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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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Conclusion: In Defence of Responsible Citizenship

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As I have argued so far, liberalism is an ideology that bears the fruits of disobedience. Indeed, the institutionalized mistrust towards those chosen to protect people’s natural rights has undoubtedly played a role in this regard, as has the value given to individuals’ rights to freely express their opinions and to be given equal importance to others, as well as the valorization of reason as the sole tool at our disposal for understanding the world around us. With the help of modern technology, all these elements have constituted a cocktail, which has made obedience to authority and respect towards authority figures a notion that has increasingly become foreign to many of us, while the cult of irresponsible self-indulgence has rather become the norm. Signs of this erosion were already visible throughout Western-type liberal democracies before the deadly coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt in the Spring of 2020. However, Covid-19 has provided an opportunity to witness on a broad scale—and with potentially tragic consequences—people’s unwillingness to abide by perfectly simple sanitary rules. People have brazenly refused to wear masks in public or to refrain from participating in large gatherings, while others have ←67 | 68→openly opted to travel abroad at a time when more and more countries have faced an increase in the infectious mutations of the virus. This has forced states to implement harsh, liberticidal policies directly inspired by those of totalitarian China. In essence, the fact that states have resorted to these draconian measures...

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