Postmodernists say, with Nietzsche, that there are no facts, only interpretations — alternative “narratives” about reality. As Andrew Sullivan writes at Substack, to be “woke” is to be awake to this: All claims of disinterestedness, objectivity and universality are bogus. So, reasoning is specious, and attempts at persuasion are pointless. Hence, society is an arena of willfulness where all disagreements are power struggles among identity groups. The concept of the individual disappears as identity becomes fluid, deriving from group membership. Silence is violence; what is spoken is mandatory and must accord with the mentality of the listeners. Welcome to campus.
In a world thus understood, life is a comprehensively zero-sum struggle. Postmodernism rejects, as Adam Garfinkle writes, the Enlightenment belief in a positive-sum social order in which human beings, who are both competitive and cooperative creatures, can prosper without making others poorer. Hence, the Enlightenment belief in, and Trump’s disbelief in, free trade. Postmodernism is the ill-named revival of a premodern mentality: the social order as constant conflict, unleavened by trust and constrained only by the authoritarianism of the dominant group.
In politics, alas, words rule. From the viewpoint of any individual voter, elections are surveys. As a result, demagogues run the world. They gain power by swearing fealty to lofty ideals, not weighing costs and benefits. And when lofty ideals imply serious inconvenience – as they sadly do – the demagogues impose serious inconvenience.
Why doesn’t a rival politician gain power by promising to make convenience great again? Because “convenience” sounds petty and ignoble. People love convenience. They happily sacrifice other values for convenience. But they don’t want to acknowledge this fact – or affiliate with those who do.
Operation Warp Speed, in which the government paid to produce vaccines ahead of FDA approval, was the one huge success of government policy. But why was it needed? Investors seem to have billions of dollars to finance Elon Musk’s electric cars and rockets to Mars. Why would they not spend a few billions ramping up production on a risky but diversified portfolio of vaccines? Because they and the drug companies know that they will not be able to charge a market price when the vaccine is finalized. Inevitable price controls, facing a government monopoly buyer, means no money for risky production, and makes Warp Speed necessary.
People are complaining that the drug companies might make a few billion dollars. The pandemic is costing us trillions! The companies should be making billions more — and more still the sooner, faster, and better their vaccines go out.
And then, the catastrophic rollout. Senseless priority lists. Massive paperwork and restrictions on administering vaccines. Penalties for skipping the line so it’s better to throw out vaccines than use them.
In a free market, vaccines would be sold to the highest bidder. The government could buy too, but you wouldn’t be forbidden from buying them yourself, and companies and schools would not be forbidden from buying them for their employees. Businesses would likely pay top dollar to vaccinate crucial employees who are off the job due to the pandemic. And only businesses know just which employees are crucial to the economy, and which can wait.
Before setting out to select a new leader, then, Tories who rally to the cry of “maximal freedom and minimal government” must first “re-convert” Conservative faithful to these principles. Otherwise, with the membership enthralled to statist measures, there will be little relief from the mismanagement of Mr. Johnson’s prime ministry.