Americans who refused to don masks or get vaccinated during the pandemic dont have an easy task constructing a valid philosophical defense of their behavior.
The go-to philosophical authorities typically cited to defend individual liberty in the U.S. John Locke and John Stuart Mill do not provide compelling reasons for ignoring public health messages.
Lockes doctrine of natural law states that people are endowed with natural rights to life, liberty, and estate, premised on duties to God of self-preservation, and any behavior that risks survival constitutes a violation of that natural law. As such, there is no justification to refuse a safe and effective vaccine during a deadly pandemic.
Similarly, Mills harm principle which broadly states that people are allowed to do whatever they want provided they do not directly harm others doesnt help those opposed to vaccines and masks. Their actions might prolong the pandemic, allowing the virus an opportunity to mutate and potentially render vaccines ineffective behavior that puts everyone at risk.
There is, however, another ethical framework that people refusing to be vaccinated or wear masks might turn to, although it comes from an unlikely source: the 19th-century Russian anarcho-communist Mikhail Bakunin.
Perhaps most famous for his lengthy and bitter tiff with German philosopher Karl Marx, Bakunins philosophy of anarcho-communism consisted of the abolition of government, private property and indeed all means of coercion.
As a professor of political theory, I believe Bakunin has been overlooked in the current debate about masks and vaccines. Some of his views are consistent with at least the libertarian-based criticisms of mask and vaccine requirements. Indeed, despite meaningful differences, many libertarians in the U.S. share with Bakunin the belief that freedom is the most important value and governments are by nature coercive. They may distrust Bakunins insistence on linking freedom and rationality and certainly would reject his embrace of communism, but libertarians would likely nevertheless admire his skepticism of authority.
Bakunin might not be an obvious source of support for many in the anti-mask and anti-vaccine camp. His classic 1871 text, God and State, begins in a manner sure to offend certain elements of the religious right, who make up a sizable number of those refusing to follow public health advise on vaccines.
Bakunin attacks Christianity as the enemy of rationality and freedom. If humans wish to be free, he argues, they should learn the physical laws of the universe and social laws of society to inform their decision-making. If guided by genuine knowledge, Bakunin says, people can make smart decisions and become rational agents in charge of making choices for themselves.
But science, too, can be a great threat to freedom, Bakunin suggests and it is here that many of those opposed to mask and vaccine mandates may warm to his argument.
Beyond the fact that there are limits to scientific knowledge, Bakunin believed that there is always the possibility that scientists themselves will be invested with coercive authority.
If rationality and knowledge are requisite for freedom, Bakunin argued, then those with knowledge are in a position to force people to do, or not do, certain things.
As such, Bakunin worried that scientists, emboldened by their importance in society, will arrogantly claim the right to govern life.
We must respect the scientists for their merits and achievements, but in order to prevent them from corrupting their own high moral and intellectual standards, they should be granted no special privileges and no rights other than those possessed by everyone for example, the liberty to express their convictions, thought and knowledge. Neither they nor any other special group should be given power over others. He who is given power will inevitably become an oppressor and exploiter of society, he wrote in 1873.
Bakunins solution to the risk of coercion by scientists was to lessen their authority without diminishing the value of scientific knowledge. To do so, he makes each individual responsible for learning and acting on whatever knowledge they have. The idea is for people to consult scientists for knowledge with the understanding that no one scientist has all the answers and that the accumulated knowledge of all scientists likewise is limited and cannot give perfect answers.
To apply Bakunins theory of freedom to pandemic America, no one should be required to get a vaccine. Rather, the population should be encouraged to investigate the efficacy and safety of the vaccines.
For its part, the scientific community needs to vigilantly scrutinize itself and present knowledge in an honest fashion, eagerly volunteering to the public what it knows and does not know.
Bakunin would be highly critical of both nave optimists and doom-and-gloom pessimists in the scientific community. People need the unvarnished truth presented in simple and clear terms. If the answer is we scientists dont know, then so be it.
Bakunins theory of freedom asks much of the population. It requires individuals to know something of the nature of scientific knowledge, ask sensible questions and then make a rational analysis of the available evidence. It requires scientists to check their egos and desire for quick celebrity and soberly present their knowledge in accessible and honest terms.
And granted, Bakunin did not account for disinformation campaigns of the sort found on the internet that undermine access to reliable scientific data. He did, however, have faith in people to sort through information and make rational decisions. This ability, according to Bakunin, is a precondition for freedom.
Vaccine skeptics, thus, might find comfort in Bakunin. If they ask good questions and do not find satisfactory answers, then his philosophy suggests they should absolutely refuse a vaccine. The same goes for masking: If the scientific community cannot effectively communicate why masks are still needed, then people should not be expected to wear them, Bakunin might argue.
