Friday, January 8, 2021

The Lamps are Going Out


A common analysis of the First World War posits that European leaders failed to anticipate the effects of the Industrial Revolution. War had always been with us, but heavy artillery and mechanized weapons made it exponentially more dreadful.

Similarly, those who expect today’s global grasp for totalitarianism will run its course like all its predecessors are not taking into account the modern arsenal of enforcement.

Perhaps your bank has not closed your account, declaring that your conduct is inconsistent with their values. Hopefully, your heat and power have not been shut off, and police have not come to your home, because you have hosted family or friends on your property. Ideally, social media or some online marketplace where you make your livelihood have not decided to ban your presence.

If you ran afoul of those who make such decisions, how difficult would it be?

The question is not theoretical, and one need not be a major celebrity or some world-bestriding lightning rod of controversy for such things to happen. Friends not much better-known than I, with views not much more outrageous than mine, have found themselves unable to sell products or cash checks, simply for trespassing approved wisdom.

Remove politics from the equation, and all manner of non-compliance with central authority can result in this treatment. The mayor of Los Angeles, for just one example, has been explicit that private homes suspected of hosting guests will have their utilities shut off.

Across the formerly free world, we have seen video of police storming residences, assaulting citizens, and arresting them in their homes for so much as opining online against health and safety orthodoxy. And those are just the incidents during which someone had the presence of mind to pull out a camera and post the footage.

Until recently, Australia seemed most afflicted by the new penchant for jackboots. My native Canada has risen to the challenge, however, with viral footage of police violently separating six family members in their home over New Year’s.

Analysts of every ideology have long understood that socializing health care fundamentally alters the relationship between the citizen and state. The dawning of the Age of Coronavirus has revealed the dark side of that dynamic, particularly in the mother of the Commonwealth and world-leader in socialized medicine: Great Britain herself.

For generations, the British people have been obliged to bow down before their National Health Service as though it were Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. Now, sequestered in their homes across the Sceptred Isle, they can enjoy the consequences of that idolatry.

They may as well go ahead and sing the lyrics to “Rule, Britannia!” at the Last Night of the Proms, via Zoom, for all the good it will do.

Even so, polls show majorities of Britons favor the lockdowns and, in fact, wish for more of their freedoms to be curtailed. No doubt Britain’s Prime Minister, the formerly sane Boris Johnson, will oblige.

They are like the ancient Israelites, against all good advice, demanding a king (“Saul 1020 BC: Build Back Better!”).

Normalcy will return “after Covid,” some blithely say, as though there were any reason to expect such a day will come. Certainly, the routines and required sacraments will change – perhaps masks will be exchanged for vaccine verification, and the hand sanitizer you must dip into like Holy Water at the grocery store will give way to some cleansing light – but where is the glimmer that people great and small will ever let this go?

Mask fanatics and their scoldy looks, that sanctimonious toothache who makes a big show of walking 15 feet around you on an empty street on a beautiful day, the pursed-lipped, concern-addicted politicians announcing that yes, they have come up with something else to take away from you – they are all enjoying this too much. For all their pretense of heroism and self-sacrifice, the lot of them have the credibility of dancing Tik-Tok nurses.

And now, thanks to the global interconnectedness we hailed barely a generation ago, including the device on which you are reading this column, they have the power to keep that mask on that human face forever.

The carefree waving at this new regime as though it were some passing scene, the cheerful eagerness with which new restrictions are embraced, is reminiscent of those who thought soldiers of the Great War would be home by Christmas 1914.

One is reminded of the foresight of Viscount Grey who, in August of that year, mournfully observed, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

Theo Caldwell just wanted to be left alone. Contact him at