Biden’s Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Sunday defended the administration’s new Covid vaccine requirements, calling them “an appropriate legal measure” that fit in with traditional safety requirements in schools and workplaces. I discuss this tradition in my essay The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the fallopian tubes. For more than a century, the United States has used Jacobson to justify law and policy undermining bodily autonomy, including the forced sterilization of American citizens deemed “unfit” to have children. That doesn’t make it “appropriate” any more than the history of racial segregation justifies new rules separating people on the basis of skin color. The United States has a history of establishing and entrenching rules that are profoundly unethical and unjust from a principled standpoint. It’s from that standpoint that we judge their appropriateness not tradition.
The first principle of bioethics is respect for bodily autonomy. To be free, individuals must possess their bodies. To put this another way, when others possess your body, they possess you. In this situation, whatever the creature comforts, you are not free. Maybe that’s okay with you. But it’s not okay with me. But is it okay for you? For years, to the applause of progressives, I have warned audiences about the tyranny of state control over the reproductive capacity of women (see, e.g., Liberty is America’s raison d’être. Preserving Reproductive Freedom for the Sake of the Republic). Yet, progressives, apoplectic over the Texas abortion law, are celebrating Biden’s federal vaccine mandate. At least they aren’t complaining about it. One might have hoped that opposition to the Texas law would have been based on principle. But contempt for democracy and liberty on the left side of the political aisle is truly appalling. Double consciousness notwithstanding, the left have told us with no ambiguity: “We are an unprincipled lot.”
For the record, I operate on principle. I oppose Biden’s mandate on the same grounds that I oppose the Texas law. Both unjustly trespass upon the terrain of bodily autonomy. Of course, Biden’s mandate affects far more people—tens of millions more. It affects not only consenting adults of both sexes, but children who cannot consent to a medical intervention they do not need and that may harm them (see “COVID-19 is Worse than the Flu”—For Whom?). This makes Biden’s mandate a more pressing concern. Moreover, for those who work from principle, it is ready leverage to lift from the backs of girls and women abortions restrictions. In either case, life and liberty seem not to really matter to conservatives or progressives. The partisan desire to control others is what is at work here. The pro-life crowd will wave around an image of an aborted fetus. The pro-vaccination crowd shares a meme about a COVID-19 patient. But neither image nor meme change the principle in question: a person must be decide for her or himself what happens to her or his body.
In “The Perils of Scientific Obedience: Bioethics under the Spectre of Biofascism,” published in 2009 in Critical Interventions in the Ethics of Healthcare (Routledge), Stuart Murray warns us about the increasing “biologization” of bodies and political identities. The trend threatens to bring an end to the rational, autonomous subject. Since his essay was published more than a decade ago, scholars have identified a phenomenon associated with biologization, the neurotic and limiting culture of “safetyism” (see the work of Jonathan Haidt). Safetyism enables biofascism. Both flow from fear and authoritarian desire. (See Living at the Borderline—You are Free to Repeat After Me.)
In his essay, Stuart argues for “the relevance of Milgram’s insights in the context of modern Western healthcare, claiming that the rhetoric of healthcare demands a perilous obedience to scientific authority. This argument extends beyond medicine’s proverbial paternalism; indeed, the rhetoric of healthcare has become internalized as a worldview, and has come to authorize and regulate a limited set of normative terms—a language—in and through which individuals relate to the social world, to themselves, to their bodies, and even to their own genetic material. In other words, healthcare discourses extend seamlessly beyond the medical sphere to touch every aspect of human life and death, increasingly underpinning modern subjectivity and identity—effectively spelling the end of the rational, autonomous subject in the traditional sense of the term.” (See Intelligent, well-meaning, young people are willing to call white black and “You Have No Other Choice, You Must Go On.”)
CNN reports that “Business Roundtable welcomes the Biden Administration’s continued vigilance in the fight against Covid.” Its CEO, Joshua Bolten, who served as chief of staff to George W. Bush, a president who himself presided over a vast expansion of the national security state, a move conveyed as vigilance in the fight against terrorism, said in a statement, “America’s business leaders know how critical vaccination and testing are in defeating the pandemic.” The National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce said they, too, will encourage their members to follow the new rule. The ruling class approves.
What is Biden actually proposing? Biden has issued an expansive rules mandate, a directive cloaked in the name of protecting employee safety but designed to further the transformation of citizens in a federal republic into serfs beholden to corporate power. Biden’s rules mandate all employers with more than one hundred workers require vaccination or routine testing. This affects eighty million Americans. Workers at health facilities receiving federal Medicare or Medicaid will also have to be vaccinated, a rule covering another seventeen million people. Additionally, the mandate requires vaccination for employees of the executive branch and federal contractors. Here, there is no option for routine testing (not that routine testing is an acceptable alternative). Workers will have to be vaccinated or face discipline and likely termination.
