The anti-individual distaste for the conditions of a free society — a visceral horror at the possibility that someone, somewhere, is living differently from oneself — has always animated a certain kind of technocratic progressive but has potentiated and spread alongside the virus itself. As Oakeshott observed in his seminal book, On Human Conduct, “the determined ‘anti-individual’ is intolerant not only of superiority but of difference, disposed to allow in all others only a replica of himself, and united with his fellows in a revulsion from distinctness.” For the anti-individual, the politics of conformity and radical sameness are preferable to those of self-determination — his anxious neuroticism is incurable unless it is “imposed on all alike,” as Oakeshott wrote in another essay. “So long as ‘others’ were permitted to make choices for themselves,” Oakeshott added, “not only would his anxiety at not being able to do so himself remain to convict him of his inadequacy and threaten his emotional security, but also the social protectorate which he recognized as his counterpart would itself be disrupted.”
We have witnessed this impulse constantly throughout the pandemic — often on display inadvertently. Take, for example, a recent attack ad run against Florida governor Ron DeSantis, which intersperses ominous music and color-drained images with clips of DeSantis announcing his terrifying intention to “trust people to make their own decisions” rather than “bludgeoning people with restrictions and mandates and lockdowns.” An invisible enemy like a contagious virus seems to confirm the worst fears of those already predisposed to the kind of anti-individual character that Oakeshott described — so much so that the prospect of “trusting people to make their own decisions” is genuinely unconscionable.
In material terms, this kind of thinking leads to the desire for ever-expanding forms of political control.