Rorate Caeli

Government as an Occupying Force - Guest Article by John Andra

When I read the following article in the March 31, 2021, issue of The Remnant, I knew that it had to be shared with a wider audience online. Editor Michael Matt kindly gave his permission to republish it at Rorate Caeli, for which we thank him very much.—PAK


Government as an Occupying Force
John Andra


SARS-CoV-2, like other respiratory viruses, lives in the human environment. It does not live in the natural environment—in lakes, trees, mountains, etc. On the rationale of protecting us, the government has moved into the spaces where the virus lives. The government is thus an occupying force in the human environment



The human environment consists of human interaction. We are social animals, so our particular environment is social. The character portrayed by Tom Hanks in Cast Away, for example, lived in the natural environment of a desert island, but not in a human environment. The devastating consequences for his character were well portrayed in the movie. The character ultimately risked death on the open ocean rather than live in further isolation.


The government has not forced people onto actual desert islands, of course. But it has moved into the spaces between people, creating as much isolation as possible. In some places, people have essentially been forced onto social-desert islands.


Social distancing, the catchphrase for all of this, contradicts the most basic aspect of the human environment—proximity. Numerous government edicts, often enforced by private actors, have for some time controlled proximity decisions which were previously subject to free human choice. People are told not to stand close, shake hands, or walk together. The government now occupies that space.


People still cannot meet freely in many places of social importance. Stores are open, but they are not fundamentally social venues. Churches and synagogues, restaurants and bars, sports stadiums and concert halls, however, are fundamentally social, and these are the venues the government has closed or restricted. The government now occupies them, so even when the venues reopen, the arrangement is probationary. They might close again, and the decision belongs to the occupying force.


If people do meet somewhere, they usually must cover their faces. Contrary to the rationale for masking, the government does not set a medical standard for the garments. Almost anything will do, showing the masks are visual signs and not respiratory devices. Masks communicate that the human face, the locus of personal expression, is now occupied. As with the shutdowns, any loosening of the masking rules will be probationary. The masks may return if the government deems it necessary.   


The government could even make the vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 mandatory in some fashion or other. If so, the government’s occupation will extend to the inner body. Mandatory vaccines are sometimes justified on a threat posed to others, but the threat in this case is slight. The real issue here is not the threat of the virus, but the government’s complete occupation of the space in which the virus lives. The government will decide what may pass.


The trajectory of the COVID-regime is totalitarian, and the connection between SARS-COV-2 and China is hard to ignore in that light. But whatever the origin of the virus, the more pertinent question is why evil designs, which are always present, succeed in one era and not another. The United States has previously resisted the totalitarian impulse, for example.


The analysis may begin with the legal framework objectors have used against the COVID-regime. The objectors have understandably relied on civil rights, arguing the restrictions impinge on freedoms of speech, assembly, travel, and worship. The government has not argued for eliminating these rights, however. It has instead claimed a health emergency, which merely suspends civil rights.


The legal position of the government is strong. Western law is pragmatic and typically balances competing interests. Temporary restrictions on civil rights are generally proper in a health emergency. It is also difficult to prove the government should disregard its own medical experts.


Many objectors to the COVID-regime did not see this coming. Social contract theory, the notion that government is based on the consent of the governed, has a long provenance in Western thinking. The objectors apparently took the theory to mean the government would always protect the human environment, not occupy it.


The objectors are therefore confounded. Do people not understand the importance of civil rights? What has changed to cause such a general acquiescence to their loss?


The best clue is the argument government has used to gain that acquiescence. It works, after all. The argument is about fear, especially fear of harming others; for this is your new commandment:  “Love thy neighbor—wear a mask.”


The government’s argument cleverly trivializes the civil rights framework. When the government asks people to consider the very lives of others, activities seem less important. So, in addition to the strong legal position the government enjoys in a health emergency, most people have not asserted their rights. A more substantial concern, harm to others, preoccupies them.


The challenge presented by the present acquiescence to incipient totalitarianism reveals a weakness in social contract theory as understood since the Enlightenment. Modern thinkers located the authority of government in the consent of the governed. This doctrine, known as “popular sovereignty,” is what most people think of when the social contract is mentioned.


During the prior Catholic centuries, however, the social contract did not mean popular sovereignty. It meant more that the government takes its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, and not so much its authority. The government’s authority, it was understood by both logic and Revelation, ultimately comes from God.


Logically, people cannot confer authority on government because that entity does things individuals cannot do, such as tax, punish, and wage war. One cannot give what one does not have. There is nothing magical about consent which converts the individual authority held by people into the social authority wielded by government.  


Revelation confirms this insight. Jesus announced His universal Kingship after the Resurrection:  “‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18.) St. Paul therefore taught:  “Let everyone be subject to the higher authorities, for there exists no authority except from God, and those who exist have been appointed by God.” (Rom. 13:1.) St. Peter taught similarly:  “Be subject to every human creature for God’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors as sent through him for vengeance on evildoers and for the praise of the good.” (1 Pt. 2:13-14.)  


Where, in contrast, the government is thought to possess authority just as the people consent, no intrinsic limit exists. If the people consent to something, the government, in a positivistic fashion, is assumed to have the requisite power. It turns out that popular sovereignty is a covert route to totalitarianism.


Only where authority is ultimately located in God is the government limited in a stable, definable fashion. For example, since all authority comes from God, the government has no authority to approve abortion or same-sex marriage, the consent of the governed notwithstanding. Similarly, the government has no authority to separate us, to keep us from church, or to remove our livelihoods due to a generally nonlethal respiratory virus, the consent of the governed notwithstanding.


We now reach the question why the government’s response to SARS-CoV-2 has succeeded in the present era. One can imagine the response would have failed decades ago when society was more united. People with a strong social identity will not sacrifice their communities for a generally nonlethal respiratory virus. Only a collection of individuals could tolerate this insinuation of government into the spaces between them.


Increased individualism is thus a good explanation for the novelty of the government’s response. The COVID-regime depends on individualism and could not survive the dense atmosphere of social cohesion. The government did not make its move until society was sufficiently atomized to allow popular support for the occupation.


This also means the occupation will last until society is sufficiently united to retake lost ground. Importantly, the human environment will be retaken only when it is understood government may not do the same thing again. Occupations end when a force withdraws, not when the force remains but permits, for a time, some additional freedoms. 


An atomized society is a difficult thing to unite, however. The government will also oppose the effort. People therefore need a source of authority, outside and above government, to which they may appeal.


Before the Enlightenment, the answer was obvious—God is the source of all authority, and “‘[w]e must obey God rather than men.’“ (Acts, 5:29.) Echoes of this prior, Catholic view are found throughout American history, for example in the Declaration of Independence and the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Whether the writers of these documents knew it or not, the ideas they expressed were the patrimony of Catholicism to the American project.


To the degree the Catholic view is lost, however, totalitarianism will strengthen. It is the Catholic Church which limits the state. Without this counterweight, government tends to aggrandize itself, returning to its status when Catholicism was born—a divinized state with an emperor all were obliged to worship. The present government, without active restraint by the Church, will likewise become a god having no strange God before it.