Fascism’s Step Ten: “Lockdown” is not a “Quarantine”
By Dr. Noami Wolf – October 3, 2020
As I explained in my previous post on fascism, we are at step ten of the ten steps needed for fascism to take root in America. This long, determined path toward authoritarianism did not start with the current administration as I documented in my best-selling book The End of America, and it likely won’t end with it either. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has given those in power the tool needed to finish the job, which is why it’s very important to understand that lockdown is not a quarantine.
For the past month, historic events unfolding in the United States have inspired conversation online and in the press about the current very real threats to democracy in America. The threat is real and was so long before President Donald Trump refused to promise a peacefully transfer power if he lost the upcoming election.
So we are here at step ten. Let’s look now at a massive euphemism that is allowing for the various power grabs we will explore, that the COVID-19 pandemic facilitates.
National leaders are using the term “quarantine” to refer to acts of closing down economic activity in entire states and even nations, and of restricting all citizens’ travel to and from entire states lines or across borders to countries. This “quarantine” has in turn shut down engines of economic activity.
While this drastic set of constraints may indeed be valuable medically, my concern here is at looking at what we risk to lose forever in the heart of our medically valid fears. So I do want to point out that this is a serious historical misuse of the term and by mixing the two we lose sight of the distinctions and most importantly that lockdown is not a quarantine.
Though leaders have rolled out the messaging around restrictions of movement as if this form of immobilizing citizens is a “quarantine” and has precedent, it really can’t be said to. It’s quite novel to lock down the economic engine of a whole society.
For western democracies, it’s a new social experiment on this scale.
Our global and nation by nation “lockdown” really doesn’t look much like any disease-related “quarantines” in history at all. The large-scale forced closure of businesses, and the cordoning off of complete societies, with movements of both healthy and infected citizens restricted by the state, is something other than historical “quarantine” altogether.
A lockdown, not a quarantine, has precedents
The “lockdown” — mislabeled a“quarantine” — as we are experiencing it now, has actually happened before on this planet: just not in open societies or in the contemporary West. Totalitarian and fascist societies have indeed often used mass restrictions of movement, curfews, and other ways of restricting the free association and free movement of citizens.
North Korea and China have indeed utilized the cordoning off of entire regions and putting them under no-movement rules for everyone. The Chinese Communist Party, long before the COVID pandemic, was among few modern societies to restrict citizens’ physical movements nationally and regionally. As dissident escapees from North Korea report, North Korean nationals have also long been unable to move freely around the country without proper documentation, even for family visits.
Europe is not immune to this in the past — it has seen such regional and national “lockdown” too, but that was in countries that suffered from fascist leadership: In 1935-36, the passports of Jews in Germany were restricted. Eventually, restrictions on leaving the country would keep Jewish Germans from escaping altogether.
From 1939 to 1941, laws imposing various increasing restrictions on the movements of Jews put members of the Jewish community into effective “lockdown” as citizens within the larger German society (“infection” was a frequent trope used by anti-Semitic literature about the threat of Jews intermingling with Aryans). These laws prevented Jews from entering certain neighborhoods, and from traveling on buses. Walled Jewish residential areas, called ghettos, were often traditional in European cities; but state-mandated restrictions during the Nazi occupation turned them into residential prisons.
On 16 November 1940, the gates were closed to the Warsaw Ghetto, a community of 400,000, thus making it impossible for the Jewish inhabitants to earn livelihoods; this closure and denial of the power of earning a living was instrumental in the weakening of potential resistance on the parts of victims of this segregation.
But large-scale totalitarian-style restrictions of citizens’ movements by the state are new to the postwar democratic West and unheard-of in actual open societies; even past pandemics past have not been excuses in such societies to venture into this drastic territory.
What’s next for the quarantine?
But whatever national policies our leaders create in this pandemic, it’s important that we not be misled. Staying home, sick with well; and state-wide or nationally restricted movement; is not a time-honored medical practice, but a drastic social experiment which has been tried at scale only in closed societies.
Will it solve the problem of COVID infections? It doubtless – -medically – helps to contain the pandemic. But absolute medical safety is sometimes in a paradoxical relationship to the basic demands of a free society. We really should not be afraid to ask: how long, with what severity, based on what data, tolerating what intrusions and trackings of the body, and at what other set of costs?
As others have pointed out, there seems to be no exit strategy from this crisis, to regain the public spaces and processes in which real democracy takes place.
When will it be safe enough? What is that benchmark? Given how great COVID policies are for those who hate democracy and profit from its demise, I am warning that at this point it is unlikely ever to be deemed by our leaders safe enough to resume a full democracy, medical reality, and even a potential full recovery of our collective health from this pandemic, notwithstanding; not unless we do some hard independent thinking about how we make decisions as a community.
Surely we must start to discuss COVID-related policies in a free society that are predicated on prioritizing public health and respect for one another — but that do not subject citizens in unprecedented ways to violations of basic human rights of movement and association and privacy; policies that resemble decent policies used to manage other deadly epidemics in free societies in living memory, as we shall see.
Nationwide restrictions of all citizens, healthy and ill; restrictions of citizens’ movements; and suppression of all economic activity, have indeed been used in the past.
But these edicts on this scale have not been used in the past to solve the problem of infectious diseases.
Rather, they have been used in the past to solve the problem of democracy itself.