West’s Anti-lockdown and China’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil’

Anti-lockdown protestors

‘Make live and let die’ is an exclusive sovereign power in the concept of Biopolitics.   

In a pandemic situation that large number of citizens knowingly take no preventive measures of any kind, get infected, and ruthlessly transmit the virus to the old and the weak, thus causing deaths but without any legal consequences, they are de facto exercising a penalty-free bio-power to ‘let die’ like the sovereign.

Perhaps, it is because Foucault’s Biopolitics vision has not yet been widely accepted for governance.  Therefore, the disciplinary and regulatory powers advocated by him “… which aims to establish a sort of homeostasis, not by training individuals, but by achieving an overall equilibrium that protects the security of the whole from internal dangers …” still make no sense to many people, both intellectuals and common men and women, in the liberal West today.

[Note 1]  

Complete lockdown of a populous city was initially unthinkable to many intellectuals in the West.   On 2020 Jan 24, two Washington Post reporters wrote, after asking some specialists, “China’s quarantine of more than 35 million people … is surprising and troubling experts who said such drastic restrictions rarely work and often backfire …”

In Germany, when talking about school closure merely, The Spiegel pointed to the nucleus of the government’s reason for hesitation on 2020 June 2: “… In science, it’s the facts that count.   In politics, it’s majorities …”    

Either way, be it the Chinese format of total lockdown or any sort of partial lockdown such as school closure, lockdown is not welcome in the West

Therefore, despite almost non-stop warnings from the medical sector in general and The Lancet editor Richard Horton in particular (Al Jazeera 2021Jan 11), anti-lockdown protests have never subsided in Europe, North America and Australia since early 2020.

There are at least two major arguments against lockdown.  One is grounded on the cost-benefit utilitarian assessments.   Another anti-lockdown deliberation resorts to civic rights.

As regards the utilitarian argument for anti-lockdown, an essay makes it plain easy to understand: “… letting a minority suffer so that the majority may benefit — is known as utilitarianism …” (CNN 2020 Apr 24)

Putting it more frankly or straightforward, it means the utilitarian policy makers should keep the business as usual with an understanding that it may bring death to the elderly and the weak in the pandemic, and an expectation that it could simultaneously allow the young and strong remain in job, assuming they would survive the virus infection.  

Its mathematical logic is that the benefits obtained by the latter outweigh the losses suffered by the former, thus the society as a whole gains a net ‘profit’.

The utilitarian perspective is nothing new.  For example, Cicero (Roman consul 63B.C.) examined the old Stoic themes of honestum and utile in his De Officiis with the goals of reconciling the relation between common good and private interest, and also the tension between ethics and political expediency.

What is more relevant to the present day can be found in Cicero’s De Inventione, “… he described two aspects of the utilitas of commonwealths, power and security …”

[Note 2]

Cicero believes the common good is not merely the sum of citizens’ private interests, or, to tell in a modern maxim, the whole is not the sum of the parts.   The utilitarian computation must take into account the society’s security as a whole.   If, say, large number of young soldiers are infected and to different degree physiologically weakened in battleships, intelligence control rooms, jetfighters, and the like, the security of the state is at risk.

Perhaps, the arguments on each side can be summarized in simple terms as follows:

Anti-lockdown:

Seeing the old and the weak die in the pandemic is not good, but the damaging effects of lockdown are bad, very bad, indeed; and therefore, the utilitarian business-as-usual policy is a lesser evil, or even ‘good’ since there is a net utilitarian yield.

Pro-lockdown:

Seeing the young and the strong out of job after lockdown is bad, but doing nothing or little to contain the fatal virus infection is evil; and therefore the lockdown to save life and safeguard the security of the society as a whole is a good act.

The debate on whether civic rights can be used to justify the resistance to lockdown has also attracted lots of attention of public intellectuals.  One of the early examples is a 2020 May 19 article on the UK Law Society Gazette Journal.   Jonathan Compton, a law firm partner, said “Lord Sumption is wrong on lockdown liberty”.

