We are in the midst of creating a situation where our unemployment levels will match those of the Great Depression. We have hobbled what, just a few months ago, was the strongest economy on the planet, and we have seen our legislators pass bailout legislation which spends trillions, increasing our national debt to unprecedented levels.
This has been done in an effort to save lives, which is a noble undertaking, but it has been done at a cost to liberty not experienced in this country since World War II.
We've been told that we are now in another war, only this time not against a human enemy, but an inhuman one — a virus — a devious and debilitating poison protein attacking the respiratory system, and has already caused thousands of deaths in this country, and tens of thousands globally.
We've also been told that the loss of liberty — the virtual cessation of leisure-time activities outside the home, the ability to gather with friends, visit the theater, dine at a restaurant, gather in a club or church, and many other activities we took for granted — is vitally necessary in order to reduce the number of deaths from the coronavirus.
We were originally informed that if we didn’t take these measures, if we didn’t give up our liberties purportedly secured to us by our state and federal Constitutions (documents our leaders were actually sworn to enforce), millions of us would succumb to this new plague, and our country would be devastated like never before.
This was what the computer models put together by epidemiologists indicated.
Who were we to question these expert determinatons?
We're beginning to discover, however, that these models were wrong by orders of magnitude, and when this mandated quarantine comes to an end, while some will have died, it's very likely that those who succumbed will be fewer than those dying during a typcial flu season.
More, the statistics on deaths from the coronavirus do not distinguish between those whom the virus actually killed, and those who died from pre-existing conditions after having contracted the virus.
In other words, we don’t know how many died from the virus, or — merely died with it.
When this is over, and when far fewer will have perished than the epidemiologists’ forecasts, our politicians will claim a great victory, but the American people will have suffered a great loss, and not in human life.
"These are the times that try men’s souls," wrote Thomas Paine in 1776. Paine, who may have done more than any other person in calling Americans to rebel against Great Britain explained in his little essay "The Crisis," from which these words come, that England not only sought to tax us, but to remove what he described as “celestial,” our freedoms themselves.
In his language, and with his odd punctuation, Paine blasted the British claim "to bind us in all cases whatsoever" asking, "if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God."
Our revolutionary war is best described as Englishmen fighting Englishmen for the rights of Englishmen, and those rights — freedom of religion, freedom of contract, freedom of association — were subsequently secured by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
All of these have been purportedly temporarily suspended by our own governments.
No one ceded the American power of self-government to the epidemiologists and their models, and our "crisis" may not look at this point like Thomas Paine’s, but there are, nevertheless, striking similarities.
Our current tyranny is not that of a mad hereditary monarch, yet our loss of liberty is still real. We still have virtual liberty furnished us by the internet — sustaining some of us.
But if our crisis is permitted to go on much longer, many of us will be driven to unbearable anxiety and despair. The dangerous consequences are just as incalculable as the projections the epidemiologists have made.
The problem with their models (and those of the climate disaster prophets) is that there are simply too many variables, too many unknowns, and too many unknowables.
Life (while we still have it) is a fragile and uncertain endeavor, a gift of God, which is what gives its glory, its beauty, and its value. We should, of course, seek to protect the vulnerable, but not at the cost of all our liberty. "Give me liberty," said Patrick Henry (another founder, though these days a neglected one), "or give me death!" Few would go that far today, but he had a point.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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