Posted by Curt on 23 February, 2023 at 9:44 am. 1 comment.



For those who live in developed democracies, the corruption that plagues so much of the world can be difficult to understand. What is “corruption” exactly, and what causes it?
At a high level, corruption stems from the systemic disrespect of a nation’s institutions and legal system, especially by those in power. But while the causes and roots of corruption are complex, the results are consistent and banal. The hallmark of virtually all corruption is “playing dumb”: Officials make decisions in their official capacity that are inexplicably poor for the institutions and the public which they’re meant to represent, but which actually benefit another party in which the corrupt official has an interest. The poor decisions of these corrupt officials, and the connections that led to them, are protected from legal scrutiny either by dysfunctional civic institutions or by other corrupt officials.
Fortunately for those of us in the developed world, while there are important exceptions, most of our officials tend to conduct themselves in a decent and honest manner.
That is, of course, until March 2020, when governments across the western world decided to shut down all of their economic and social institutions for an indefinite period, ostensibly on the belief that the lockdown of one city in China had effectively eliminated a fast-spreading respiratory virus from the entire country (but nowhere else). They then proceeded to import a swathe of illiberal “public health” mandates including forced masking, mandatory testing, quarantine facilities, and digital vaccine passes for everyday activities, none of which did anything to control COVID, but which did terrify the public into normalizing and extending these psychologically self-perpetuating policies.
“We have only ourselves to blame!” “We have to take personal responsibility.” “This is the power of fear!” “This is the endgame of modern liberalism.” “Don’t blame China. Blame our own governments.”
Anyone who’s been at all involved in the debate surrounding the response to COVID has seen these kinds of overtures with some frequency. Superficially, these calls for “personal responsibility” have a veneer of virtue—even nobility. But given the particular nature of the crimes committed during the response to COVID, these calls to personal responsibility are insufficient. In fact, owing to the particular nature of corruption, calls for “personal responsibility” can even be used by corrupt officials or their agents to avoid scrutiny for their actions.

1. To collectively “blame ourselves” for decisions made by a small number of individuals is to be ruled by those individuals.

Historians who’ve studied the subject of divine rule have identified no particular point in time in which the concept of divine kingship could be said to have arisen. In fact, across continents, with some exceptions, wherever human civilization arose, there were god-kings. That is to say, whenever humans organized themselves into agrarian civilizations of significant size, a strongman was liable to claim the civilization as his own, and the population was forced to treat him and his will as divine.
Under this traditional system of divine kingship, in all matters public and private, the will of the ruler was the will of the people. For a mistake to be made was definitionally impossible. For the ruler to be questioned or “blamed” was taboo to even think—equivalent to questioning a god. Should the will of the king result in peril or even death for anyone in the kingdom, even deliberately, then they had only themselves to blame.
Over countless centuries, mankind developed institutions to check this kind of centralization of power. The purpose of these institutions was best expressed by the thinkers of the western Enlightenment. In the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” And in those of John Locke: “Men being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent.” And as James Madison put it:

“If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

The goal of these institutions was to establish checks and balances that preserved the rights and the will of individuals, empowering them with at least some organizational structure should the need arise to hold those in power accountable under the law.
But these institutions are meaningless unless citizens utilize them. Should the public instead choose to accept the decisions of those in power as a substitute for their own free will, then even the best-designed institutions are powerless. It is thus in the interest of any would-be tyrant or ruling clique, through either propaganda, coercion, or demoralization, to convince the people to accept their decisions as a substitute for their own will. Once the public accepts decisions made by any particular individual or group as a substitute for their will, then they are effectively ruled by them, just as they were ruled by the god-kings of ages past.
Personally, I never accepted the COVID lockdowns of 2020 or any of the mandates and dictats that followed. I will not blame myself for these policy catastrophes, nor do I believe my fellow citizens who did not support these polices should blame themselves. On the contrary, I believe these policies were illiberal and fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system, and I see them as an underhanded means of superimposing decisions instigated by a small and conspicuously anonymous clique for the will of the people. I therefore believe that our institutions should be utilized to demand a comprehensive inquiry into the provenance of these policies, so the intentions and lawfulness of the clique who initiated them may be examined by the public.

2. Those who call for us to “blame our own governments” may be overly-optimistic about the chance of seeing justice based solely on the policies themselves—or, alternatively, overly-pessimistic about the chance of getting any justice at all.

One of the most common complaints I receive about my work is that we can’t “blame China” for the response to COVID and should instead “blame our own governments.” This has always baffled me, because the whole point of my work is that the response to COVID was so inexplicably awful as to reveal our governments to be corrupted to an unprecedented degree, and we should therefore heap blame on our governments even to the point of launching investigations. That said, the argument that we should “blame our own governments” for the response to COVID comes up enough to warrant examination.
In the United States, there is no historical precedent for prosecuting an official on the sole basis that a policy the official implemented was so bad. The constitutionality of a policy can be challenged in court, but even if successfully challenged, the policy is simply reversed; there are no repercussions for the officials who implemented it aside from losing their office. Even in the cases of the worst policies in American history, such as the Trail of Tears and Japanese internment, there are no instances in which officials have been charged simply for issuing policies that were extremely bad.
The lockdowns and mandates that were implemented during the response to COVID were extraordinarily illiberal and destructive. Those who call for us to “blame our own governments” may be thinking that individual officials should be charged simply for being so ethically vacuous as to implement such awful policies. But there is no historical precedent or legal basis for such a charge. Of course, the officials should be removed from office, but if the goal is to charge an official for a policy that he or she implemented, then it’s corruption or bust. Legally, there is no alternative.
On the other hand, those who call for us to “blame our own governments” for the response to COVID may be implying that obtaining justice for what was done is impossible, and that we should therefore begrudgingly accept whatever our governments decide to do. But I find this view fatalistic; civic activism has always been necessary for our institutions to function properly.
Significant evidence of corruption and malfeasance during COVID has already begun to emerge. A well-designed inquiry into the response to COVID, if demanded by the public, could reveal criminal wrongdoing on the part of key officials who instigated that response. And a finding of corruption on the part of one or more officials during COVID would likely to lead to more investigations in other states and countries—a domino effect that could cause the entire conspiracy, if any existed, to unravel. On the contrary, to simply accept our fate, however begrudgingly, would be exactly what the conspirators would want.
Finally, those who call for us to “blame our own governments” may be thinking the illiberalism of the response to COVID proves our constitutional republic system is broken. But there’s no better system on offer, nor is there anywhere near the political will to replace our system. The response to COVID has revealed the need for important long-term reforms, such as limiting emergency powers and the legal purview of “public health.” But aside from those long-term reforms, fixing our institutions means working within the system we have.

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