rise up and demand this from our overseers. The virus has been held to a stand-off and medical facilities are handling it (OK, many med professionals are stressed, but that’s what they signed up for and get paid the big bucks for).

    2. Do you think of this about bacteria too? Do you constantly walk around with a blacklight scared to death?

      1. If I could see it then I probably would wash my hands more often and never touch my face. And I probably wouldn’t let half the mfers into my house if I could see them covered in shit particles.

        1. You’re a nothingburger-phobic.

        2. Can I tell you about what happened when we stopped letting babies touch peanuts? Something Something about a huge spike in deathly peanut allergies as adults.

          Sorry you don’t understand biology or evolution. I really am.

        3. Damn, dude! How many mfers do you let into your house? And why?

          There’s your problem right there. Poor decision making. Not surprising.

    3. say the virus turned your face blue in an instant

      “Fuck! *Now* what do we say about masks?!”

    4. “you mfers would be hiding in your basements.”

      My assumption is that every mfer is infected. And yet I panic not. You are a pussy. “We” are not.

    5. Why? You’ve posited a situation where nearly everyone could know at a glance whether someone else is _not_ infected. That’s far less risky than the reality.

  8. Freedom will be that much harder to reclaim if many people don’t want it back.

    I suppose that depends on whether you think in terms of “freedom to” or “freedom from”. Harriet Tubman carried a pistol on her trips to Maryland not just to defend her own freedom from slave-catchers, but to discourage those escapees who would threaten her freedom as well by having second thoughts about the terrors of freedom and decide they might rather return to the security of slavery. Your dog may occasionally run off to roam about the neighborhood, but he’ll come back when he gets hungry, he knows where there’s food and water and a comfortable bed.

    Freedom and responsibility are flip sides of the same coin, and some people define freedom as being free from responsibility. A certain life inside a cage is preferable to an uncertain life without. Freedom from worry and want is freedom enough for these people, they prefer security to liberty and servility is a small price to pay for comfort.

    Reminds me of the story of Aristippus saying to Diogenes, “If only you learned to flatter the king, you wouldn’t have to live on lentils.” And Diogenes replied to Aristippus, “If only you learned to live on lentils, you wouldn’t have to flatter the king.” There’s a trade-off either way.

    1. Very true. But I think the low-responsibility life that many people seek, consciously or not, is that of a child. They get to do what they want, at least some of the time, knowing that parents and other adults will never let anything bad happen–and always provide not just essentials but most things they wish for. Hence the nanny state appeal.

      1. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. – 1 Corinthians 13:11

        Some people never grow up.

  9. I wonder if the US has been too free for too long. Most of us have never lived under a police state. We don’t appreciate what we have or the price that was paid to get it. Therefore, we willingly trade freedom for security. We think we’re getting a bargain because we have no idea what we’re giving up.

    1. The US has not been free for a very long time. We have been living under a police state for a very long time. “We” traded freedom for security a long time ago. We are residing at the foot of a long slippery slope.

      1. After traveling through Africa and Central America, I respectfully disagree. We gave up a lot of freedom (A LOT) after 9/11 but until a few weeks ago we were still much freer than much of the world. No is going to haul me off to jail for taking a photo at Laguardia. Armed roadblocks to “check papers” are relatively rare in the US. If we get arrested for bad-mouthing an elected official, we can still go to court – with representation – and fight it.

        1. I see your point, but it’s all a facade and has been for a long time.

          1. I think we agree more then we disagree on this. And I think we fully agree that the trend is going the wrong way, quickly going the wrong way.

  10. Democracy & Liberty

    These United States of America were founded not as a republican democracy but as a democratic republic. There is a fundemantal difference.

    “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” -George Orwell (1903-1950)

    Excerpt from the new novel, Retribution Fever:

    Democracy and Liberty
    “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” -President John Adams (1735-1826)

    Democracy? Let us not forget that the Framers of the Constitution created a new nation as a republic — yes, a democratically-oriented republic but a republic, nonetheless — a republic to promote liberty not tyranny. They did not create this nation as a democracy, especially a democracy to promote tyranny in the name of liberty. In fact, to them the word, democracy, represented an obscenity.

    freedom n.: The absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. -Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

    Politically today, the word, democracy, substitutes for the word, freedom. They are not synonyms. There can be freedom without democracy. There can be democracy without freedom.

    liberty n.: The power to do as one pleases. -Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

    Liberty? Yes! By all means, give us liberty. Ah, but what is liberty?
    If liberty is the power to do as one pleases, must there not be limits to such behavior? Without setting limits, what would be the consequences? What, then, is real liberty?

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