Irresponsible Citizenship

The Cultural Roots of the Crisis of Authority in Times of Pandemic

by Jean-François Caron (Author)
©2021 Prompt VI, 76 Pages


The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the serious crisis of political authorities that liberal societies are currently experiencing. Indeed, a significant number of individuals living in these societies did not hesitate to defy the sanitary rules enacted by their government which has made it difficult for them to stop the virus from spreading. What can explain such a situation? This is what this book is discussing. Whether it is the growing popularity of conspiracy theories, the distrust towards governments or cultural and religious beliefs that take precedence over the respect of governments’ directives, all these factors that have led so many individuals to act in an irresponsible way during the pandemic find their roots in the liberal tradition as it originated in the 18th century and in its more recent development which has had the effect of decentralizing the individual from his collective responsibilities in favor of an almost unlimited enjoyment of his individual freedom. This health crisis has revealed the urgency for liberal societies to establish a better balance between collective interest and individual freedom through responsible citizenship capable of protecting its citizens against the adoption of draconian measures when they will be struck again by upcoming pandemics that appear to be unfortunately inevitable.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One The Cultural Foundations of Disobedience and Conspiracy Theories
  • Chapter Two The Rights Revolution and the Evanescence of Authority
  • Chapter Three When Cultural Beliefs Challenge Respect for Political Authority
  • Conclusion: In Defence of Responsible Citizenship
  • Series index


The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how fragile the respect for political authority is in Liberal societies. Around the world, governments have encouraged their citizens to comply with very simple measures to limit the spread of the virus that has proven fatal to more than 3 million individuals (and counting): “wear a mask when you are outside your home and in the company of others,” “stay at home and only go out if it is truly essential” and “avoid unnecessary gatherings” have been the most widespread instructions. However, although these instructions are more than reasonable given the presence of a virus that spreads from person to person through oral or nasal secretions, they have been ignored by a significant proportion of the world’s population, thus contributing to the acceleration of the spread of the virus and even the development of a second and of a third wave of infections after initial freedom-restricting measures, such as the strict isolation of old and vulnerable persons in their places of residence, the quarantining of entire cities and even a ban on leaving one’s home for any non-essential purpose, were implemented in many societies. This unwillingness of many people to follow the instructions of their respective governments ←1 | 2→has thus demonstrated just how relative and limited the power that the political sphere holds over citizens really is.

The following metaphor, taken from Michael Huemer (2013), illustrates the situation that liberal societies are now confronted with. Let us imagine the following scenario: you live in a neighbourhood where the peace and quiet is disturbed by a group of individuals who make excessive noise in the evenings, which prevents you from sleeping peacefully. Exasperated by this situation, you decide to take matters into your own hands. You therefore take a weapon and decide to arrest the individuals causing the problem, chaining them in your basement to teach them a lesson (obviously, you would make sure that they are properly fed). After a few weeks, you realize that your actions have paid off and that the neighbourhood is now peaceful. You then decide to pay your neighbours a visit to draw their attention to the newly quiet situation and, after they have explicitly acknowledged your statement, you tell them that you were responsible and they therefore owe you a financial contribution for your efforts—a contribution which, if not paid, will earn them a stay in your basement. There is no doubt that your neighbours will view this request as inappropriate and that they will consider your actions (with good reason) to actually be kidnapping, false imprisonment and extortion. In fact, they will unceremoniously send you away.

However, when you think about it, on the surface, your actions are nothing extraordinary in themselves, as they are very much in line with what governments do. In fact, your actions are similar in every way to the obligations of governments to enforce law and order and to arrest individuals who violate the rights of others. Requesting payment from your neighbours for services rendered to the community is similar to the requirement imposed by the state on all its citizens, namely, to pay their taxes or face the consequences if they refuse. However, whereas these actions are acceptable and necessary on the part of the state to guarantee respect for the social contract, peace, order and good governance, your militant or vigilante actions, on the other hand, would be eminently reprehensible.


VI, 76
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. VI, 76 pp.

Biographical notes

Jean-François Caron (Author)

Jean-François Caron is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Nazarbayev University and at the Institute of Political Science and Administration at the University of Opole.


Title: Irresponsible Citizenship
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84 pages