All-in-all, Biden’s mandate compels some one hundred million workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccination—this despite growing evidence that the technology neither confers adequate and durable immunity nor prevents serious illness and hospitalization (albeit there is efficacy here). There are, moreover, safety concerns (side effects include anaphylaxis, Bell’s palsy, cardiac and thrombotic conditions, Graves’ disease, Guillain Barre syndrome, and menstrual cycle disruptions). As if this were not troubling enough, the vaccines may be exacerbating the pandemic or could potentially do so.
Robert Malone and Peter Navarro discuss these points in an essay critical of the mandatory vaccine push and come to a frightening conclusion. “The clear historical tendency for viruses crossing over from one species to another is to evolve in a way that makes them both more infectious and less pathogenic over time,” they write. “However, a universal vaccination policy deployed in the middle of a pandemic can turn this normal Darwinian taming process into a dangerous vaccine arms race.” They explain: “The more people you vaccinate, the greater the number of vaccine-resistant mutations you are likely to get, the less durable the vaccines will become, ever more powerful vaccines will have to be developed, and individuals will be exposed to more and more risk.” While these problems may be irrelevant to the ethic of autonomy, where a free individual determines for himself what happens to his body independent of abstract considerations, it raises another ethical issue: compelling individuals to participate in a corporate project that may worsen the situation for their fellow citizens. (See The Official Vaccine Narrative Completely Falls Apart; A Pandemic of the Vaccinated; Are We Forgetting Darwin?; Profits Before People: Civilians Denied Cheap and Effective Therapeutics.)
Add this term to your dictionary: biofascism. Biofascism is where the corporate state controls a population using the technocratic machinery of public health. Biofascism is marked by an obsession with health and hygiene. It divides populations into the clean and the unclean, the fit and the unfit. It coerces individuals into accepting official health guidelines and medical screening and treatment. (The targets are still arbitrary. Will biofascism crush the fat acceptance movement? That depends on whether there is a pharmaceutical intervention. Like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, diet and exercise don’t generate billions for the medical industry.) The obsession over healthcare manipulates a large segment of the population to accept the ideology justifying involuntary medical intervention. This ideology amounts to a New Fascism. (See Totalitarian Monopoly Capitalism: Fascism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. See also Torches of Freedom, Vaccine Cards, and Our Civilian Lives.)
In a biofascist regime, the extended state apparatus, which includes business firms—indeed, the regime is directed by corporate power—gate-keeps and surveils individuals using ID tags of various sorts, the inconvenience of which will soon see their mass importation into the body. Some tags confer privileges; those who present them have access to resources and spaces denied to those who either have the wrong tag or cannot produce one. Vaccine passports are just one of many instantiations of biofascism (see The Immorality of Vaccine Passports and the Demands of Nuremberg). As most of you remember, employees of some businesses are shockingly eager to have microchips implanted in their bodies. There are people who still think that microchipping is a “conspiracy theory.” It’s not. Three years ago employees at the Wisconsin company Three Square Market were implanted with a RFID chip to use to access doors, login to computers, etc. The trend is spreading globally. The technology is easily repurposed to store medical records.
The biofascist attitude is characteristic of totalitarian regimes. German national socialism is the most well-known example. An early step in Hitler’s consolidation of power involved the support of doctors, scientists, and professional societies, such as the progressive German Medical Association (GMA), to legitimize the practice of classifying populations in terms of fitness. There are those who will push back and say that the Nazis coerced doctors and scientists to participate in the project. But this is not true. In 2012, the GMA admitted that “the initiative for the most serious human rights violations did not originate from the political authorities at the time, but rather from the physicians themselves.” In the end, Germans were tagged with numbers tattooed on their arms that corresponded to variables on computer cards cataloged by the IBM punched card system (IBM did not have RFID technology back then). As these tags were easily concealed, business firms and government agents required external stigmata. The yellow Star of David marked the Jew. A pink triangle marked the homosexual.
It is vital to the defense of democracy to correctly ascertain the political-ideological character that animates biofascism. There is an extensive history of this character. I cannot do this history justice in a short essay, But I need to get out there a few basic facts about our own experience with biofascism as Americans. I emphasize that my argument is not reductio ad Hitlerum. I am not making an analogy. What I am reporting is actual history.
