The principal dilemma of modern political philosophy is the balance between the need for order and the liberty of the individual. In the face of the debate about taking the vaccine and the idea of vaccine passports has brought this conflict between the liberty of the individual and the requirement of the state to protect society as a whole to the fore again. That there is a need for order is generally accepted, for without it society as we understand it would collapse. Here 'order' is used to mean the smooth functioning of society including of course the protection of the citizens from both internal and external threats. Hobbes viewed society as something delicate, which could easily disintegrate. In his book 'Lord of the Flies', William Golding convincingly portrays such disintegration. In 1969 police in Montreal went on strike leading to widespread looting, rioting that became known as Montreal's “night of terror”.
Some political thinkers have said that order can be achieved without government. Such approaches rely on man being, or becoming, truly virtuous. The most important of these is Marxism, or communism. The state is viewed as the instrument of class oppression and economic exploitation. Once communism has been implemented, the state will wither away, as the need for suppression will have vanished. Excesses on the part of individuals will be suppressed, according to Lenin, by the "armed people... as readily as any crowd of civilised people.... parts two people who are fighting".1 Anarchism too preaches that man is essentially good and that the state is the cause of his imperfections. Emma Goldman wrote that "property...has subdued and stifled man's needs... the state has enslaved his spirit."2 This notion of a stateless society is not generally accepted as feasible by the majority of political thinkers; as Aristotle said, "Man is by nature a political animal" It is possible to view the establishment of government as an aspect of man's behaviour determined by natural selection. Pre-industrial or small scale societies evolve some form of organisation and hierarchy; chiefs and elders of the tribe, etc. Groups that developed government would be more capable of facing the challenges of a hostile environment than those that remained fragmented; the more ordered the system of government, the more efficient it would be and therefore it would be more successful in competition for economic necessities.
Such societies would survive although in some scenarios not all individuals within it might. This idea would seem to bear out Aristotle's assertion. Among the first actions of a group of survivors from air crash in the Andes was to select a leader, thereby establishing a government. This enabled then to adopt logical measures necessary for their survival, even though this involved cannibalism, in total contradiction of all their socialisation from birth.
Order is thus a necessary condition of survival and to achieve it the state, in some form, is also necessary. In 'Leviathan', Hobbes said that man lives under government for self-protection. Without it the life of man would be "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short."3
G. A. Minto wrote in his book, 'The Thin Blue Line', "All society is founded ... on one thing and one thing only, physical force. This may take the shape of the policeman with all the resources of the state at his command."4
Here too the state is seen as the provider of protection, and many states have indeed seen this as a major function. As Queen Elizabeth I said to Parliament in 1601, “I shall be His instrument to preserve you from envy, peril, dishonour, shame, tyranny and oppression."5 It is interesting note the inclusion of tyranny and oppression in this list. It was after all an absolute monarch speaking. It implies the state having a role not only as the protector of the individual's person and property, but also of his personal liberty. Yet a government by its very nature must inhibit the actions of each individual if it is to preserve order. Edmund Burke viewed “the object of the state to be the happiness of' the whole."6 Obviously by providing civil order part of this object is achieved. In the case of a pandemic, should an individual refuse a vaccine if that threatens the health of the whole? But liberty is also necessary, not just for happiness but, according to John Stuart Mill, for the advance of civilisation. He sketched a limited role for government, the best government being almost the least government. It can be argued„ that this is no longer practical or acceptable. In a time of pandemic, government must intervene massively to safeguard both the health and economic well-being of its citizens. The modern state has apparatus for control of the economy and the running of social services which most people feel it should have. (A Communist might say that Mill's liberty allows economic oppression to go unchecked and that economic liberty is as important, if not more so, than political freedom.) Brian Inglis argues that the modern