Whether through fear manufactured by the news media, or through outright threats of punishment, business owners shuttered their shops and offices, churches closed down, and schools abandoned their students.
Over time, most governments lessened their restrictions, largely out of fear that tax revenues would collapse and out of fear that the public would become unwilling to obey lockdown edicts indefinitely.
Those fears—not scientific objectivity—have been guiding the gradual loosening of lockdowns and lockdown-related restrictions in recent weeks. After all, in many jurisidictions—both in the USA and in Europe—cases and case growth are far above what they were back in March and April when we were told that high case totals absolutely required strict lockdowns. If case numbers are higher now than during the previous peak, why no new lockdowns?
Make no mistake, many politicians would love to impose lockdowns again, and indefinitely. After all, the power to micromanage the behavior of every business and household in the manner of Covid lockdowns is a power undreamed up by even the most despotic emperor of old. It’s not a power a regime would abandon lightly.
As Robert Higgs has shown in his book Crisis and Leviathan, using wars and other crises to permanently expand state power is just standard operating procedure for countless regimes. It’s what governments do.
Governments Are Limited Only by the Public’s Resistance
On the other hand, governments are limited by how much the public is willing to tolerate. As Étienne de La Boétie has shown, all regimes—even authoritarian ones—are ultimately limited by public approval and obedience. Without public opinion on its side, regimes become constrained, even in a police state.
Ludwig von Mises built on this notion when he noted in his book Liberalism:
“there has never been a political power that voluntarily desisted from impeding the free development and operation of the institution of private ownership of the means of production. Governments tolerate private property when they are compelled to do so, but they do not acknowledge it voluntarily in recognition of its necessity. Even liberal politicians, on gaining power, have usually relegated their liberal principles more or less to the background. The tendency to impose oppressive restraints on private property, to abuse political power, and to refuse to respect or recognize any free sphere outside or beyond the dominion of the state is too deeply ingrained in the mentality of those who control the governmental apparatus of compulsion and coercion for them ever to be able to resist it voluntarily. A liberal government is a contradictio in adjecto. Governments must be forced into adopting liberalism by the power of the unanimous opinion of the people; that they could voluntarily become liberal is not to be expected.”
In other words, governments don’t refrain from exercising ever more power unless they are prevented from doing so. But what did he mean by a government being “forced into adopting liberalism by the power of the unanimous opinion of the people”? Mises was very much a man who understood how states work in the real world. So it’s a safe bet he didn’t think that the public’s “unanimous opinion” was somehow magically transformed into a government limiting itself.
Rather, Mises understood that governments are limited by pressures applied from groups external to the state apparatus itself. These could take the form of widespread noncompliance, peaceful protests, or even armed resistance. But to think that governments will limit themselves without at least the fear of some form of resistance would be fanciful, to say the least.
And this is likely what is limiting governments in their dreams of ever-harsher lockdowns right now. We’ve already seen this dynamic in action in Serbia, for example, where the regime attempted to reimpose a nationwide lockdown. This proposal was greeted with both peaceful and violent protests. The state partially retreated and opted instead for much weaker regional lockdowns. Protests also continue to grow in Germany, and protests have even cropped up in London.Governments Will Impose New Lockdowns If they Think they Can Get Away with It by Ryan McMaken
The Right Sort would prefer to have you enslaved, forever.
Make sure it doesn’t happen.