German doctors and scientists were impressed with the US eugenics programs progressive physicians, scientists, and reformers pushed in America to weed out the defective and diseased. (See Edwin Black’s War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create A Master Race. Black is also author of IBM and the Holocaust snd the Nazi Nexus). The Nazis passed the Nuremberg law which segregated the population. The Party used the military and the police to enforce the rule. Business owners were eager to carry out the measure. Imagine a world where opportunities for employment, entertainment, etc., are based on official and verifiable health status (throw in the file criminal records and all the rest of it). That’s what it was like in Nazi Germany, a nation that took medical tyranny to its logical conclusion. The United States of America under Biden is well down this road.
There is indeed a long history in our own country of biofascism. Germany’s Nuremberg law was based on the California sterilization law. California was not the only American state to have a eugenics program. The practice of eugenics was funded nationwide by progressive philanthropic organizations Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. The Supreme Court, led by the Oliver Wendell Holmes (a majoritarian who also ruled in favor of the suppression of free speech) upheld hygiene laws (using Jacobson). Progressive administrators, legislators, and policymakers relied on experts (academics, doctors, scientists) for guidance. Selected elites were elevated in standing. Corporate state power determined their selection, as well as who could publish and speak. (Sound familiar?) Government offices established regulatory bodies (the FDA, the USDA, the CDC), wielding administrative law and agency authority to shield and legitimize the medical-industrial complex—all this under the guise of protecting the public, our schools and workplaces. We’re talking about the United States, don’t forget. The fetish for technocracy is characteristic of an authoritarian personality, and the United States had no shortage of such personalities, a type produced not only by disordered character but by the subjectivity generated by state corporatism and technocratic imperative.
In 1996, Daniel Goldhagen published Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Goldhagen argues in this book that the Nazi Party depended on the willing participation of rank-and-file Germans for success. The popular attitude that animated them grew out of medieval religious attitudes that had, over centuries, taken the form of secular attitudes. Goldhagen was inspired to study the German ideology because an earlier book, by Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men, used the Milgram experiment on obedience to explain police operations, and explanation that fueled the banality of evil thesis advanced by Hannah Arendt. Goldhagen disagreed. Although this was a piece of it, it was not enough to be a cog in the bureaucratic machinery. Those who carried out the desires of the German ruling class were “ordinary members of extraordinary political culture.”
On freedom and reason I have written about scientism and explained how it differs from science. Science is comprised of rigorous methods of producing knowledge that proceeds objectively in the context of free and open inquiry. Scientism, in contrast, is an ideology that pulls about itself scientific jargon to conceal its quasi-religious spirit. When progressives tell us to just “follow the science,” (the crude version: “Don’t even think about it, bro”) this is a call to faith. Scientism does not permit criticism of its “findings,” its producers relying on state power and corporate governance to establish their conclusions as official truth. We see this in the manufacture of COVID-19 policy and the cult of personality surrounding Dr. Anthony Fauci. We see it in social media platforms censoring and deplatforming those skeptical of corporate power and product. We also see it in the elevation of critical race theory. Indeed, the New Fascism is like the old fascism in more ways than biologism. Its segregationist desire is apparent in more than hysteria over hygiene.
Corporations were eager to impose hygiene rules in Nazi Germany, so it is not surprising the business associations in the United States are chomping last the bit to impose Biden’s mandates. Private power understands that managing large populations requires deep control over civilians, which includes commanding their bodies. Besides, bossing around workers is fun. It’s not all about money. There are people in this world who are aroused by lording power over others, and they’re disproportionately located in positions of privilege (that’s part of why they are in positions of privilege).
Recall from my last blog post (The Delta Crest and the Campaign to Dull Our Empathy) Jimmy Kimmel saying unvaccinated people shouldn’t be given hospital beds. I told you that Kimmel not the only one. Here’s another one. Prominent shock jock Howard Stern sends a message to those who choose not to be vaccinated that goes something like “Fuck their freedom. I want the freedom to live.”
Stern makes a bizarre argument representative of rank-and-file progressive sentiment. It’s the epitome of narcissist attitude. “Fuck other people’s freedom. I only care about my freedom.” We knew Stern was a self-centered prick. It’s a tick of the cultural manager. But here’s the truly bizarre piece. Presumably Stern is vaccinated. Stern doesn’t believe vaccines will save his life unless everybody else is vaccinated. This type of magical thinking is characteristic of the left. You see, for example, in the claim that responsibility for black suffering rides on the genes of white people. Wokeism is a religion.
