Why are nations imposing Covid lockdowns called democratic, while those setting citizens free are branded authoritarian?
By: Rachel Marsden
It’s a topsy-turvy world when nations putting millions of people under house arrest are ranked among the globe’s most ‘free’ countries – yet that’s exactly what the Economist magazine’s latest survey claims.
Hey, people of the world. Do you still live in a free country? It may be hard to tell these days, given all of the restrictions that have been introduced into your daily life over the past year, and which in many cases have yet to let up. To give you a hand, the prestigious Economist magazine has taken it upon itself to let you know whether you’re actually free or not.
Logically, you’d think that the more restrictions introduced in the name of the pandemic would mean a lower civil liberties score. But the Economist makes its pro-lockdown position clear at the outset: “That the course of the pandemic has proved lockdown skeptics wrong does not mean that they should have been prevented from expressing their views, however erroneous some proved to be.”
The Economist neglected to present any evidence to support the notion that
strict lockdown alternatives are the best option for freedom, democracy, and the
economy (or even for being the best way to tackle the pandemic). Instead, it
just assumes the position that countries really didn’t have a choice whether to
lockdown, when they absolutely did. It then pays lip-service to the notion of
free speech by arguing that those anti-lockdown cranks should have at least been
allowed to speak. It’s not like even the Economist set the free speech example
by giving lockdown skeptics the front page of its magazine to make their case,
though, did it? Perhaps it could answer that question first before pointing
fingers at others.
The study’s experts decided to downgrade France from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy” status, “owing to the restrictions on freedom of movement, including multiple lockdowns and, most recently, early national curfews.” Granted, the French national lockdown from mid-March through to mid-May of 2020, during which people were only allowed outside for one hour per day with government authorization, was brutally authoritarian and a shocking blow to civil liberties. But ever since, with the exception of the current 6pm curfew which has been in place since the New Year, restrictions have been minimal – if only because a series of self-authorizations exist for each person to fill out on their smartphone, multiple times daily, if necessary, to justify to authorities why they’re out and about.
And that’s if they even come across any authorities – good luck trying to find any police anywhere to even bother checking your papers if you’re out on the streets at night. So on paper, France’s measures seem restrictive, but in practice they’re much less imposing than those of other countries that these same experts apparently consider beacons of democracy and freedom.
Even Israel, with a near-identical Democracy Index score to France, has been subjected to strict and lengthy lockdowns that bear absolutely no resemblance to those here in France. To compare freedoms in Israel to that experienced in France right now is absurd – and raises the question of whether the experts surveyed have experienced the on-the-ground reality of either country.
And why are New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which have experienced far more restrictions in practice, and for far longer than France, still ranked as “full democracies” in light of their draconian Covid-19 crackdowns? Here in France, looking across the pond to our dear British cousins, my first thought is, “Wow, the poor buggers can’t even fill out their own authorization forms on their phones to give themselves permission to go outside whenever they want.” And my second thought is that it even looks like they have police on the streets enforcing the lockdown – unlike here in France where on the rare occasions you do meet them, they just smile, say “Bonsoir,” and leave you alone.
Given the choice right now, I’d take France’s “flawed democracy” over
Britain’s apparent shining beacon of democracy where everyone’s been virtually
under house arrest for weeks.
And what’s the deal with Russia’s “authoritarian” labeling with a ranking between Ethiopia and Niger? Some of the “full democracies” cited earlier could stand to take a page from Russia’s book on how to balance basic freedom of movement with pandemic management. At the same time as Western media outlets slam Russia for “authoritarianism,” it’s also criticizing Moscow for not imposing enough restrictions on the Russian people. In June of last year, as the rest of the world was in full lockdown hysteria, the BBC asked, “Is Putin’s relaxing of restrictions for political gain?”
Hey, I don’t know, but maybe he was just having second thoughts about locking people in their homes and blindly copying the pandemic blueprint dictated by the Economist’s most illustrious democracies?
COPYRIGHT 2021 RACHEL MARSDEN