Revenge of the Feeble-Minded

“Are you right, in the interest of society, in compelling people to be vaccinated, or is it the individual’s right to refuse to be vaccinated, to have liberty of judgment as to whether he should be vaccinated or not, to prevail?”

Josiah Wedgwood, Liberal member of Parliament  for Newcastle-under-Lyme, asked that question in the House of Commons during the second reading of the Feeble-Minded Persons Control Bill on May 17, 1912.

Over a century later, the echoes of this distant debate have revisited us, albeit on a worldwide scale. In December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that a national conversation on the topic of vaccine mandates should take place in the United Kingdom. Until that moment, his government had repeatedly said it would consider no such thing.

A few days earlier, Austria had crossed this Rubicon, mandating a new kind of segregation based on vaccine status, with implementation commencing on February 1. Karl Nehammer, the country’s chancellor, called the measure “indispensable.” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president, affirmed that such a conversation was needed. Soon after, Germany started the process. Compulsory vaccination will be on the agenda to be discussed in the German Federal Parliament in the first week of January 2022.

In German-speaking Europe, vaccine mandates have gone from “discussion” to “solution” at bewildering speed. While Germany and Austria have led the way, many countries across Europe, including France, Italy, and Spain, are embracing the concept of vaccine segregation.

The unvaccinated have been forced to acknowledge their social status at the bottom of a freshly minted caste system. Like the Untouchables, they are subject to sundry petty and humiliating restrictions for the good of all. Shops, restaurants, sportsgrounds, museums and more are now out of bounds for this errant race.

The intellectual virus of vaccine compulsion hasn’t only manifested in Europe—it is now spreading through the United States. While Joe Biden recently stated that the virus would have to be “solved” at a state level and talked of reduced quarantine times, America’s most recognised infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested vaccine mandates should be considered for air travel. Among other restrictions on their freedom, the unvaxxed are to be grounded.

Certain states seem poised to go much further. The New York state senate is currently discussing laws that would have raised eyebrows only a couple of years ago. These include forced vaccination to attend school, universities, and day care and, tellingly, the removal of parental consent when a child reaches 14 years of age.

Perhaps the most surprising is assembly bill A416 by New York Assemblyman Nick Perry, which “relates to the removal of cases, contacts and carriers of communicable diseases that are potentially dangerous to the public health.” In other words, it grants authorities the power to “remove” people deemed a health threat.

Subject to providing “clear and convincing evidence that the health of others” may be endangered “by a case, contact or carrier, or suspect case . . . of a contagious disease” that in the “opinion of the Governor, after consultation with the commissioner, may pose an imminent and significant threat” to public health, this bill would empower authorities to “order the removal and/or detention of such a person or of a group of such persons by issuing a single order, identifying such persons either by name or by a reasonably specific description of the individuals or group being detained.”

The incarceration of people who have committed no crime is bad enough, as Josiah Wedgewood said all these years ago, “but it is particularly dangerous when you allow people to be incarcerated on the dictum of the specialist.”

On both sides of the Atlantic, we stand witness to a powerful caucus stamping its feet in frustration at not getting 100 percent compliance, threatening and insulting a large minority of its citizenry for their supposed skepticism or caution.

Recently, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the unvaccinated “idiots.” Being cautious, a skeptic, or even an idiot—“feeble-minded,” in pre-World War I parlance—was hitherto not considered a crime. That is changing fast.

Josiah Wedgwood neatly put his finger on the crux of the matter. He pointed to the two doctrines perpetually at war with one another: The first is that of expediency, in which the “safety of the public” and “the welfare of the State” must be the supreme law. The second is that of justice—is the act in question just?

Instinctively, we recognize the latter is far nobler, far higher than the first. This is so because it imparts dignity to Man. The doctrine of justice is also the one “which we in England, rather more peculiarly than the rest of Continental nations, have followed,” as Wedgwood said.

To expect a man to submit to the laws of expediency against his will, conscience, and natural law, in particular when he has as of yet committed no recognizable crime, is to demand him to sacrifice his individuality on the altar of a Jacobin-type general good. His conscience, in the end, is all he is. Take that away and soon he becomes nothing other than a dehumanized vehicle for societal experimentation. To make matters worse, expediency changes as rapidly as events themselves do. What is expedient today becomes terribly inconvenient, if not downright dangerous, tomorrow.

A vaccine or any other such mandate isn’t an end in itself; it is a discovery process. It points the ambitious to the boundaries. It shows them how far they can go and what is needed to cross them, thereby increasing their grip over the lives of others.

The laws of expediency to which Wedgwood refers really means government by specialists. Like the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies in the United Kingdom or the Centers for Disease Control in the United States, they have given themselves the power of the Holy Inquisition. In the long run, as Wedgwood reminds us by invoking Aristotle, “that which is unjust can never be expedient.”

About Alex Story

Alex Story is a senior manager at a London brokerage. He represented Great Britain in rowing at the Olympic Games. In 2016 he won the right to represent the people of Yorkshire and the Humber in the European Parliament but didn’t take the seat.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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