The Cruelty of Quarantine: A Response to Tim Challies

Originally Published on The Libertarian Christian Institute, theology

Tim Challies is a reformed pastor and longtime blogger based in Canada. He recently published an article lamenting the quarantine restrictions there. Challies has every reason in the world to lament. Their young son passed away a few weeks ago with no medical explanations. I speak for everyone at LCI when I say we grieve with the Challies family over the loss of their son, and we share in his lament.

In his lament, Challies remarks that, despite the abundance of provision of food and shelter, they don’t have “… access to people. No one can come and pray with us, no one can come and read Scripture to us, no one can come and sing with us, no one can come and just be with us. No one can hug us, cry with us, and comfort us. And this is a sorrow added to our sorrow.

This is heart wrenching! But what does libertarianism have to do with this? We shouldn’t politicize COVID-19 or anything that goes with it, right? I agree – health care should not be politicized. The suffering of those affected should not be politicized. But Challies raises a question that everyone should be asking at this point:

I have often wondered if those leaders are governing with too little precision, in ways that are blunt rather than exact. And I have often wondered if the quarantine law is one of these instruments that is simply too blunt.

I need to correct myself a bit here. People have been raising concerns over whether the government’s response to COVID is the right thing to do. Those voices have been met with the ridicule and ire of “cancel culture” and technocratic censorship. This censorship is, in part, due to the idea that we shouldn’t be politicizing COVID or the science we expect will heal us from it. Even Challies concludes his lament, “It is far above my pay grade … to determine whether it’s wisdom or folly that Canada has enacted such strict quarantine laws …”

But is it beyond individual knowledge and responsibility to evaluate whether the government is taking the right course of action about our livelihood?

The collateral damage of war

Some insist lock down is the only proper and scientific remedy to overcome COVID. Others insist that a measured risk approach is more effective and reduces the “collateral damage” inflicted by quarantine and economic lock down. The collateral damage is what Challies is lamenting.

The Western world has become entirely too comfortable with the concept of “collateral damage.” This term is most familiar from President Bush’s so-called War on Terror. But the term goes back further, likely to the Vietnam War to refer to casualties by “friendly fire.” In short, collateral damage is the unintended harm that inevitably result as an unavoidable consequence of fighting a war.

Most of us still perceive war as a military engagement in some far off distant land. But the term ‘war’ has been employed in domestic policy at least since J. Edgar Hoover’s “War on Crime” in the 1930s. We now use the term ‘war’ as a frequent metaphor:

  •     war on poverty,
  •     war on cancer,
  •     war on drugs,
  •     culture war,
  •     trade war,
  •     war on terror,
  •     war on women,
  •     war on covid-19,
  •     and war on science.

And it appears as though we implicitly accept the collateral damage that goes along with these metaphorical wars just as the collateral damage in the Middle East was accepted to fight the war on terror.

According to USA Today, in this war on covid-19, the collateral damage we appear to be accepting, is not only economic downturn worldwide, but also “increases in drug overdoses, anxiety, depression, and the health declines of people fearful of routine check-ups, even disregarding serious symptoms of stroke and heart attack,” while media and political propaganda continue to contribute to “isolation, delayed medical care, and premature deaths of despair.” This includes children as young as four experiencing depression and anxiety.

This isn’t the only collateral damage there is. Silencing dissent in the name of science is dangerous and sets back scientific progress. Lock downs and mass quarantine as a matter of imprecise political policy is what politicizes COVID by creating a “political tragedy of the commons.” When everything becomes political, then nothing is within our individual power to choose. This is precisely what gives rise to totalitarianism. It’s not a conspiracy theory; it’s history!

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Kerry Baldwin

independent researcher, author

B.A. Philosophy, Arizona State University. My writing focuses on libertarian philosophy and reformed theology and aimed at the educated layperson. I am a confessionally Reformed Christian orthodox Presbyterian in the tradition of J. Gresham Machen (1881 – 1937)