The anti-lockdown movement’s individualist rhetoric has led many among the nascent, dissident-right to become somewhat disenfranchised with the movement. Those in these circles often charge the prolificity of individualism for many of society’s downfalls.
The anti-lockdown movement’s appearance as an individualist cause, and the many ‘boomerisms’ of the movement (e.g. poor optics filters and inability to effectively promote rallies on social media), have caused people on the dissident right—usually younger people—to feel alienated from the broader anti-lockdown movement.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a question has repeatedly been manifesting within the new wave of Irish dissident-right circles: Is it contradictory for our platform to criticise individualism generally, but champion it when it comes to our opposition of Covid-related restrictions?
Individualism is the root of much of what is viewed in a negative light in these circles: A rife culture of ‘corrosive individualism’ is seen as guiding us away from our deeper purposes and towards hedonism, materialism, consumerism, voyeurism and so on.
The predominant rhetoric of the anti-lockdown cause is individualistic; it is a pro-liberty narrative. The most apparent cause for scepticism towards restrictions is the cause of liberty: that the state is unduly suppressing the freedom of the individual. It should come as little surprise then that the cause of liberty is also the dominant rhetoric at anti-lockdown demonstrations in Ireland – where placards warn of vaccine coercion, and speakers often refer to the current coalition government as ‘fascist’ and ‘communist’.
Many in these circles find their adoption of the anti-lockdown position places them in a paradox: anti-lockdown rhetoric seems at odds with earlier-adopted rhetoric from the anti-individualism canon. That many of the contentions these circles hold with those in power pertain to excessive individualism, but that when it comes to Covid politics, that those in power blast these circles as being ‘selfish’ (for their unwillingness to adhere to public health measures) manifests this paradox.
Lockdown scepticism seems solely the domain of individualism on the surface. The qualms of the anti-lockdown movement, such as criticism of restrictions as unwarranted and overbearing, seem clear-cut examples of an individualist cause, and for many in the anti-lockdown movement, they are just that.
However, when you combine this criticism with the belief that the reason they are so is because of the lobbying power of certain individualistic interest groups, it becomes a collectivist cause. The interest groups in mind are the benefactors of corporations that benefit from Covid restrictions (e.g. pharmaceutical, media and tech corporations).
Aside: While abstractly referring to ‘interest groups’ can come across as ‘tinfoil-hat-ish’, it is widely accepted among the Irish public that the presence of the owners of Wetherspoons at an Irish government golf weekend in 2020 (‘Golfgate’) is especially controversial considering the great opportunities presented to them by lockdown (due to restriction-related closures of local Irish pubs).
After the first months of lockdown, it is safe to say that the majority of lockdown sceptics were of the mind, to some degree or another, that the reason for the excessive use of authority we are witnessing is the lobbying power of interest groups. The dissident-right switched from being predominantly pro-lockdown to being predominantly anti-lockdown around this same time. The conjunction of the populist narrative of interest groups with anti-lockdown sentiment transforms the anti-lockdown cause into one of the collective reigning in individualistic interest groups.
Proof of this thesis— that the anti-lockdown cause has not been dominated by individualism since the first months of lockdown— is the considerable presence of the left (a predominantly collectivist ideological group) within the movement since then.
Their main qualms with restrictions are of course collectivist causes: the inequalities in access to labour that have been created by restrictions (e.g. the laptop class vs those who necessarily work in person), and perversions of the community at the hands of interest groups.
The baseline anti-lockdown cause (of individuals demanding liberties back from an authoritarian collective) is one of individualism. However, the populist anti-lockdown cause (of the collective reigning in interest groups who have perverted the normal balance of liberty and authority in society for their gain) is collectivist. In this sense, the anti-lockdown movement entails both an individualist and collectivist cause against excessive authority. The occurrence of a collectivist cause against authority is beyond the existing Western political paradigm, where fulfilling the causes of the collective entails advancing authority, and fulfilling the causes of the individual entails advancing liberty.
The inability of the existing political paradigm to capture the full nature of the anti-lockdown movement explains this paradox at a philosophical level. Politically, the paradox is much easier to explain: Those who flout the most ridiculous of public health measures are made out to be selfish and unconcerned with the wellbeing of the collective, while those who cry of selfishness shut down discourse relating to more dangerous, yet politically incorrect, threats to the wellbeing of the collective.