By Jonathon Van Maren
After a decades-long career in journalism that has taken him around the globe and frequently provided him a front-row seat to historic events, Peter Hitchens is one of the most recognizable conservative commentators in the Western world. A columnist for The Mail on Sunday, his acerbic and contrarian opinions have been published in The Spectator, First Things, The American Conservative, and a panoply of other publications. These days, Hitchens seems to be everywhere, frequenting TV shows, podcasts, and talk radio to argue that the government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are dangerous to fundamental freedoms and devastating to economic and political stability.
“I have been dismayed, in all the Anglosphere countries, by the disregard, among governments, for liberty and the rule of law which upholds it,” Hitchens told me by email. “This has been shown not only by leaders and cabinets, but legislatures, which have not resisted or properly debated emergency measures, and by the courts, which have not questioned the executive. Liberty under the law exists in the hearts of men and women. If they do not uphold them at such moments, then nothing and nobody else will. We are as free as we want to be. It appears that our political, judicial and media elites no longer wish to be free. These reverses may well turn out to be permanent. The submission to claims (in my view bogus) of necessity is easy to make and—once accepted in general—hard to escape from.”
Indeed, it has been easy for leaders and media figures (who suffer no impact on their income) to sneer at those who protest constitutionally dubious lockdown orders and other draconian measures, but these dissenters are performing an essential democratic function: They are reminding the bureaucrats and the politicians who they are ultimately accountable to. Many politicians have shown impatience when confronted with questions and contempt for those who demand evidence for measures that are destroying their livelihoods, and the protestors—regardless of their occasionally embarrassing antics and conspiracy theories—remind them of the limits of their power just as they begin to wield it with abandon.