The anti-quarantine stance is driven by a powerful American impulse. Our country’s story has been told to us primarily in terms of freedom: who has it, who doesn’t, how we got it, how some of us had to fight for it for far too long, how some of us are still fighting for it, and even how we define it. Individual liberty isn’t just one of our chief national values — it can sometimes seem like the only principle we collectively share across the political spectrum. It’s difficult to think of a song about America that doesn’t include the word “freedom.”
“Stay at home” orders are rooted in another, somewhat less-lauded virtue: community. We are staying home — those of us who can — not just because we don’t want to risk contracting the virus, but also because we don’t want to risk spreading the virus to others. We’re looking out for the collective good. We don’t necessarily have training for this. Our national stories and culture don’t often highlight the merits of taking care of each other, though E pluribus unum is a notable exception. We fancy ourselves rugged individualists, and some of us even make heroes of fictional characters like John Galt, the Ayn Rand protagonist who went on strike against the very notion of collective obligations.
And yet the collective good exists. Without it, we might not have volunteer fire departments, public hospitals, or even book clubs. We are healthier, safer, and happier when we work together to create things we couldn’t on our own.