This doesn’t just eviscerate generations’ worth of arguments about public health. It also undercuts a more central claim of conservatism: that big, coercive government programs are unnecessary because private institutions could provide many benefits that we think of as “public goods.” For that to be true, the civic culture would have to be such that individuals are willing to make serious sacrifices for the common good, and especially to protect the most vulnerable among us.
If conservatives actually want a smaller, less-intrusive government, then they cannot talk only about liberty and rights; they also have to talk about duty and obligations.
Conservatism has always understood that duty without liberty is slavery, but liberty without duty is a Hobbesian war of all-against-all; indeed, this has been one of its major arguments against the steady relaxation of sexual mores and familial obligations. But this principle applies equally well to government, because people will always demand safety, predictability and security, and if the private sector isn’t providing them, they will turn to the state. That’s why shrinking the government leviathan requires citizens who worry more about the welfare of their fellow citizens and are more willing to sacrifice for strangers who share their flag than those who outsource those duties to a professional bureaucracy with enforcement powers.