I The following ten lessons about democratic society were drawn from the pandemic. I already knew some of this in the abstract from historical studies and reflections on experience, but its truth was clearly demonstrated by the events of the pandemic year – or what now looks like the pandemic years are in the plural.
1) Science is the standard god of a civilization with no religion or common standards of right and wrong. The pseudo-religion of diversity and multiculturalism, which undermines common moral standards, actually enthrones science as God, as science is the only authority generally viewed as value-neutral. The great god Scientia (to be distinguished from the actual sciences) is not value-neutral, but plays the role of a truth-loving lady in public, who is also flexible in other moral principles. Hence, public science cannot give us “values,” that is, the practical wisdom to make morally sound decisions. “Follow science” is morally meaningless advice. It’s like asking a computer program if you should get married (although a genius certainly developed an app for it too).
2) Whoever controls what Scientia says controls the country – just as in theocratic times control of doctrine and religious law meant control of the state. Hence, a power hungry state will try to control what Scientia says.
3) Most scientists – and the universities that employ them – are more than willing to allow themselves to be controlled by the state in return for money, power and influence.
4) Governments that claim that their rule is based on the statements of Scientia will always prefer the quantitative to the qualitative. Bureaucrats and politicians find it easier to pursue goals such as “reduce the number of cases / hospitals / deaths (to zero!)” Than qualitative goals such as “raise our children humanely” or “allow dying parents to see their children”. personal ”or“ preventing the stunting of human relationships ”or“ promoting religious freedom ”. The exclusive preference for the quantitative over the qualitative leads to borderline sociopathic “recommendations” like those of the current US General Surgeon, who believes that vaccinated parents should wear masks with their children at home and outdoors.
5) Governments will use any excuse to seize the emergency power, and they will always try to keep it even after the justification for its seizure has passed. Governments that are constitutionally constrained are often made up of frustrated tyrants; such governments are even more eager to seize dictatorial power when the opportunity arises than authoritarian governments, more aware of their own limitations. The only way to wrest power away from democratic authorities intoxicated by sudden dictatorial power is through forceful political action.
6) Such measures will usually fail because the citizens in a democracy are not necessarily deeply connected to their personal freedom and can easily be afraid to give it up. Most citizens are unable to live well and to stay alive. The latter is the condition of the former, but the former is the reason for the latter. But people are ready to sacrifice the former for the latter. I conclude that our society does not explain well what a good life is, why we should want to live well, and why a good life is preferable to bare living. Socrates explained all of this, but we forgot.
7) The hardest thing in a democracy is that a government does nothing when nothing is often the best. Citizens who demand that something be done are always louder than those who want to be left alone. In dangerous times, the activists’ volume rises and everyone else’s voices are muted.
8) Democracy is a luxury good that depends on prosperity. The minute that prosperity is threatened, democracy crumbles into dictatorship.
9) The more certifications people have, the more they cling to their membership of the tribe of socially educated people. Educated people do not trust their own intelligence; they trust what they have been taught by the authorities recognized by the educators. This is because their knowledge of what the right authorities are saying defines who they are and gives them status in the community. Chesterton pointed out that most of what we think we know is based on trust (or belief).
10) Hence, the “smartest people in the room” lack the basic requirement of practical wisdom: they are unwilling to hear or consider alternative explanations or guidelines that the herd of attorneys will not accept. If she even takes note of these alternatives, she will not debate them, only treat them with ridicule. To the wise people they are obviously untrue and / or dangerous since they come from outside the herd.
James Hankins is a professor of history at Harvard University.
Photo by Guilhem Vellut about Creative Commons.
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