Flat White

Novak Djokovic versus the Rule of Law

23 July 2022

4:00 AM

23 July 2022

4:00 AM

Earlier this week, our magazine weekly columnist, Ramesh Thakur, made an impassioned defence of tennis champion and unvaccinated Serb, Novak Djokovic.

Thakur said that Djokovic should be admitted to America to play in the US Open, despite his being unvaccinated for Covid (or, as I like to call it, WuFlu), because the American ban on unvaccinated non-citizens entering America is patently absurd. To bar him, according to Thakur, would be an unjust repetition of Djokovic’s mistreatment at the hands of Australian immigration officials and the Morrison government when he arrived in January to defend his Australian Open crown.

‘More than authoritarian, it was totalitarian, in that it injected the state into the body of an individual in total repudiation of the principles of informed consent and ‘my body, my choice’. To the extent that the policy was enforced in my name as a citizen, I remain regretful, embarrassed, and ashamed’, wrote Thakur about Djokovic’s Australian humiliation.

Thakur showed, in his typically incisive use of data and graphs, how the American government’s line on holding back Covid is as absurd as a Dutch boy sticking his finger in a dyke (of the walled variety), or Canute holding back the tide. And he’s right. The horse has bolted, the bird has flown, and yet governments all around the West foolishly believe it can be halted at the frontier because it doesn’t have a visa.

But that doesn’t mean Djokovic should be treated as a martyr.

In January, he arrived in Australia having played coy about his vaccination status, while knowing what the Australian government’s entry requirements were. Clearly, he and his team were hoping that his exalted tennis status, and the fact that he was the Australian Open’s top drawcard, would lead to exceptions being made for him. He wanted special treatment, he expected it but, to his chagrin, he did not get it.

And while many Australians were dismayed on his behalf, many more cheered when his Federal Court appeal against his deportation failed, and he was bundled out of Melbourne. The millions who put up with everything federal and state – especially state – authorities dished out for over two years, from tight lockdowns to compulsory mask-wearing, and especially to draconian no-jab-no-work directives, resented Djokovic using his status and reputation to game the system while everyone else had to suffer the consequences of lawfully-enabled government overreach.

Which is the real point of the Djokovic case, here and in America. Djokovic’s situation highlights the chasm between libertarianism and conservativism.

Libertarians, who include a great many Spectator Australia contributors and readers, champion Djokovic. They see him as the shining hero of the freedom fight against government authoritarianism and attacks on individual rights and freedoms. Bad laws, they would say, are to be meant to be broken, and those who break or overcome them deserve to be lionised.

On the other hand, conservatives may agree that laws are bad. But they also believe there is this old-fashioned concept called the Rule of Law: that if a law is lawfully made, it must be complied with no matter what we think of it personally. So it was that so many Australians complied with everything thrown at them over 2020 and 2021, with the greatest unhappiness and reluctance. But in doing so they upheld the golden thread of the Rule of Law running through our society and governance.

While libertarians believe the best way to confront bad laws is to disregard and break them, conservatives believe that they must be rejected and repealed by lawful means. In other words, using such democratic power that they have, through the ballot box.

That power is not to be trivialised. We are seeing it in action right now, in the refusal of the most authoritarian premier, Daniel Andrews, to agree to the public health lobby’s arrogant and patronising demands to reimpose mask mandates as this current wave of winter Covid works its way through. Andrews has calculated the fear of electoral anger and voter backlash at the Victorian election in November far outweighs his previous insistence on following the experts’ advice. And rightly so.

But back to Djokovic. It may be unfortunate to him, and to his admirers, but the decision of the US Open to not seek an exemption for Djokovic is the right one. The law preventing him from entering America is bad, but as it was lawfully made by lawful authority, the Rule of Law must be upheld, however distasteful upholding it is. 

Hopefully, however, the November mid-term elections will lead to such a drubbing for the Democrats, including from millions of Americans sick to their back teeth of everything imposed on them. Equally hopefully, that drubbing will lead to the rapid removal of spurious and pointless Covid-justified restrictions on freedoms that blight American society and its standing abroad.

To his great credit, Djokovic appears to have accepted this himself. ‘I would love to go to States. But as of today, that’s not possible’, he told Forbes magazine. ‘There is not much I can do anymore. I mean, it’s really up to the US government to make a decision whether or not they allow unvaccinated people to go into the country’.

By accepting this reality, and so acknowledging the Rule of Law, Novak Djokovic knows that he’s not expecting any special treatment from American authorities, and by extension Australian authorities in a few months’ time, is costing him personally. That is a far more courageous, and classy, act, than his doing the opposite in Australia eight months ago. He deserves respect for making his personal sacrifice for a greater good.

Terry Barnes writes the Spectator Australia’s Morning Double Shot newsletter

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