In eleventh century England, King Cnut was told by his admiring courtiers that ‘there is nothing on earth that dares to disobey you, O king.’ To teach his subjects the limits of temporal authority, the wise king ordered his throne to be set next to the sea, from which he commanded the tides to stop. When the water nevertheless flowed in and soaked his feet, Cnut demonstrated to his subjects that he and ‘every creature in the universe was feeble and impotent, and that power over such things resided with but One Being alone.’
In Australia today, our own kings are less modest. While courtiers from both sides of politics interminably bicker about the correct–constitution–of–Covid–contact-collection, the prevalence–of–pathogen-to-pizza-box–portability, or any of the other sundry and manifold lexicographical circumlocutions we have been forced to parrot over the last 18 months, some basic truths about the limits of our powers have been forgotten:
We can no more avoid sickness and death than command the tides.
Making the avoidance of sickness and death into the purpose of life is no way to live.
While we try and avoid sickness and death, we accept that they are the price of life.
In attempting to eliminate a virus that is highly transmissible, largely undetectable, and spread everywhere in the world, the government has sought to one-up King Cnut and set itself the impossible task of commanding nature (while granting itself unlimited political powers in the process).
The result of this has been that the unstoppable force of government might has collided with the immovable object of biological reality, and the Australian people have been squashed in the middle.
As we enter what is nearly the eighteenth month of ‘two weeks to flatten the curve’, the government repression, house arrests and constitutional vandalism we have all suffered could have been at least understandable if people were falling dead in the streets. Yet despite a supplicant media’s unending hysteria, Covid has a negligible death rate of just 1 in 28,000 in Australia, an overwhelming survival rate around the world, and a global average age of death that is actually higher than the average life expectancy. Covid is not the Black Death, and we should grow a pair of Cnuts.
Yet focusing on the statistical semantics of death rates and case numbers are really just a distraction from the main problem; in our fixation with mortality, we have forgotten that conquering sickness and death is not only impossible, but is sacrificing life in the process.
Edmund Burke once wrote that “a good patriot, and a true politician, always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country. A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution.”
The role of an elected representative is not to defer to myopic bureaucrats with single–priority job descriptions, but to weigh the conflicting interests of society against each other and find a reasonable compromise with the existing to preserve and steadily improve our institutions rather than sacrificing everything to one isolated objective, especially if that objective is impossible.
In simply deferring to ‘the Health Advice’ and turning all debate into a quarrel about containment, quarantine or QR codes, our politicians effectively disinfect their hands of the leadership they are elected to exercise and fail in their duty to preserve and improve our liberties country and institutions.
Premier Daniel Andrews and his vulgar equivalents may think that their ‘scientific’ deference cleanses them of guilt (and culpability in the inevitable royal commissions), but history has warned us of the perilous consequences of ‘just following orders’; the lesson of the banality of evil means it is the duty of a statesman to bear responsibility for his actions and weigh their consequences against their supposed benefit, rather than simply abide by directives.
Instead, however, whether we are allowed out of the house or not is dependent on the results of simplified computer models that always spit out the same answer – 2+2=Lockdown. Lockdowns are disgraceful, totalitarian measures that seek to eliminate the virus by eliminating our humanity. They can not succeed in eliminating the virus forever but are succeeding in eliminating nearly everything else.
The King Cnuts of our age must relearn their humility or continue down the ‘vulgar and perilous’ path to destruction, yet anyone who has been in a car with someone who refuses to admit they made a wrong turn knows that this rarely happens until it is too late. It may already be.
In the meantime, from this age, full of those that Burke called ‘sophisters, economists, and calculators’, we can take comfort in the memory of King Cnut’s modesty, and compare him to our modern leaders (although we may need to rearrange the letters).
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