state, especially Britain, is in danger of losing its function as the protector of liberty, due to the growth of corporations. “The judiciary has lost ground in its capacity as the protector of individual freedom …the reasons can be found in the unchecked growth of the corporate mentality."7 The rise of corporations is however an inevitable result of increasing technology particularly visible with the rise of the 'tech giants' and the direct clash between Facebook and the democratic Australian government in 2021. Thus the conflict is again apparent between individual liberty on one hand and the needs of the state on the other. The debate over statutory as against voluntary inflation control is another aspect of this conflict. “The art lies,” as John Milton wrote, “to discern in what the law is bid to restraint tend punishment, and in what things persuasion only is to work."8
To preserve liberty, limitations must be placed on the state or it must be so ordered as to provide checks and balances. Alexander Hamilton wrote in 'The Continentalist', “The security of the public liberty must consist in such a distribution of the sovereign power as will make it impossible for one part to gain an ascendency over the others, or for the whole to unite in usurpation."9 Stalin combined in himself the offices of head of the party, head of the executive and head of the state; Hitler combined the presidency and chancellorship in himself. Both these examples show the value in terms of liberty of maintaining the separation of powers. As d'Entrèves wrote, "The state is the expression of liberty only on condition that certain 'rules of the game' are respected."10 By these rules he meant the state should not interfere with what Sir Isaiah Berlin called negative liberty and that the individual should have the right to positive liberty or participation in government. These rules or limitations depend on the nature of the state. Mill might have viewed government with distrust because of the oligarchical nature of English government at the tine. According to H.A.L. Fisher, it is less reasonable to take this view of a, democratic government, the interference of which "might be positively conducive to human happiness."11 Taking this even further, at the U. S. Democratic Convention in 1964, Barry Goldwater advocated what he called "extremism in defence of liberty". This view no doubt is what motivated the insurrectionists at the Capitol in January 2021. Libertarianism, which started as a left wing anti-state ideology viewing the capitalist state as an economic oppressor of the working masses, is now more commonly identified with the anti-state right advocating “rolling back the power of the state”. But who would benefit more from that; the individual or those in control of capital and the economy? Thus concepts of liberty vary. Certainly more state interference is accepted today than two hundred years ago. Yet still the majority of political philosophers would say that the state should embody liberty. F.T. Giles in 'The Criminal Law' states, "The test of freedom lies in the rights of the individual and the readiness of the law to uphold them."12 Thus the state, through the law, guards both order and liberty. It was the U.S. Supreme Court which deprived President Roosevelt of his dictatorial powers which he had taken under the National Recovery Administration.13 So liberty and order are intertwined. Freedom under the rule of law is ingrained in western democracy. Freedom and law are complementary while the power of the state is held in check; if the balance is disturbed too much in favour of either, they then become contradictory.
So where does that leave us in terms of the pandemic and vaccination? States demand a passport to travel, the state demands I take a driving test before I'm let loose alone on the roads. This is to protect both myself and others. That principle can be applied to 'vaccine passports'. I may well need one, or in some cases a recent negative Copbid-19 test, in order to do certain things and go to certain places. It's an individual's choice whether to forgo those or get a vaccine passport.
A. "Why People Live in Societies", Open University. (Op. U.P.)
B. "Understanding Society" , Open University. (Macmillan)
C. "The Thin Blue Line”, G. A. Minto. (Hodder & Stoughton)
D. "The London Book of English Prose", Herbert Read & Bonamy Dobrée. (Eyre & Spottiswoode)
E. “A History of Europe", H.A.L. Fisher, (Fontana)
F. "England in the Twentieth Century", David Thomson. (Penguin)
G. “The Criminal Law”, F. T. Giles. (Penguin)
H. "The State and Revolution”, V. I. Lenin. (Lawrence & Wishart)
I. "Private Conscience, Public Morality", Brian Inglis. (Four Square)
1. H p106
2. A p40
3. A p40
4. C p8
5. D p276
6. D p285 (Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians, Edmund Burke, 11 May 1792)
7. I p167
8. D p280 (‘Areopagitica' , John Milton)
9. D p292
10. B p40
11. E p1287
12. G p12
13 "America" Alistair Cooke. (BBC2, 22 Jan 1973)
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