Governments are Growing Increasingly Authoritarian: for Good or for Bad? – Republican Article
The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to ravage countries and people across the globe. National governments are faced with increasingly greater demands by the population to manage the spread of the deadly coronavirus and protect its citizens. For many countries, this has led to the rise of authoritarian policies. This includes countries, like Singapore, where a more surgical approach has been preferred.
Singapore had one of the quickest responses in the world to combat the novel coronavirus. It was quick to close its borders, introduce a mandatory mask mandate and was the first country to develop a contact-tracing app. All of this before Western countries had even realized the scale and threat of the infection. Singapore used its previous experience with the deadly SARS outbreak that struck East Asia in 2002 to tailor its approach to COVID. Experience and efficiency helped prevent a large-scale tragedy as we’ve seen in the US, Europe and elsewhere. Having a highly efficient top-down government doesn’t hurt either.
Other countries, particularly in the West, have not fared as well. ‘Liberal democracies’ across Europe and the Western Hemisphere have consistently featured at the top of the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 dashboard; not a ranking you’d want to place highly on.
In many of these countries, governments have seen the worsening health crisis as a valid reason to expand their grip on citizen’s lives. Often, the state has gone far beyond what was accepted in pre-COVID times. In countries with a more individualist political sphere and culture than Singapore, the new competencies gained by governments during the pandemic raises concerns about unconstitutional restrictions and a general encroachment on individual liberties.
To what extent a government may limit its citizen’s freedoms to keep them healthy is a matter of philosophical debate. I don’t plan on discussing whether a more democratic or executive approach to the pandemic is preferable. Nor do I aim to portray ‘policy X’ as detrimental and ‘policy Y’ as beneficial. The interest of this article is not to judge policies like mandatory mask statutes or curfews, but to discuss the growing tendency of states to trespass their own limitations and thereby the citizens’ liberties. After all, when discussing real political entities governing real human beings, they are limited by the laws of the land and the statutes of their constitution.
The current situation in the world is, simply put, bad. That isn’t to say that the pre-COVID status quo was a pleasant, agreeable utopia. In the years leading up to our current day, alarm bells have been ringing across America and elsewhere. The growth of the surveillance state, increasingly oppressive policing, and a general expansion of the government’s intrusion into daily life.
As the severity of the pandemic increased and the contagions continued to rise (in most countries), more stringent measures were put into place. Complete lockdowns, early curfews, increased policing, exorbitant fines and even jail sentences to name a few. All of these were to be found in the same Western nations that pride themselves on being ‘free countries.’ Many of which banded together in 2003 to bring down Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime and ‘bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East’. Pretty words, but not much more.
In Belgium, the heart of the European Union, police have been using drones equipped with cameras to scout the streets at night. The goal is to catch anyone outside after the midnight curfew. Meanwhile, drug crime in the city of Antwerp remains high, and the port city has become the #1 entry point for drugs into Europe. In fact, said drones were purchased with the exact purpose of combatting said drug crime, which has become increasingly violent. As the pandemic continued, the government repurposed its acquisition to tackle down the existential threat of partying teenagers heading home. Brilliant use of limited resources in these trying times, no doubt.
I would love to give more examples. France, Spain, the UK, and America all feature variations on the same theme, but the constant is this: governments are growing increasingly authoritarian. Many of us don’t care, we have plenty of problems as it is. But just letting it happen with minimal concern is to deny one’s civic duty. Much of these government actions are to ‘keep us safe’ from the coronavirus, however, people need to start asking themselves, what will happen after the pandemic? Will the government revert to its previous way of doing things, or will its increased power and authority over our personal lives be here to stay? From a historical perspective, government intervention doesn’t recede once the crisis has passed. The politicians in Washington, London and Brussels are more than happy to hold onto their new competences.
This is not the first time such a problem has presented itself. The Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II and the September 11 attacks all elicited similar responses from a government too eager to tighten its grip. We must ask ourselves, to what conclusions do such behavioral patterns lead us? I am certainly not suggesting that COVID will lead us to an Orwellian dystopia, but who gets to decide when the state has gone too far? Are masks reasonable, but is a national curfew too much? Or how about a ban on religious services? Does preventing the spread of the coronavirus warrant a violation of one’s fundamental, natural rights?