The concept of civic rights is no less important to the ancient Romans than we moderns.    Cicero also had detailed discussions on this topic in his De republica and De Legibus.    One interpretation of his arguments is that “… Rep. I.49 maintains that a necessary condition for societas is a bond (vinculum), some component of civil society (civilis societas) that all members can share in equally.  The answer given is equal rights (ius aequale, iuraparia) by which citizens who share the same condition (condicio) under law engage one another.  Rights are civic bonds … The possession of rights unites rather than divides citizens …”

[Note 3]

The ultimate goal for upholding ‘rights’, Cicero suggests, is not to protect various different personal interests, including liberty and freedom, of the citizens, but to protect the bonding of all the citizens in the society.

Here is another summary in simple terms:

Anti-lockdown:

Deciding on behalf of a person to take or avoid the risk of virus inflection is bad, and restricting each single citizen’s rights is evil.   Allowing each citizen to exercise all his/her civic rights as usual, even in a deadly pandemic, is good.

Pro-lockdown:

Protecting the rights to life on behalf of the old and the weak, through a public policy, is good.   Restricting the civic rights of the young and the strong may be bad but it is a necessary evil.

So, what is ‘good’, ‘bad’, and ‘evil’?  German philosopher Friedrich  Nietzsche (1844-1900) says it does not matter, and instead what matters is who defines it and succeeds in enforcing it.

According to Nietzsche, there is no ‘in itself’, no essence, no fixed nature of things, and all the values in human society are created out of the ‘will to power’.

[Note 4]

The emergence of a cultural value, be it good, bad, or evil, Nietzsche argues, is out of the will to power’s creativity:

“… the cause of the emergence (entstehung) of a thing and its eventual utility, its actual employment and place in a system of purposes, lie worlds apart; whatever exists, having somehow come into being, is again and again reinterpreted to new ends, taken over, transformed, and redirected by some power superior to it; all events in the organic world are a subduing, a becoming master, and all subduing and becoming master involves a fresh interpretation, an adaptation through which any previous ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ are necessarily obscured or obliterated …”

[Note 5]

The hot debates and violent protests simply demonstrate the struggles for the power to determine the lockdown —  yes or no, total or partial.

When a supposedly modern and civilized society cannot even agree whether protecting a human’s life at the expense of another human’s freedom to party or civic right to travel for fun is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as a whole, then, with reference to Nietzsche, this community is suffering from a descending trend in culture.    

The people in such a society are not sensible individuals, but private persons who are a herd of “last men and women” and are concerned only with petty happiness.   They fight hard to define and determine what is good, what is bad and what is evil to have their egoistic interests satisfied at all costs.  Anarchy is the final destination of this kind of decaying societies.

[Note 6]

Although Sweden’s no-lockdown in contrast to China’s and New Zealand’s total-lockdown stand at the two ends of the spectrum respectively, they have passed the Nietzschean beyond-good-and-evil test.   

They are going to excel in cultural self-overcoming, as well as the revaluation of values, though towards very different directions whereas one is going to ‘let die’ and another to ‘make live’.  

Both ways are neither good nor bad, only beyond.   If Nietzsche is correct, at least one of these nations will show us what “great politics’ would become in this 21st Century.   For meaningful insight, your attention should be paid to China’s concrete developments rather than the China-demonizing rhetoric.

Visit here for the [Notes].

It is the second essay of my Will to Power Series. The first essay was published on Chine News on 2021 June 21: “Shanghai Extravagance, Silicon Valley Stoics, and US-China Agony”.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

We need your help.

The cost of maintaining a community news site like China News is always increasing.

While access to content will always be free, we would appreciate if you could donate any amount, no matter how small, to keep us operating.

This is completely optional and won’t affect your ability to read any of our articles.

Thank you.

Make a monthly donation

We need your help.

The cost of maintaining a community news site like China News is always increasing.

While access to content will always be free, we would appreciate if you could donate any amount, no matter how small, to keep us operating.

This is completely optional and won’t affect your ability to read any of our articles.

Thank you.

Make a yearly donation

We need your help.

The cost of maintaining a community news site like China News is always increasing.

While access to content will always be free, we would appreciate if you could donate any amount, no matter how small, to keep us operating.

This is completely optional and won’t affect your ability to read any of our articles.

Thank you.

Choose an amount

$1.00
$2.00
$5.00
$1.00
$2.00
$5.00
$1.00
$2.00
$5.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly


Categories: Politics & Law

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: