The Glasgow Climate Conference wrapped Friday with so much progress: There was a “joint pledge” by President Joe Biden and an indifferent Chinese dictator to slow down the changing climate sometime in the next decade or so; there was a call from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “get on and do it,” whatever that means; there was even a column from The New York Times’ Tom Friedman on how, after seeing all the protests and listening to all the leaders, he’s feeling “very energized, and very afraid.”
It was great. Refreshing, really. I loved it.
Why? Because it felt like a return to normalcy: A few thousand completely clueless, feckless old men flying from all over the planet to babble on about saving the world and maybe even catch a quick nap during the most boring of the mostly boring speeches.
There was excitement, too! They pulled out all the stops: Creepy 20-foot puppet shows, sobbing children completely convinced they’re going to die unless every adult on the planet stops what they’re doing and listens to their teenaged opinions, drum circles, even Peruvian flutes. It felt vintage; as if from a simpler time.
But there’s a major problem: While it might have felt like a return to normalcy, it wasn’t. We’re not going back to normal — at least not without a hard and vicious fight.
Why not? Because the past two years have witnessed the very things that kept those stupid marches largely confined to just stupid marches: our society’s apparent decision to sacrifice liberty on the altar of fear and the triumph of timid technocrats over bold citizenry. This had been building behind the scenes, mind you, but with the excuse of COVID was it ready to be revealed.
Back in 2019, before the global shutdowns, there was a lot of internal debate within conservatism about which direction our society ought to go. Should we stick with our collective devotion to libertine individualism and cheap goods, as lawyers like David French preferred? Or should we move past the modern liberal consensus, and turn to a more involved government that tries to actively reorder society toward the higher good, as Sohrab Ahmari, Tucker Carlson, and a few of us here at The Federalist proposed?
Sohrab, Tucker, and the rest of us were viciously attacked for our heresy against the modern liberal order. How dare we stir up trouble and inflame feelings? We were ruining the club vibe, splintering party unity. We can’t help people global markets have forgotten. And God? He’s just a private venture.
While we had this debate, however, global events — and the left — overtook us. Mary Harrington, an editor of the British magazine UnHerd, puts it this way: “The pandemic state of emergency [shattered] the consensus about individual freedom. Across the developed world, the liberal privileging of individual freedom has been replaced by a de facto acceptance that state power absolutely must be ordered to the common good, up to and including coercive measures where necessary.”
“In other words,” she writes, “all politics is now post-liberal.”
Our government today is indeed far less constrained; more willing to take drastic action for the sake of what they believe is right. It’s the inverse of what a number of us had hoped for — active, yes, but on the wrong side of the good and its God.
A Post-Liberal West
This transformation we’ve experienced has been so sudden and so dramatic that it’s even reshaping our language. Take the word “democracy.” Democracy used to mean rule by the people; it meant a government where there are regular elections with multiple political parties.
Today, “democracy” means something very different — it means rule by a narrow technocratic elite. Listening to every changing claim Tony Fauci utters? That’s democracy; put him on the cover of Rolling Stone. A little rebellion? Some questions about vaccines or voter fraud or Black Lives Matter that aren’t approved by CNN and Co.? That ain’t democracy; that’s “misinformation” — and it stays outside the Twitter.
In all societies, there are people who feel entitled to build their own moral universes and compel us to obey their manmade constructs. It’s for the collective good, they say, although suspiciously often “the collective good” seems to align with giving them the most money and power, status and freedom — maybe even a ticket to Glasgow.
COVID was the best thing to ever happen to these people. The panic over an unknown virus caused too many of us to rush to give up freedoms we once knew to be essential: The right to travel, for example, or the right to eat in a restaurant; the right to protest in public; and in many cases, the right to run a business and take of our families; literally the right to say goodbye to our elders and to bury our dead.
Now COVID-19 is fading away, but with the precedent set, the leadership class would like to keep all these new powers they’ve gained. Turns out, they’re good for a lot more than just pretending to contain a virus.
Wouldn’t it be grand, our technocrats think, if they could turn the COVID-19 emergency into a permanent emergency over climate? The possibilities are limitless.
Traveling? If we can lock you in your home to stop a virus, why can’t we trap you there so you don’t get in your gas-guzzling car or fly on a carbon-spewing airplane? Such wastefulness must be reserved for a select few, like the important leaders flying to international climate conferences.
Remember the coverage of the early lockdowns, when you could drive from end to end of New York City or Boston without an ounce of traffic? “How good this is for the environment!” they crooned. Seriously, articles talked about the upsides for Mother Earth. Even Friedman’s perpetual wish that we be more like China was finally granted; emergency powers über alles.
Emergency Powers Über Alles
Speaking of acting more like China, how about public debate? Turns out when you’re really really sure you’re right, you can just ban it. A “Science Says!” sorta thing.
Make no mistake: We did exactly this with COVID. Vaccine “misinformation?” Banned. Opposition to masks? Banned. Saying the virus came from a lab? Banned — at least until the technocrats decided it probably did come from a lab.
Or how about the basic right to work? To earn a living? To have an economy independent of government?
Well, we gave that up, didn’t we. The corporations did fine, while one of my best friends lost his business and his house and had to let his staff go and move in for a while. The neighborhood’s favorite restaurant was destroyed; our favorite spot for pizza after church was shuttered.
You might be lucky enough to not know a single person who actually died of COVID, but you very likely know someone whose life’s work was destroyed by the politicians’ shutdowns. Wouldn’t it be great to do that with the climate, too?
And what if doubting Greta Thunberg’s emotionally stinted, childish prescriptions was just banned from Facebook, Twitter, and Google like it’s already banned from most news outlets?
What if our cities were closed to cars? What if our travel was restricted to the luxury the elites think it ought to be? For us, not them, of course.
That’s the danger we’re facing today — even from the global warming clowns and puppets. We’ve rolled out the blueprint for a society that is nominally free, but willing to throw freedom away in a crisis. So now, the leadership class has realized there’s a lot of value to keeping society permanently in crisis.
They’re not even hiding it. Check out the International Energy Association October “roadmap“: “The crisis,” they observe, “demonstrated that people can make behavioural changes at significant speed and scale if they understand the changes to be justified.”
And hell, we don’t even have to hold the Chinese accountable to their climate pledge. Haven’t held them accountable for much of anything lately.