The COVID libertarian moment

But the other sinister feature of COVID communitarianism has been the condescension of our authorities. At first, COVID condescension landed on masks, in which health authorities urged the public not to buy them or use them because, without proper training, one wouldn’t use the mask properly. Health officials at the World Health Organization even held out the notion that laymen were at more risk from wearing masks. None of this was backed up with research, or common sense. It was like saying that home cooks do not benefit from knives because chefs know proper knife technique.

The truth about COVID, or the latitude to take one’s own risks, was always assumed to be too dangerous. Because even medical professionals understand that risk assessment during a pandemic in a novel disease is hard, they didn’t want to offer any solid guidance for doing it. And so regulation piled on top of regulation. Masks weren’t just for when you couldn’t socially distance, but for all the time. Now, some health authorities are still urging double-masking for people who have been vaccinated. Why? Because the risk aversion of experts is held to be infinitely more valuable than the freedom of everyone else.

In my adult life, I’ve never been confused with a libertarian. And at the deepest level, I can’t even say I’m a classical liberal. I believe shared sacrifices are necessary, that some national moments require real national responses. But this past year has chastened me — and made me wish that more school districts, parishes, synagogues, states, and individuals had been given the latitude and the tools to make better judgments for themselves. We needed more decentralization, more free flow of information, and more open contention. The rightly ordered liberty of the individual is part of the common good. I’ll never forget it again.