During last year’s pandemic, the famous slogan was “we are in the same boat”. How quickly times have changed. Recently, the “oneness” aspect has been abandoned for the “us versus them” mentality. President Joe Biden and his administration have even started to vilify some Americans on the basis of their immunization status and take the extraordinary step of blaming the pandemic on a significant portion of the population. How did we get here?
The blockages over the past 19 months were based on the needs of society and a broad denial of the needs of the individual. Public health emergencies always require balancing community needs with individual freedom, and it was understandable in March 2020 that the impetus was to mitigate the spread of a dangerous virus.
The problems arose when state governments, including California, New York, New Jersey, and Michigan – but there were others – began to use the health crisis as a justification to wipe out individual freedoms. In these states, the rights of the individual were entirely subsumed by the grandiose “needs” of the collective.
The religious freedom of the individual was trampled on, as excessive governors and mayors insisted that society had a more pressing need than people who wanted to go to church. Never mind that bars and restaurants were open in many of those same jurisdictions, while churches were forced to keep their doors closed.
The lockdowns have also severely hurt individuals economically, as millions of Americans have been classified as “nonessential” and forced to stay at home. Small business owners, who had to be allowed to work to keep their businesses open, were told their time investments didn’t matter. The economic freedom of the individual was diminished as the federal government stepped in, validating state governments’ claims that individuals were not allowed to work as long as taxpayer-funded checks could be distributed.
The federal government and the states have thus reduced individual economic freedom to the more mundane “right” to receive money.
A particularly frightening attack on individual freedom came as an individual’s right to free speech was subordinated to an ambiguous collective right not to be exposed to potentially false information. Those who have questioned the origins of the COVID-19 virus, or suggested that it may have originated in China, have been reported on social media sites. Some have been permanently kicked from their social media accounts. Leading reporter providing facts and statistics on COVID-19 deaths, ineffective masks and medical studies on vaccines, Alex Berenson, has been permanently banned from Twitter. His crime? Depart from the established narrative (read: “Science!”).
The right to speak freely, to assemble, and to petition our government – all guaranteed rights of the individual protected by the First Amendment – have been curtailed, as state governments and the federal government have blocked large gatherings. Following the poor example set by Congress, many states have gone further and closed their Capitol buildings to the public.
The individual’s right to free health is now under attack in a way we have never seen before in our country. The Biden administration hopes to compel every citizen to be vaccinated, despite religious objections or an individual’s medical history. Over the past year and a half, our collectivist public policy has shifted the debate from the individual as a place of freedom to collective society.
In his examination of individual freedom, Frank Meyer once observed that this type of thinking denies the rights of the individual in favor of the invented “rights” of the collective. In this inversion of the relationship between the individual and society, he notes, “it is in society, not in the individuals who compose it, that the law is inherent; and whatever the “rights” granted to men, they are pseudo-rights, granted and revocable by society. The moral claims of the person are indeed reduced to nothing.
As we look back over the past 18 months and wonder how we got to this point – where the federal government is threatening to kick individuals out of the workforce and out of the economy for making a personal choice not to get vaccinated – the answer lies in the rejection of individual freedom by our elected leaders and federal bureaucrats. The individual has been reduced to almost nothing.
President Biden’s pandemic mandates – and there are many now – remind us that a danger of treating individuals as if they were irrelevant is that they quickly become irrelevant. Americans should be firmly on guard against an administration so convinced that the amorphous and indefinite collective society holds more rights than the individual.
• Jenny Beth Martin is the Co-Founder and National Coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots.