Recently, I have seen several people on the TV news proclaiming that our government has no right to mandate COVID vaccines and/or masks. I have heard similar ideas on the radio. The fact is, we live with thousands of regulations all the time. They make our lives better. We should be thankful that most drivers stop at red lights, drive on the correct side of the road and avoid driving while drunk. These rules of the road save lives. As do vaccines and masks. Furthermore, our courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, consistently support the right of our governments to regulate and protect us.
The British philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously said that without government, life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Our ancestors around the globe created governments as a means of avoiding the terrors of anarchy. In Hobbes’ times, these governments were primarily autocratic (Kings, Czars, Emperors, etc.). While providing some security, these rulers mostly cared about enriching themselves. Most citizens in those times lived difficult lives.
During the Enlightenment in 18th century Europe, many folks strongly advocated for an end to the autocrats. They called for liberty, property rights, tolerance, constitutional government and economic opportunity. These thoughts strongly influenced the American Revolution and the creation of the United States. Our Founders’ challenge was to provide a government that give its citizens both freedom and security. That is also our challenge today. Most of us understand that we need laws and government programs to protect us against violence, theft, disease, pollution and the other threats to our security. At the same time, we need freedoms that enable us to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
So, we continue in our democracy to search for the best balance between security and freedom. As a basic rule, government should only create laws, regulations, programs, and mandates that provide more benefits than costs. Our national intent is to create a better world for ourselves and our children. We do not always get things right, but in this case, COVID-19 requires strong government action. Our mandates to fight the pandemic were created to reduce suffering and to promote public safety. The facts show that the vaccine mandate is working! The vaccinated in America are less likely to get COVID; they are also less likely to be hospitalized, and they are much less likely to die from COVID. Clearly, the benefits of the vaccine mandate far outweigh the costs.
Imagine that a whole host of other groups came forward, all claiming that the government has no right to regulate them with laws or mandates. Suppose a new group, Fathers and Mothers for Drunk Driving, proclaims that we all have the right to drive drunk. Maybe they would protest outside government buildings and/or disrupt public meetings, just like the anti-vax and anti-mask folks are currently doing. They might loudly claim that they are being deprived of the freedom to endanger themselves and the rest of us. Of course, this is an extreme example, but one like the current anti-mandate movement.
Most of us know that the current COVID pandemic is a huge international disaster. However, the idea currently being expressed by some that governments cannot regulate us, may end up being even more dangerous. Our democracy has been under attack in recent years. The anti-mandate movement is sadly another attack on our democratic institutions and our need for laws to provide for public safety. I strongly support the vaccine and mask mandates and encourage everyone to support our governments’ efforts to protect us.