Suppose vaccines save lives in the abstract. We live in the concrete world. We know that vaccines don’t save the lives of everybody who gets COVID-19. Fully vaccinated people are contracting COVID and not only winding up in the hospital but also winding up dead. They are spreading the virus to others. How does an abstraction save Stern’s life? He could be out taking pictures, encounter a vaccinated person with COVID-19, contract COVID-19, wind up in the hospital and die.
This problem is rampant on the left. Stern has confused the abstract with the real. Somebody needs to tell the man that he can never be sure he won’t get COVID-19. Suppose the vaccine makes it less likely that Stern will be hospitalized and die. Then it’s a good thing Stern is vaccinated. His chances of getting sick and dying depend on his level of protection against COVID-19 afforded to him by the vaccine he took (good luck with that). But, again, it’s magical thinking for Stern to believe that others being vaccinated is what will afford him the freedom to live. Either the vaccine protects him or it doesn’t.
Stern is not only self-centered. He is also a cruel person. This, too, reflects the rank-and-file progressive attitude. It’s why the corporate media can’t conceal schadenfreude in reporting stories about “anti-vaxers” dying COVID-19, accounts made even more sublime when the dying man (almost invariably obese and middle aged) Winston-like confesses his sins from his death bed. Like Kimmel, Stern believes the unvaccinated should be denied medical treatment. “You had the cure and you wouldn’t take it.”
The vaccine is not a cure. There is no cure for COVID-19. There is only immunity, and the vaccine doesn’t guarantee that. Indeed, the statistics suggest one should be skeptical of the power of the vaccine. Fortunately, the vast majority of people who get this virus survive it. They never wind up in the hospital. And the immunity they acquire is much more powerful and durable. But to call for not treat those struggling to breathe? That’s sadism (another marker of the fascist mentality). Kimmel and Stern’s attitudes are those of the authoritarian: irrational thinking, scapegoating, seeing human beings from other tribes as diseased and threatening, wanting to see them subject to state coercion or a miserable death. This is the subjectivity that produces popular support for Biden’s biofascist policies.
Murthy told Meet the Press that Biden’s mandate was neither illegal nor unusual. “What we cannot allow is for this pandemic to turn us on each other,” he said. “Our enemy is the virus; it is not one another.” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson followed Murthy and told the host that, while he “appreciated” the surgeon general’s remarks on fighting the virus through increased vaccination, the administration’s vaccine requirement is “an unprecedented assumption of federal mandate authority.” The legal and unusual tradition notwithstanding, and recognizing war and other catastrophic events, Hutchison is correct. “It divides our partnership between the federal government and the states,” the governor said. He then demolished Murthy’s attempt to find common ground: “it increases the division in terms of vaccination when we should all be together trying to increase the vaccination uptake.”
Hutchison could have put this in much more strident terms. I have been on this earth for fifty-nine years and, while I knew it was possible, I never expected to see this level of overt tyranny in my own country during a pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 is dangerous for those with compromised immune systems and certain comorbidities. But for the vast majority of people, this virus is asymptomatic or produces mild cold and flu symptoms. As for children, influenza is far more serious than SARS-CoV-2. There is no calamity justifying such extraordinary measures as a mandatory vaccination program. We are in the midst of a pandemic. But we are also in the midst of a New Fascism. And the latter is a far more dangerous development, one that has been in development for decades. I thought elites would keep finessing it. Keep it low key. You know, in light of American resistance to measures designed to undermine liberty and democracy. But elites have moved straight to the iron fist. And many Americans appear to have lost confidence in themselves. Safetyism has undermined the American spirit. The American republic is in deep trouble. Autonomy is in peril.
Where, you might ask, are the labor unions on this? You’d think they were out front in defending the autonomy of their members. Better think again. The National Nurses Union is applauding Biden’s mandate. The American Federation of Teachers stands alongside them. “Safety and health have been our north star since the beginning of the pandemic,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten, her majoritarianism in full expression: AFT’s support for mandates “creates great cheer among two-thirds of our people.” The AFL-CIO is praising mandates, issuing a statement, “The resurgence of COVID-19 requires swift and immediate action, and we commend President Biden for taking additional steps to help put an end to this crisis. Everyone should be vaccinated.” The unions are hitched to the Democratic Party jackass. Union leaders are tight with the progressives. They are the progressives. Who will defend the working class? The Democratic Party is the party, and progressives are the operatives and devotees of the corporate state. You can’t count on them. Our future lies with populist-nationalist and libertarian movements. There is spirit of freedom and skepticism continue to live.