Covid-19 is a challenge for every democracy, as it forces governments to take drastic measures against freedom.
Shutting down borders, setting curfews, authorising mass digital surveillance, locking down cities and countries and in fact holding millions of citizens under “house arrest” for doing nothing wrong. All these drastic measures are absolutely against our rights of liberty, but not against democracy.
Because the duty to protect the public’s lives exceeds the duty to protect their freedom.
As we all know, democracy does not have to commit suicide to prove it’s a democracy.
"Give me Liberty or give me Death."
When Patrick Henry, the Governor of Virginia, said these words in 1775, he could never have imagined the coronavirus pandemic of our times.
It is not only inevitable but entirely proper that liberty gives way to security in times of national crisis. We are in a war. A war that a virus declared against humanity. And "In times of war the law falls silent". (“Silent enim lēgēs inter arma” - Cicero).
There is no dispute that liberty rights are amongst the most important things in life. And that's exactly the point. They are amongst the most important things IN life, so life itself comes first.
Saying that must be accompanied by a reminder not to repeat the same mistake again. Liberty rights are very hard to get and quite easy to lose. So while we must focus now on staying alive, once the crisis is over, we must make sure that all those drastic measures are properly removed. We must ensure we do not convert the liberal democracy that theoretically we would like to enjoy, into an even more Orwellian democracy.
The core idea of democracy was never about absolute freedom, but about relative freedom. Not for Aristotle, nor Plato, nor George Washington, nor Sir Winston Churchill, and nor for Nelson Mandela. Absolute freedom does not constitute democracy - it constitutes anarchy. The constitutional obligation of every democracy is to provide a common defense. Stopping the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is a common defense.
These drastic measures are exactly in line with John Stuart Mill’s thinking on individual freedom and Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: "Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.”.
In times of a global pandemic, Governments not only have the right but an obligation to protect their people from such a risk. And every protection, by nature, is limitation.
It is true that what was done in China by the Communist Party theoretically cannot be done in the USA and UK as formally they have different governing systems. But the reality is that in the name of the "War against Terror", the UK and USA already copied from China and from even less free countries so many surveillance practices that a short term countrywide “house arrest” to save millions of lives will be a lesser and shorter-term violation of liberty, in the face of a much greater risk than a terror attack. So what was good against terrorism should be even better against an invisible enemy and its biological war against all of humanity.
A countrywide stay-at-home mandate is a necessary evil to prevent the spread of the pandemic. But while serving the devil we should not neglect the angels.
Before enforcing the stay-at-home order, we must make sure that homeless people have also free homes to stay in, and that poor, lonely and old people are not just locked-down at home without food, mental and medical help. We are all lucky that the wonderful food delivery services keep working, but as a society we have to guarantee that single mothers and the millions of people who have lost their jobs also have money to pay for this food. There is no logic in saving the lives of a thousand people by pushing millions of people to commit suicide.
For young and small country as USA, it’s never a bad idea to learn few wisdoms from 6,000 years old country, especially about medical treatment. Avoiding the proven practice that abated the crisis in Wuhan, China, will deliver a far worse outcome than the human, social and economic catastrophe that 2 weeks of full lock-down will bring to any country.
The duty to protect the public’s lives exceeds the duty to protect their freedom.
Because life without freedom can exist. But freedom without life cannot.
Democracy does not have to commit suicide to prove it exists.