Likewise, if we do not do something to prevent the gross abuses of power that have transpired over the past year and a half, the Fourth of July will cease to have any real meaning in this country and to all those abroad who look to us for inspiration.
Until now, the Government has been able to exploit the people’s humanity – their conscientiousness and responsibility – to maintain an inhuman system. But that moment has passed: someday in the not too distant future we will wonder how it happened at all. The country has had enough. This is, you might say, the beginning of a brand new game.
Jonathan Sumption reviews historian Niall Ferguson’s new book, Doom. Here’s Sumption’s conclusion:
Interestingly, the case of Covid-19 is inconsistent with Ferguson’s general theory that failures to manage pandemics stem from a lack of institutional depth and foresight. Britain and the United States have done badly, except on the vaccination front. Yet both countries, together with Germany, had comprehensive plans, the fruits of over a decade of planning, for just such a pandemic. Ferguson does not deal with these plans, but they are interesting because they envisaged a response very similar to the one that he recommends. They were based on selective shielding of the vulnerable and on limited and voluntary measures of social distancing. These plans were informed by the experience of earlier pandemics and by a review of the collateral consequences of different policy choices. This is exactly the kind of institutional preparation that Ferguson thinks we should have made. The fact is that we did.
The mistakes were made by the leaders, notably Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. Ferguson is keen to defend them, not on the ground that they did well but on the ground that the failures were institutional, not personal. The evidence does not seem to bear this out. Johnson threw out a decade of British planning in a weekend and replaced it with an indiscriminate lockdown for which there had been no preparation, research or cost–benefit analysis. This was his decision, and that of his sidekick Dominic Cummings. It is true that without good institutional preparation, leaders, however talented, are unlikely to do much good. But they still matter. At their worst, they can do infinite harm through ill-conceived measures. And at their best, they can stand up against public demands for such measures, if they have the necessary moral and political stature. In this country, we have strong institutions, as the contingency planning and the vaccine campaign demonstrate. What we lacked was the capacity at the top to use them intelligently.
Here’s the Babylon Bee on the Delta variant. (HT Todd Zywicki)