High life

Covid-19 shows us that virtue trumps freedom

4 April 2020

9:00 AM

4 April 2020

9:00 AM

Look at it this way: we’re all doing Desert Island Discs nowadays, and unless you’ve got the bug, it’s a damn good thing, too. I did the desert island bit around 30 years ago, when Sue Lawley was the presenter, and we got along fine, even after I commented on air that she had nice legs. I suspect it would have been a different story today, but another good thing about the virus is that it has knocked #MeToo off the front pages. For good, I hope, but I doubt it.

Among my desert island picks was a version of ‘Lili Marlene’ sung by an army choir that I first heard as a four-year-old in an Athens street sung by a group of marching German soldiers. I was with my adored Prussian nanny and looked on in awe as they marched past us, in impeccable step, singing the haunting song about a girl left behind. Childhood impressions stay with one, and 50 years later I fondly reminisced about that day with Sue.

But back to the present: this alpine village has apparently been hit quite hard by the you-know-what, but no one’s talking. Good old Helvetia, despite its size, is among the leading countries infected. All I know is that a good friend of ours whose chalet lies to the north of mine died from it last week, having been infected by his daughter whom I had kissed on the cheek two weeks before. (Poor thing must be feeling awful, but her dad was not in good health.)

Which brings to mind that drunken foul-mouthed Conor McGregor, who has just given €1 million to Ireland to combat the bug, which would be the equivalent to that Errol Flynn lookalike Jeff Bezos giving two billion to Uncle Sam. Bravo, Conor! Mixed martial artists don’t make the kind of moolah that untalented rap gangsters do, yet he’s given the max. A pandemic can have strange outcomes. Mostly negative, of course, but with bright spots.


For example, having been schooled in America, I was taught that American democracy was truly the best, whereas I now know that Athenian democracy, however selective, was and is far superior. Virtue trumped freedom according to Plato, unsurprising given that the democratic mob had put his mentor Socrates to death. Today, in the name of freedom, dour, self-appointed social-justice warriors who cannot conjugate a verb correctly have shut down free speech in western universities. In the name of freedom, Democrats in the US Congress tried to hold up the stimulus bill in order to extort funds to investigate minority and gender ‘pay equity’. (That one must have had Plato turning in this grave.) In the name of freedom of expression, CNN complained that the presidential task force against the virus lacked diversity. And the ghastly Nancy Pelosi demanded special LGBTQ provision in Trump’s $2 trillion package.

What the hell is going on here? That old fool Joe Biden, who makes Corbyn sound young, suggested three weeks ago that Trump was xenophobic for banning flights from China. Oh yes, it almost slipped my mind in the freedom v. virtue discussion: the billionaire hedge funder Bill Ackman claimed, in a tearful interview with CNBC, that coronavirus would bring ‘hell’ to the country, then raked in a cool 2.6 billion greenbacks as his dire prediction helped cause the markets to collapse. (Under normal conditions that might merit jail, but people’s minds are elsewhere.)

Plato was not as anti-democratic as he is often portrayed as being, because, as he himself said, the principle of democracy is freedom. But the perversion of freedoms, as I’ve demonstrated above, was the reason he favoured virtue. It’s a travesty of freedom that has seen large parts of the world’s media praise the communist regime for coming clean in mid-February rather than late December. And it is an even bigger travesty to condemn those who point the finger at the Chinese as racists.

If we then consider the virtue that has been so much in evidence recently: the hundreds of thousands who have volunteered in the fight against the virus; the thousands upon thousands of front-line defenders who risk their lives daily; and of course the German government, which has given the rest of Europe ventilators, respiratory masks and other medical products. See why virtue tops freedom any day of the week?

Have I overdone the philosophical ruminations? OK, let’s get down to brass tacks: in this unprecedented crisis, countries have shown their mettle in their response to the virus. The voice we haven’t heard is that of the EU, and that’s because the bureaucrooks are running scared. This is a real crisis that will bankrupt nations. Where will all the funding come from for the EU bigwigs to dispense once the plague has been vanquished? What country will stick to the budget deficits ordered by the clowns in Brussels? The only good thing about that bunch of tinpot dictators is the improvement on the looks front now that Ursula von der Leyen, mother of seven, has replaced that drunken buffoon from Luxembourg. Ursula is getting on but she’s still a looker.

Thank your lucky stars, all you Brits; you’re well out of it, and you can even pass your own laws to fit the crisis.

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