The fact is, we’re taking unprecedented and potentially ruinous action to avoid the wreckage of this virus. “Lockdown” is a word from prison management, it is a tool for controlling riots among prisoners. Now politicians impose it on entire nations, and celebrities enjoin us to it. Some of them do this while praising the plainly dictatorial fury with which China confronted this virus. Quarantine is an ancient defense against disease and may be justified. But anyone who doesn’t fear that this episode will “normalize” these humiliating strictures as a tool of the state is a fool.

Men and women who say such things as Hitchens and Reno often receive a misdirected scorn of the sort that is heaped on the anonymous and heedless revelers on spring break who defy the advice on social distancing and who would be insensible to much rational argument anyway. But these are not heartless men, nor are they pretending to be.

Small and weak nations often have highly conformist public cultures. Try to find much in the way of public criticism and dissent against the authorities from within the confines of the “opinion corridor” in Sweden. See what kind of movement is available when everyone is wearing “the green jersey” in Ireland. The cost of fractiousness — of real effective freedom — is often felt to be intolerably high. An unspoken logic holds that if “our strategy” is failure, at least everyone will suffer together and no one of “us” will be really held accountable.