Several things about Joe Boot’s article on what he calls “lockdownism” are concerning. The opening paragraph reminds us of the difficulties that decisions of government officials relying on public health professionals charged with protecting the health of the people of a country as a whole have caused. But the framing is not one of a burden that we have to bear for good reason, instead the rhetoric becomes quickly charged with warnings of totalitarianism and false ideologies that undermine the way liberty has been bequeathed by Christianity on western national life.
God’s “gifts” to humanity have been “taken” from us. “Indispensable” liberties have been dispensed with. The article begins by warning that this is a result of a “ubiquitous grand narrative” and later an “ideology” that has the nature of a false religion. But Boot is presenting his own “grand narrative” where liberties are constantly under assault, must be vigilantly guarded, and every step of losing liberty seems to have a nefarious purposes to lull complacent people into more losses of liberty leading to the eventual slide into totalitarianisms. This is very much a grand narrative, but the evidence presented for it seems questionable, and as often as not, he has to pull back from directly claiming that these are the deliberate acts of people who intend harm (while leaving just that impression as the real subject of his article)/
He grants initial projections were “well intentioned”, but also dangerously irresponsible. Some lives have been saved, he concedes, but he judges that the case isn’t really made. He warns about emotive rhetoric about lockdowns, but his own rhetorical strategy is quite tendentious and emotive as well, and this goes unmentioned.
Boot uses most of his article to describe an ideology and narrative that lies at the “root” of the surrendering of liberties and he judges that its due to an unchristian worldview. Not to say that being a Christian means you are not at risk, because a Christian might experience “failure” to appreciate the big picture, and lack “desire” (which is ‘worrying” to Boot) to analyze “prejudices” of an “emerging landscape” and this is, citing Arendt (who, by the way is ‘brilliant’) consistent with how she saw the totalitarian horror of Nazi Germany emerge. Later Boot will complain that Christian thought and leadership is fragile and weak because so few are raising the totalitarian alarm as he is.
Later Boot will endorse the rhetorical move of Jeffery Tucker who declares this all to be already a totalitarian ideology of “lockdownism” which seems to be explicitly premised on mapping a religious perspective on heaven, hell, and salvation to the things you have to do to keep public health safe during an epidemic. Somehow a “script” is being implemented where we will use a new anthropology that regards all human beings as little more than sacks of deadly pathogens. That seems uncharitable, tendentious, and itself an emotive attempt to create a “grand narrative” around the pandemic response.
As a side note, while it true that idolatry parodies what is true about God, its also ubiquitous trope to claim pretty much anything is “religious” (see https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/25/is-everything-a-religion/ for one examination.)
Boot claims “The restrictions we have endured, once unimaginable, are now real and will never be ‘off the table’ again” but is that the case? were they unimaginable to public health officials? were they unimaginable during other historical pandemics? Other crises (like war, insurrection, natural disasters?)
Boot continues a rhetoric that belies any real allowance that these might have been prudential steps taken to preserve life under uncertain circumstances. efforts are “draconian”. we must beware of ideologies that “enforce isolation for the purposes of control” which demands that we view with suspicion the pandemic response as having a hidden agenda of political control for its own sake, or for other unstated nefarious reasons. Boot becomes concerned that the distinction between what is true and what is false itself is being lost. But he pulls back. The “forced isolation” we’re experiencing in the pandemic is only “pre-totalitarian.”
The rhetorical overreach of the article undermines, to me, most of anything salutary in reminding us of downsides of the pandemic response.