Traditionally, it has been the constitution and the courts who decide where the government’s powers begin and end, what is allowed and what is not. The haste caused by the pandemic, however, has put enormous pressure on legislators and governments the world over. They are expected to rapidly crank out measures that will effectively mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But even so, it’s undeniable that this permanent hurry has led to some problematic legislation in many democratic nations.
One must ask if the state can ever ignore the constitution, even in cases of emergency. Liberty has always come with risks.
To conclude, a quote by Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Written by Republican Writer, Sebastian Bossu
Point of Information
Minorities in the West have Always Lived with an “Authoritarian” Government – A Democratic Response
Welcome to life as a minority in the United States of America and the West. For years non-white people have never had “their fundamental, natural rights”. This is nothing new. We must work together in order to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected and upheld.
Black people were under constant police surveillance long before coronaviruses were ever discovered. Black people have had all the aforementioned restrictions placed on their lives long before the pandemic: early curfews, increased policing, exorbitant fines and outrageous jail sentences. People from majority Muslim nations were swiftly put under surveillance after 9/11. Their names were placed on registries and their places of worship were spied on. My parents’ names were most certainly on a registry, being Moroccan immigrants.
The Right rants and raves about personal freedoms and “fundamental, natural rights” only when it directly affects them. And now they’re complaining about not being able to go to packed bars and churches in the middle of a deadly pandemic that is most contagious indoors. This is the epitome of the problems with the “individualist political sphere”. Rugged individualism breeds selfishness. Rather than understanding that our lives will be temporarily restrained and depressed in order to save lives, we see these measures as a personal attack. This attitude is making the fight against Covid even harder. It is causing avoidable deaths. These measures are necessary.
Australia and New Zealand have essentially eliminated SARS-CoV-2 from their territories thanks to strict lockdowns, curfews and mandatory quarantines. The more we respect these necessary measures the shorter they will have to be in place. Aussies and Kiwis now live a practically normal life thanks to them. It must also be noted that Australia and New Zealand are island nations that can easily close their borders, but without these measures, they too would still be suffering. Lockdowns, curfews, and quarantines work.
There is also very little reason to believe that lockdowns, curfews, and quarantines will be in place after the end of the pandemic. Politicians want a booming economy so they can stay in power. For a booming economy to occur under the current organization of the economy, we need voracious consumers. It makes no sense to keep people locked down. That’s why many leaders have tried to reopen prematurely, but that has only led to even more avoidable deaths.
As for that Benjamin Franklin quote, it has always bothered me. To organize a society, you must give up a certain amount of freedom for collective security. As human beings, we have accepted that notion for hundreds of thousands of years. Benjamin Franklin stripped human beings of their liberty and safety. He bought and sold slaves. I find this quote of the upmost hypocrisy. Franklin may have become an abolitionist in his final days, but that does not absolve him of the heinous sin that is slavery.
Written by Democratic Writer, Ali Lahrech
Authoritarian Governments will End After the Pandemic – A Foreign Perspective
This article is intriguing. It raises some excellent points about the increasing authoritarian aspects of government that have come from the pandemic. More importantly, it questions what comes next. Whilst the US has not been locked down significantly, much of the rest of the world has, and inevitably will emerge differently.
I do not believe an authoritarian government will remain in most countries. It has been a necessary means to an end for governments; without complete control and the ability to solely guide their response, things could have been a lot worse. Once this is over, I expect normal governance to resume. One with good opposition and where a number of views will be taken into account. This belief stems from my continuing reliance on good democracy. If we, the people, do not want an authoritarian system then it is through elections and pressure that we can ensure it does not stay governments do not stay like this. Political parties also know this and I genuinely believe in this knowledge they will revert.
We have seen authoritarian governments in China, Russia and North Korea, to name a few. The majority are opposed to an authoritarian way of governance. The way in which the public in Western Democracies opposes this convinces me that these forms of government are not here to stay.
Written by Foreign Writer, Fletcher Kipps