“We have learned over the past three years that we just don’t have credibility with everyone. It’s a time in our country right now where there’s a lot of mistrust. There’s a lot of division. People don’t want to hear from experts. They want to hear from people in their own tribe they agree with. And that’s really a lot of noise for us to try to get through. … Maybe the place of public health is that we just advise, that we don’t decide.”

— Alabama State Health Officer Scott Harris

A wise man seeks an expert, but an even wiser man seeks a second opinion, welcoming dissent and contradiction to shape and sharpen his discernment like steel and whetstone to a blade. Only the dullest fools believe they are entitled to rule with impunity absent the competing interests and opinions of others. 

To that end, Alabama’s State Health Officer Scott Harris is right: the place of public health should be only to advise, not decide. Make haste, Alabama legislators; you have tarried too long in reining in the tyrannical excesses of experts who only wish to save the people from themselves. It seems it really is time to change the laws on how public health is administered in this great state. Those who accuse us of “politicizing” science are being just as political themselves, though they deny it. 

If Alabamians are again going to be sapped of their liberty for some exceptional emergency, then those doing the sapping should at least be accountable to the people’s will. Placing such exceptional authorities beyond the easy reach of the people is tyranny — corrosive not only to the people’s natural liberties but to the integrity and competency of expertise itself.  

Expertise may indeed be crucial to crafting a flourishing society, but no amount of expertise can liberate men from the burden of their own free choice, nor can it justify a clever expert robbing other men of their liberty. No matter which expert a man chooses to heed, the light of his own conscience, for better or worse, forever shines through his decisions.  

Too many men chafe at the weighty responsibility of their liberty, deceiving themselves. Feeling shackled by the painful promise of their own freedom, they shackle themselves to some pressing necessity or righteous cause, slowly believing the lie that they never had a choice. Their freedom forgotten, they swiftly deny the freedom of others, conscripting friends and enemies alike in their march toward some supposedly inevitable end.  

Men with expertise especially fall into this corrupt pattern, thinking they are above politics, when they are just another political tribe amongst other competing interests. When the experts believe their expertise makes them more equal than others, they flirt with tyranny. When political authority masks itself in some specialized, expert knowledge (whether religious or scientific), regarding itself beyond political challenge, the gift of freedom withers on the vine — as does trust, credibility, and goodwill amongst the masses. 

Trust in expertise only blossoms when men are at liberty to deny one expert’s insights in favor of another. Credibility is only built when experts can disagree in good faith without fear or favor, political pull or special privilege. Experts (especially political authorities) must be wary that their expertise does not grant them special immunity to the corrupting influences of power. Medical science (or any other expertise) should never supersede the science of political liberty. Political liberty — “juridical defense” or the “right of opposition” as political philosopher James Burnham said —  is crucial to the progress of scientific endeavor as well as the health of the people and their ruling institutions.  

In the spirit of seeking a second opinion, thank God there appears to be an expert in political liberty sitting on the United States Supreme Court: Justice Neil Gorsuch. I’ll end with a portion of his opinion on the lessons to be learned from Covid: 

Doubtless, many lessons can be learned from this chapter in our history, and hopefully serious efforts will be made to study it. One lesson might be this: Fear and the desire for safety are powerful forces. They can lead to a clamor for action—almost any action—as long as someone does something to address a perceived threat. A leader or an expert who claims he can fix everything, if only we do exactly as he says, can prove an irresistible force. 

We do not need to confront a bayonet, we need only a nudge, before we willingly abandon the nicety of requiring laws to be adopted by our legislative representatives and accept rule by decree. Along the way, we will accede to the loss of many cherished civil liberties—the right to worship freely, to debate public policy without censorship, to gather with friends and family, or simply to leave our homes. We may even cheer on those who ask us to disregard our normal lawmaking processes and forfeit our personal freedoms. Of course, this is no new story. Even the ancients warned that democracies can degenerate toward autocracy in the face of fear [citing Aristotle's Politics]. 

But maybe we have learned another lesson too. The concentration of power in the hands of so few may be efficient and sometimes popular. But it does not tend toward sound government. However wise one person or his advisors may be, that is no substitute for the wisdom of the whole of the American people that can be tapped in the legislative process. 

Decisions produced by those who indulge no criticism are rarely as good as those produced after robust and uncensored debate. Decisions announced on the fly are rarely as wise as those that come after careful deliberation. Decisions made by a few often yield unintended consequences that may be avoided when more are consulted. Autocracies have always suffered these defects. Maybe, hopefully, we have relearned these lessons too. 

Hopefully, the Alabama Legislature has relearned these lessons and will only allow public health “experts” to advise Alabamians, not decide what their liberties may be.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email newsandviews931@gmail.com.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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