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Irresponsible Citizenship

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

Jean-François Caron

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.

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Chapter Two The Rights Revolution and the Evanescence of Authority


The phrase “you can’t force me; I have the right to …” has become a mantra that many of those living in liberal democracies have become accustomed to hearing. Indeed, many individuals have pushed the boundaries of their negative freedom to an extreme and have chosen to ignore the reasonable limits that ought to apply to them in a free and democratic society. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this mentality has led individuals to refuse to abide by justifiable rules and regulations meant to prevent the virus from spreading between individuals, such as the mandatory wearing of face masks in public spaces, limitations on the number of participants at gatherings and strict, mandatory quarantining upon returning from trips abroad. For instance, between May and September 2020, approximately 45,000 fines were given in France to individuals who refused to wear a mask while outside (Le Figaro 2020). After the establishment of a curfew in early 2021 and the banning of gatherings between individuals not belonging to the same “family bubble” in the province of Quebec, Canada, hundreds of fines were given to individuals who ignored these rules. In the midst of the first wave of the pandemic in the Spring of 2020, Italian authorities imposed fines on ←27 | 28→more than 110,000 people who had no legitimate reason for not respecting the lockdown or who lied on forms about their excursions (Duncan 2020). Meanwhile, in Germany, numerous protests have been organized on a regular basis since June 2020 by a movement...

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