The silence in the spring of 2020 was deafening.
Here the government at all levels was shelving every right we had taken for granted. The courts were closed. Worship services at Passover and Easter were canceled in most places by law. In many places, this persisted for the following year as well.
The media amplified every line being proclaimed by public health officials, who, as it turns out, were fronting for the national security state.
Those who could afford to were hunkered down in their homes, hiding from the “invisible enemy” outside, because the New York Times told them to, while others deemed essential were delivering groceries to the mysophobic elite classes. To find out if you were essential or not, you had to consult an order from the government.
Who was enforcing this? What were the penalties for noncompliance? Who exactly was in charge?
If there was an endgame, no one knew what it was at the time. That’s because none of the rationales made sense. Eradication? Not possible. Overwhelmed hospitals? Nurses were being furloughed because most were empty. Not enough personal protective equipment? The data indicated that 99 percent and more were not really in danger.
They did not say this at the time but the real goal was of course the vaccine, which was supposed to end the pandemic. It did not. Arguably, it prolonged it. So did every restriction. The panic alone killed many and the “mitigation measures” wrecked public health. But some very powerful people made a lot of money in the process.
Strange times and bitter memories. But the single most shocking aspect of the whole thing was the shutdown of debate. Even worse, it did not even need to be shut down because very few voices even dared to speak out. This was the most astounding feature of these 3 years.
Here we were wallowing in the midst of the most spectacular frenzy of anti-science malarky ever to appear in our lifetimes, a time when rationality itself was replaced with ideological bromides and astonishing gibberish was dished out from all the commanding heights. And yet the intellectuals either joined in the insanity or stayed silent.
Why did more people not speak out? Some were afraid of the virus. Some were afraid to contradict a powerful consensus. But vast numbers of people were not in a position that would allow them to contradict elite opinion. They were either confused or trapped into a professional setting where free thought and speech were just not tolerated.
Thus did safety and compliance become the watchwords of the day, not just safety from a disease but also from all public, private, and media authority, and compliance was not only with government diktat but new cultural norms that deemed any exercise of choice to be deadly.
You can call these people cowards but that’s too harsh. Many just didn’t want to face personal and professional disapproval. They made a careful calculation and decided to stay quiet.
This turned out to be wise. Later, many professionals, journalists, scientists, attorneys, medical doctors, and economists did speak out. They made a huge difference in rolling back the controls one by one. But look what happened to them! Many of their worst fears came true. They faced incredible professional and personal disruption.
We thought we were free, surrounded by institutions that protected free speech. We had newspapers, the Internet, universities, and think tanks – hundreds of thousands of people whose job it was to be a corrective to mass mania and government overreach.
The institutions and intellectuals failed. Worse, the silence of March 2020 mostly continues to this day.
Meanwhile, a new regime was born out of the catastrophe. It goes by many names: the biosecurity state, the digital leviathan, the security hegemon, government by the overlords of techno-primitivism.
Whatever it is, it bears little in common with anything we’ve previously experienced, though it has a lot in common with ancient depotisms. What began in disease panic mutated into a new way of life that disregards the values of the Enlightenment, particularly individual and universal human rights.
The Covid response was as much an institutional failure as it was a failure of rationality and courage. We thought we had reliable systems in place that would guarantee the ascendency of truth and reason and protect us against the tyranny of mass frenzy, government intrusion, and the forced transfer of trillions from workers to elites. Sadly, that turned out not to be true.
What does one do when civilization is sweeping toward destruction? One builds new institutions to fight back with a vision of a better world. Censorship or not, this is our moral obligation we have to the future.
Two years ago, Brownstone Institute came into being. And why? A group of passionate intellectuals concluded that new times require new institutions that can learn from the experience, respond to the ongoing crisis, and point the way toward a better alternative.
Its vision, said the mission statement, is “of a society that places the highest value on the voluntary interaction of individuals and groups while minimizing the use of violence and force including that which is exercised by public or private authorities.” It “is not just about this one crisis but past and future ones as well. This lesson concerns the desperate need for a new outlook that rejects the power of the legally privileged few to rule over the many under any pretext.”
Someday the full history will be written but not yet. We’ve made tremendous progress but there is so far to go, and the stakes grow higher by the day.
People think of Brownstone as a reliable source for frank analysis and commentary but there is a much deeper mission that is ongoing. It is best described as salvific: giving sanctuary not only to unpopular ideas but also displaced thinkers. Brownstone immediately became a source of personal and financial support for intellectuals, scientists, writers, and researchers who faced professional interference as a result of holding dissident opinions.
This aspect of our work is as important, even more so, as what you read on the website and the events, books, podcasts, and media appearances. For reasons of privacy and professional discretion, we don’t talk about this in any detail. But it is among the most crucial services we provide.
It could have been otherwise. Many new nonprofits focus first on institution building and padding up the internal bureaucracy. We did not go this direction. We are daily haunted by the failings of so many other institutions. Why create another one? Instead we chose the most earnest path: a tiny staff with maximum impact on public and private life, doing as much as we can for the mission given the limits of resources.
Now only two years since its conception, Brownstone Institute has millions of readers and thousands of backers, people who refuse to go along with whatever they are attempting to build in place of the freedoms we once knew. Our successes are many but the job is far from complete. As we approach the anniversary, we should reflect on our successes but also be realistic about the daunting challenges ahead.
We cannot assume that the crisis is over. Instead, many of the most grim policies they forced on us serve as a template for the controls they have in mind for the future. In many ways, we have lived through a coup d’etat against freedom itself. And we are still under what can only be described as quasi-martial law. Just being alert to this reality, still largely hidden from public view, is the first step.
Let us proceed boldly, with conviction and with truth, fearlessly and without favor. As ever, we remain deeply grateful for your generous support. We count on it, and only it, to make our operations possible. Our mission is as clear now as it was then: “providing a vision for a different way to think about freedom, security, and public life.”