Winston Churchill remarked that a dominant characteristic of Germany and its people was a tendency to too much. I don’t think the great man was being fair to his Teutonic cousins as the trait seems universal, even more so with every change of the calendar. The descriptor seems to best apply to those parts of the planet that have enjoyed the best government and the most prosperity. The old saw that idle hands do the devil’s work seems an understatement about the propensity for leisure and plenty to warp the mind.
That a liberal democracy could decay to repression like uranium to lead, only much faster, is as upsetting as it is accurate. The examples of repressive government are so bountiful and polarizing that even to list them invites invective. So, I’ll stick to just one – the campaign against COVID. The disease has been around for about two years. What we’re calling a pandemic has morphed into an endemic infection that is likely to be eternally with us like the flu.
Democratic governments have acted decisively while unnecessarily swimming in a sea of ignorance. In the face of supply chain disruptions we’re still using lockdowns (Austria, for example), mask mandates, distancing, vaccine mandates, and general terror as a response to an infection that we now understand very well.
Consider the vaccines currently used to prevent COVID. Compare them to those employed against measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, polio, diphtheria, smallpox, pertussis, and tetanus. Against this standard they (the COVID vaccines) don’t work very well. They give short lasting and imperfect immunity against the newish virus. Measles and polio, etc are gone from the developed world. Smallpox is gone from the planet. This stupendous achievement is the result of the administration of vaccines that really work. The COVID vaccines resemble those administered against the flu. They may have a temporary effect, but they will not eliminate the disease. The reason is that the virus is in the wild and vaccinated subjects may carry and transmit the virus; it also has at least one animal reservoir. Thus, when a lockdown ends (as it must) the emergent population will contract the disease. Unless we get a vaccine as reliable as those mentioned above, we’re going to have to figure a way to function in the continuing presence of this respiratory infection. A third shot is now being recommended. Will there be a fourth, fifth, and so on until the end of recorded time? What undesirable effects will result from repeated doses of this vaccine? It’s too soon to know. But a calm plan to assess the risk-benefit calculus of repeated doses of the vaccine is needed. There should be no controversy about such an analysis. But there will be, another manifestation of too much in place of calm deliberation – too much of a bad thing.
As I’ve touched on above, governments in free countries are reacting to this infection with undemocratic and poorly reasoned authoritarian tools. Not only are these reactions a threat to liberty, they are against the economic, social, educational, and general well-being of the citizens whom these governments ostensibly are protecting. So sensitive have those in control become about this infection that it’s now almost impossible to have a reasonable and analytic discussion of our situation and the best way to respond to it. (See paragraph immediately above.) Demonstrations disconnected from debate have grasped much of our society in an ignorant embrace.
Mortimer Adler, the late philosopher, said the only thing we could not have too much of was justice. Had he lived a bit longer (he died in 2001) he might have modified this opinion. He certainly would have questioned justice preceded by a modifier. He likely would have said that once you subdivide justice is ceases to be justice.
The American constitution was composed as a shield against excess. It is the creation of the only conservative revolution in human history. Great Britain’s’ Glorious Revolution was not really a revolution. It was the forced and conditional transfer of power from one sovereign to another. In the US there is an uncertain percent of the population that wants a fundamental change in governance that will, if enacted, centralize power even more than it is today while severely restricting individual freedom. Those in favor of more will, of course, support the government’s accretion of power. They see themselves as the instruments of centralized authority rather than as subjects, a common delusion among those who want swift and stern change. Too much is both epidemic and endemic.
I’ll end with Wordsworth’s sonnet. Written in a different context, it still has purchase today.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.