If you are confident that the COVID-19 mania was a synthetic construction of Our Betters… well, here’s one more point for that allegation. The writer does not go so far as to claim that much of it was puffed up (as I would), but he does note the psychological pleasures such emergencies have for those who rule us.
And we commoners have to pay for, in lost time, liberty, jobs, and increased stress.
As well as the pleasure of being lied to, censored, and bullied around/stripped of agency by those with political power.
(The title reminds me of the book Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning by Jonah Goldberg. Just updated from 2008.)
Throughout history, there have been crises that could be resolved only by suspending the normal rule of law and constitutional principles. A “state of exception” is declared until the emergency passes — it could be a foreign invasion, an earthquake or a plague. During this period, the legislative function is typically relocated from a parliamentary body to the executive, suspending the basic charter of government, and in particular the separation of powers.
The Italian political theorist Giorgio Agamben points out that, in fact, the “state of exception” has almost become the rule rather than the exception in the Western liberal democracies over the last century. The language of war is invoked to pursue ordinary domestic politics. Over the past 60 years in the United States, we have had the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war on Covid, the war on disinformation, and the war on domestic extremism.
A variation on this theme is the utility of moral panics — spiritual warfare — for pursuing top-down projects of social transformation, typically by administrative fiat. The principle of equality under the law, which would seem to be indispensable to a liberal society, must make way for a system of privileges for protected classes, corresponding to a moral typology of citizens along the axis of victim and oppressor. Victim dramas serve as a permanent moral emergency, justifying an ever-deeper penetration of society by bureaucratic authority in both the public and private sectors.