Authoritarianism V Liberalism


“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

The Covid crisis has created the perfect storm of coercive authoritarianism. A combination of government psychological manipulation, SAGE cultivated modelling and commentary, daily media bombast, tech applications to harvest data and connect people and seemingly endless set furlough cycles have created a möbius loop of scaremongering, an anti social network of isolated home living, luxury communism to authoritarianism, sanctimonious fascism, medical apartheid, loss of bodily autonomy, discrimination, segregation and a vindictive cancel culture to anyone who points all of this out.

Goodbye to freedom, liberalism and an open society based on choice, liberty and human rights. Hello to a snitch and cancel culture, coercive gaslighting to enforce compliance and a society based on servitude and fear.

Because of Covid, the old antiquated models of left versus right or even leave versus remain are looking rather passé now. The new political division is between authoritarianism and liberalism/libertarianism. And I say this as a left wing liberal/libertarian who hates authoritarianism.

Some left wingers appear to be willing to support the authoritarian lockdowns implemented by a Tory government. And yet the same left wingers often accuse anyone who is concerned about the inequalities of lockdowns as being right wing. We now have the blurred lines of authoritarianism v liberalism that appear to cross the political tribes. 

Forget left/right, Leave/Remain and other political divisions. Protecting our freedoms and liberty against the mission creep of authoritarianism is far more important than party politics. I’m now happy to work with people I’ve spent years disagreeing with politically to stop this.

For over a year, authoritarianism has hijacked our society under the mask of “stay safe”. We have lurched from hard lockdowns to tiered lockdowns to limited restrictions and back to lockdowns. Our kids were even forced to wear masks at school. We were incarcerated in our homes. Our businesses were forced to close. We wore masks. We socially distanced. We took the jab. And still we exist in authoritarianism purgatory. Almost the entire country unwittingly sleepwalked towards this big state authoritarianism. A sad by-product of the covid crisis is that many governments around the world will now realise just how easy it is to spook servile citizens with endless coercion, scaremongering and propaganda.

As someone from the liberal left of centre, taking a position that is against lockdowns hasn’t always been easy. But I simply do not believe that lockdowns work. In fact they cause more problems than solutions. The huge collateral damages of lockdowns will take decades to fix.

We have done this because we were told to adhere to lockdowns because we must “follow the science”. But only to follow government backed scientists. Yet it now emerges that lockdowns ‘had no effect’ on the coronavirus pandemic in Germany. Scientists at Munich University found the German infection rate was already falling before lockdown was imposed.

Yet, there appear to be many individuals on the left who support the Tory government on lockdowns, despite the collateral damage of kids’ welfare, mental health increases, increased record non Covid treatment waiting lists and job losses – which were the things they previously criticised the Tory government for. It’s one of the greatest paradoxes of the whole crisis in that many so-called liberals and left-wingers (who have consistently criticised the Tory government) are turning a blind eye to all the collateral damages of lockdowns and appear to be slavishly agreeing with the government’s draconian and authoritarian measures. 

We have also been subjected to a one sided authoritarian propaganda campaign by our media, who have received £322 million of taxpayers money – spaffed away by our government in effect – bribing them with public health advertising revenues. And this perhaps explains why our media doesn’t bite the hand that feeds them over Covid.

The authoritarianism of the Covid response also has a sinister future tense. We appear to be moving towards a digital data harvesting of our medical records to give us back our freedoms. Vaccine passports are one of the most illiberal and authoritarian ideas ever floated by a UK government. It risks creating discrimination, a two tier society and a huge infringement of our human rights. In effect, a vaccine passport gives us the veil of social freedoms but takes away our personal medical records and hoovers them all up into an app based tracking mechanism. We have to be very careful to avoid a scenario where a digital vaccine passport morphs into something that becomes wider reaching and controlling that is modelled similar to the Chinese social credit system. 

The infrastructures of modern society have been a perfect breeding ground for this new brand of health and tech led authoritarianism. If Covid happened in the 1990’s, I doubt that we would have had lockdowns. The middle classes wouldn’t have been able to work from home on zoom and wouldn’t have been able to indulge on online deliveries. Tech connects us, but it’s also helped to disconnect us from real society. And tech totalitarianism is the driving force behind the authoritarianism of the restrictions. It’s allowing us to wallow in our home based servitude both professionally and personally. Many of our laptop professionals can fulfil the function and form of their careers through video conferencing and emails and also order online for home supplies brought to their doorstep. 

When a government implements a set of coercive tactics to get its citizens to comply, it is a form of authoritarianism. It eventually bleeds into localised authoritarianism. It has created a snitch culture where some local residents are reporting neighbours for breaking the restrictions or indeed refuse to see friends because they haven’t had the vaccine or refuse to wear a mask. It becomes part of a petty apartheid national behavioural pattern. 

As a lifelong liberal, I am absolutely appalled by this creep towards authoritarianism. And as a nation, it’s not who we are or ever should become. Britain should never be a ‘show us your papers’ or snitch culture society. Historically we are a liberal and moderate nation. We must never forget that. The very essence of liberalism is a willingness to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own, show an openness to new ideas and freedom of choice. And right now, we appear to be losing these fair-minded and balanced liberal values. 

We have allowed ourselves to be blindsided by government, SAGE and media to know our place, behave, and ‘follow the science’ to ‘stay safe’. All of this has been a framed psychological manipulation to act as a mask for the government to hide behind whilst making appallingly draconian political decisions. The grotesquely illiberal Coronavirus Act was recently extended for another six months until the Autumn of 2021, with no real opposition. And it’s something we shouldn’t ever be forced into complying and living with. 

Authoritarianism creates a half life, state controlled, Orwellian ‘big brother’ society. It strips away our freedoms. It snoops on us. History has taught us that authoritarianism never ends well. We forget the lessons of history at our peril. 

James Melville is Managing Director of the communications consultancy, East Points West, based in Cornwall, London and Scotland. He also writes regularly for Al Jazeera.