Anti-vaxxers and the death of civic duty

One option is coercion: force people to get vaccinated under penalty of law.

But there’s also a less draconian option: persuade Americans not to free ride by using a different form of reason and rhetoric — one based not on calculations of self-interest narrowly defined but on civic appeals. Obligation and duty, honor and sacrifice for the common good — this is the language of citizenship. And to judge from its almost total absence from the anti-vaxxer debate, it is rapidly dying out.

Its passing is easy to miss, since politicians of both parties still make nominal gestures toward collective goods and ideals.

Republicans specialize in over-the-top patriotic evocations of national greatness and American exceptionalism. But when we drill down into these nationalistic appeals, they quickly dissolve into pointillism: America is great because it allows hundreds of millions of individuals to disconnect from all collective purposes and pursue happiness in their own private little worlds. For Republicans, there’s increasingly no sense of the dignity and nobility of the public sides of our lives. The nation isn’t greater than the sum of its parts; it’s just the sum total of those parts.