At the same time, those opposing masks and vaccines need to sincerely follow the science and allow themselves to be convinced by data, Bakunins philosophy suggests. Refusing to wear a mask based on an uneducated hunch or because of a belief that the government wants to control me constitutes folly, not freedom. In short, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, to claim their freedom, need to be reasonable.
[Get our best science, health and technology stories. Sign up for The Conversations science newsletter.]
Read the original here:
- The Economy | Libertarian Party - October 21st, 2021
- Covid and the Libertarian nightmare | Opinions | frontiersman.com - Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman - October 21st, 2021
- Dems have outside shot to take control of legislature - Evening Observer - October 21st, 2021
- Danish Capital in 2021: Denmark hailed, but for the wrong reasons - The Post - The Copenhagen Post - Danish news in english - October 21st, 2021
- Op-Ed: Little outcry over Antifas equal-opportunity beatdowns of journalists left and right - The Center Square - October 21st, 2021
- Andrew Yang: 'Political Violence Is Becoming More and More of an Inevitability' - Reason - October 21st, 2021
- Election Information Wet Mountain Tribune - Wet Mountain Tribune - October 21st, 2021
- Lockdowns And Freedom: At Odds Or Different Sides Of The Same Coin? | Scoop News - Scoop.co.nz - October 21st, 2021
- Why Princess Blanding launched the Liberation Party in Virginia - wtvr.com - October 7th, 2021
- What Campbell Newman did next: the making of an unlikely Queensland libertarian - The Guardian Australia - October 3rd, 2021
- MOScout Weekender: GOP Fav/UnFavs - Hallway on Most Likely to Succeed - Parson to Toss 1st Pitch - WWTW and more... Missouri Scout - Moscout - October 3rd, 2021
- Peter Thiel Is the New Koch - WhoWhatWhy - October 3rd, 2021
- Political scientist offers insight into the election in Germany - University of Miami - October 3rd, 2021
- The misinformation wars - The Nevada Independent - October 3rd, 2021
- Grand Valley hosting annual political summit this weekend - HollandSentinel.com - October 1st, 2021
- Warren County elections: Here are the contested races on Nov. 2 - lehighvalleylive.com - October 1st, 2021
- Ciattarelli Tries to Negotiate the Trump Hate Fever - InsiderNJ - October 1st, 2021
- Former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers: Cryptocurrency Will 'Do Better Regulated' Regulation - Todayuknews - October 1st, 2021
- Column: Considerations on the California recall effort and its potential consequences - The Herald-Times - September 27th, 2021
- 'School choice' developed as a way to protect segregation - Newsday - September 27th, 2021
- What voters should know about the special election to fill Alcee Hastings' House seat - Palm Beach Post - September 27th, 2021
- Arizona Republican says false claims of voter fraud have led to violent threats and a 'front row seat to many disturbing sides of humanity' - Yahoo... - September 16th, 2021
- The Meaning of Californias Anti-Stealthing Bill - The New Yorker - September 16th, 2021
- Libertarian Party Works to Get Marijuana Initiatives on Ballot - SweetwaterNOW.com - September 16th, 2021
- A Guide to Larry Elder, the Right-Wing Extremist Who Could Be the Next Governor of California - Rolling Stone - September 16th, 2021
- True conservatives should hate the Texas abortion ban law - theday.com - September 16th, 2021
- District Attorneys Could Be Key to the post-Roe v. Wade Abortion Battle - Filter - September 8th, 2021
- WATCH: Enraged Ivermectin Taking Joe Rogan Threatens to Sue Jim Acosta, CNN - HillReporter.com - September 8th, 2021
- Montgomery County redistricting commission will soon begin map drawings - BethesdaMagazine.com - September 8th, 2021
- LETTERS: Conservatives have indeed lost their way - The News Herald - August 22nd, 2021
- Fact check: Image altered to show CNN report saying Taliban takeover was 'violent but mostly peaceful' - USA TODAY - August 22nd, 2021
- Campassionate Options Wyoming Street Team to help with marijuana ballot initiative drive - Oil City News - August 14th, 2021
- Marijuana ballot initiatives clear another state hurdle - County 17 - August 14th, 2021
- Critical Race Theory debate intensifies in West Chester - Daily Local News - August 14th, 2021
- Give Me Liberty and Give Them Death - LA Progressive - August 14th, 2021
- Cryptocurrency Regulations On The Horizon; Expect 2 Sets Of Protocols - Investing.com - August 14th, 2021
