When the Nazis acceded to power in 1933, the effect was not mass consternation on the part of those with misgivings. Even the most important German Jewish representative group, the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, maintained that, despite the Nazis’ ferocious anti-Semitism, “nobody would dare to touch [their] constitutional rights.”
In his February 8 lecture, Röpke demonstrated that he had no such illusions. Entitled “Epochenwende” (End of an Era), Röpke’s lecture spelled out precisely why Hitler’s entry into the Chancellery represented something entirely different from a normal change of government. National Socialism’s triumph constituted, Röpke stated, a defeat for reason and freedom. The Nazi movement, he told his audience, with its naked appeal to “moods and emotions” and constant invocation of “myth,” “blood,” and the “primordial soul” left no room for such things.
Not only, Röpke insisted, were “stupidity and stupor” being “inculcated in a way that beggars description”; “every immoral and brutal act,” he observed, “is justified by the sanctity of the political end” for the Nazis. The threats to destroy entire groups—“Jews in Germany” and “hereditary enemies of all kinds”—were not, Röpke argued, mere rhetoric designed to whip up populist resentment that would be quietly shelved once the Nazis took power. It was integral, Röpke knew, to the entire National Socialist project.
Once we left the Bay Area and especially California, a change in energy and spirit was immediately palpable and visible. Thank God for the innate spirit of freedom cherished by so many American citizens, who refuse to let their lives be controlled by fear. I have a vivid memory of being at a gas station/mini-mart in Nevada on the first day of our trip. No one was wearing a mask. And when we checked into our first stop at a little motel in Winnemucca, NV, I was amazed that the clerk was not wearing a mask either. At the gas station, however, I saw people get out of a car with California plates. With their masks fully in place, they seemed to be looking around in abject fear, as if they had entered a plague zone. It was the first hint that what I had considered normal and “protective” over the past 1.5 years may actually have been based on misguided and excessive fear.
The fact that fear breeds more fear also explains the toxicity of places like the Bay Area that have embraced the closed attitude with relish. As soon as we got back home (a wealthy area that has one of the highest rates of vaccination and lowest incidences of COVID in the country), I slowly became not only depressed but also more worried about getting COVID myself. It took a week or two, but the creeping fear and anxiety sank back in again. It is no wonder that people who haven’t left this area since March 2020 simply can’t believe what the rest of the country is like. I have more than one friend who has not left self-imposed complete lockdown in almost two years. When we tell our friends here about our voyage across America, most of them simply ignore us. I now believe that most of the people living in the Bay Area are in a psychotic delusional state of fear. They truly believe that the emperor is wearing regal robes. In contrast, most of the country can see that he is naked or at least has hardly anything on.
“The pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented withdrawal of civil liberties among developed democracies and authoritarian regimes alike,” cautioned The Economist‘s Democracy Index 2021. This “compounded many pre-pandemic trends such as an increasingly technocratic approach to managing society in Western democracies, and a tendency in many non-consolidated democracies or authoritarian regimes to resort to coercion.”
“As COVID-19 spread during the year, governments across the democratic spectrum repeatedly resorted to excessive surveillance, discriminatory restrictions on freedoms like movement and assembly, and arbitrary or violent enforcement of such restrictions by police and nonstate actors,” Freedom House observed in 2021.
“The pandemic of COVID-19 coronavirus threatens a world-wide wave of sickness, but it’s the healthiest thing to happen to government power in a very long time,” I warned in March 2020. “As it leaves government with a rosy glow, however, our freedom will end up more haggard than ever.” Weeks later, I added that the “virus would threaten to turn the Land of the Free into a command society where what we do is directed and paid for by the state.”
It’s obvious now that the real plague of the past few years was less COVID-19 than governments’ exploitation of public health fears to further expand their already excessive power. Freedom, which was already ailing, shows no signs of improving health.
My mother was 7 years old when the German army rolled through her home in Yugoslavia. Every day thereafter her family lived in fear that either a roving band of German soldiers, Nazi sympathizers, loyalists or partisans would round up the family and execute them. They simply confronted this fear and got on with life, albeit always looking for a way to survive the day.
Before Covid, recent generations of Americans had never known a collective fear of war, mass poverty or disease. Our current peace and prosperity is a gift from the previous generations who knew these fears and confronted them. Sadly, large parts of our society succumbed to fear in the spring of 2020.
Focused protection was *always* the moral and ethical framework for managing COVID. That health and security officials ever pretended otherwise was the fundamental psychic break from which the entire catastrophe proceeded—everything else was downstream.
The benefits of lockdowns were originally expressed in terms of mitigating the rush to hospitals and preventing the health system from being overrun. Later many thought that the virus might actually be eliminated by lockdowns (so-called “zero-COVID”). Initial benefit estimates were based on simple models that predicted the number of hospitalizations and deaths without lockdowns. Initial estimates of the costs of the lockdowns were based only on lost GDP from reduced labor-force participation. This led to grossly inaccurate cost/benefit estimates.