The extremely weird politics of COVID

But as someone who can see lots of specific issues on which the doves and libertarians have a point, I’m equally fascinated by how dramatically liberals have swung against any acknowledgment of what until very recently seemed like a core left perspective — that stringent public health responses are inherently authoritarian and inevitably ratify various forms of inequality and social control.

As Justin E.H. Smith, an American-born academic in Paris, noted in a recent essay, a left that just a little while ago seemed committed to Foucauldian critiques of biopolitics and fears of what governments do with emergency powers now is “dug in so deeply on the side of anti-anti-vaxx signaling” that it can’t “acknowledge anything worrisome about the new high-tech hygiene regime, about how hard it might be to dismantle it once it has outlived its purpose, about how it might sprout new purposes that are inimical to human thriving.”

What’s especially striking is how smoothly and absolutely these shifts happened — how quickly, and without embarrassment or backward looks, much of the right started talking like Michel Foucault and his disciples and much of the left starting embracing the mind-set of the Florentine Sanità, as though those had been their natural and inevitable positions all along.