- Many conservatives have a difficult relationship with science we wanted to find out why - Yahoo News UK - August 9th, 2021
- PayPal whipped into cancel culture by woke police, conservatives say - Denver Gazette - August 9th, 2021
- Opponents Of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates Have A Curious Definition Of 'Freedom' - HuffPost - August 9th, 2021
- Salter: The principles of '76: libertarianism and the Declaration of Independence - LubbockOnline.com - July 25th, 2021
- Living with Covid and extreme individualism - The Guardian - July 25th, 2021
- Bye-bye, bitcoin: It's time to ban cryptocurrencies | TheHill - The Hill - July 25th, 2021
- Man charged in Capitol riot investigation said Trump asked me to be here, documents show - KRON4 - July 25th, 2021
- Nancy Mace Called Herself a New Voice for the G.O.P. Then She Pivoted. - The New York Times - July 25th, 2021
- Major conservative group spotlights Sanders health care heist in new ad blitz - Fox News - July 25th, 2021
- Healthcare | Libertarian Party - July 23rd, 2021
- Faulconer Campaign in Dispute With State Over Title on Recall Ballot - NBC San Diego - July 23rd, 2021
- Social partitioning - The Nevada Independent - July 23rd, 2021
- Viewpoint: If not the Municipal Auditorium, what could become the next City Hall? - Uptown Messenger - July 23rd, 2021
- Protest and Contest - Splice Today - July 23rd, 2021
- Here's Who's Running For CA Governor In The Upcoming Recall Election, So Far - LAist - July 18th, 2021
- Opinion: The parties to political irrelevance - Juneau Empire - July 18th, 2021
- The yoga and wellness worlds have a conspiracy problem - Vox.com - July 18th, 2021
- Conspiracy theories fuel French opposition to Covid-19 health pass - FRANCE 24 English - July 18th, 2021
- Conservative Radio Talk Show Host Larry Elder Officially In the Recall Race Against Newsom - Newsweek - July 14th, 2021
- LETTER: IRR not continuing the legacy of its founders - Business Day - July 14th, 2021
- Marginal Revolutionaries - by Jonah Goldberg - The Remnant - The Dispatch - July 14th, 2021
- Kentucky's Senators Have Long Differed On Afghanistan. Their Hunches Are Being Tested. - WUKY - July 14th, 2021
- After NYC, where will ranked-choice voting go next? - The Fulcrum - July 14th, 2021
- The stability of stablecoins is just another financial illusion - Mint - July 14th, 2021
- Schmidt; The real identity of liberty, and the Libertarian Party - Seguin Gazette-Enterprise - July 7th, 2021
- Libertarians of Mississippi to host rally on navigating politics - DeSoto Times-Tribune - July 7th, 2021
- One man's journey to the nexus of Libertarianism and Christianity - Shelbynews - July 7th, 2021
- Get ready for the Sept. 14 recall election - San Bernardino County Sun - July 7th, 2021
- Leo Morris column: Indiana - an independent state it its own way - The Herald Bulletin - July 7th, 2021
- Cryptocurrencies dream of escaping the global financial system is crumbling - The Guardian - July 7th, 2021
- Gov. DeSantis and the need for viewpoint diversity in higher education | Column - Tampa Bay Times - July 7th, 2021
- Letter: Writer doesn't know what the Tea Party was - INFORUM - July 7th, 2021
- With Capitalists Like These - Splice Today - July 7th, 2021
- Supreme Court to Hear Case on Government Aid to Religious Schools - The New York Times - July 2nd, 2021
- Rep. Kelly Sponsors Bill Seeking To End Non-Profits Funding Election Offices - ButlerRadio.com - Butler, PA - butlerradio.com - July 2nd, 2021
- Rep. Kelly, Members of the House Election Integrity Caucus Unveil Legislation to Keep Big Tech from Thumbing the Scales in US Elections - Mike Kelly - July 2nd, 2021
- How the Critical Race Theory Debate Misses the Mark - Reason - June 28th, 2021
- Stun and dismay follow Wyoming political espionage revelations - Oil City News - June 28th, 2021
- LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Based on relationship | Solve issues together - Arkansas Online - June 20th, 2021
- How the Houses Silicon Valley smackdown is dividing conservatives - POLITICO - June 20th, 2021
- Joe Biden's meeting with Putin, vaccine passports, nightclub shootings, and other top columns - USA TODAY - June 20th, 2021
- Louis Marinelli: Is Europe's interest in the 2014 Vrbetice Explosions driven by the Biden-Putin meeting? - PRNewswire - June 20th, 2021
- Anthony Bland affirms plan to run for governor - Arkansas Times - June 20th, 2021
- Why the Texas ACA Suit Was Always Destined to Fail (Even on a 6-3 Court) - Reason - June 20th, 2021