Global Discourse
An interdisciplinary journal of current affairs

Nozick, the pandemic and fear: a contractualist justification of the COVID-19 lockdown

Author: Elias Moser1
View author details View Less
  • 1 Karl-Franzens University of Graz, , Austria
Restricted access
Get eTOC alerts
Rights and permissions Cite this article

As a reaction to COVID-19, many democratic countries around the world imposed a curfew on their entire population. Schools, shops, public and private buildings were shut down while all forms of public assembly were temporarily banned. Strong restrictions were imposed on liberties in many domains of the quotidian life of citizens to preclude a collapse of the health system. From the perspective of political philosophy, the normative legitimacy of lockdown policies needs to be investigated. Under which conditions can large-scale interventions in the private and public spheres be justified? In this article, I discuss contractualist political theory as a potential framework for assessing the restrictions as a response to the menace of a global pandemic. I will apply the reflections of Robert Nozick in the first part of his famous Anarchy, State, and Utopia. His reflections on how a society should deal with risks are of great value in assessing policies to combat the spread of viruses. Nozick introduces a surprising element in his theory that is an important factor for a potential justification of lockdown policies – the incidence of fear. Because people are afraid of the worst outcome, they are willing to prohibit conduct that includes risks, and they are willing to restrict their own liberty to engage in that conduct.

  • Adler, M.D., Bradley, R., Ferranna, M., Fleurbaey, M., Hammitt, J. and Voorhoeve, A. (2020) Assessing the wellbeing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and three policy types: suppression, control, and uncontrolled spread, https://philpapers.org/archive/ADLATW.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Asmundson, G.J. and Taylor, S. (2020) Coronaphobia: fear and the 2019-nCoV outbreak, Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 70: 102196, doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102196

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chang, R. (1997) Introduction, in R. Chang (ed) Incommensurability, Incomparability, and Practical Reason, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp 134.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fischhoff, B. (1994) Acceptable risk: a conceptual proposal, Risk, 5(1): 128.

  • Gostin, L.O., Friedman, E.A. and Wetter, S.A. (2020) Responding to COVID‐19: ‘How to navigate a public health emergency legally and ethically, Hastings Center Report, 50(2): 812. doi: 10.1002/hast.1090

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Griffin, J. (1986) Well-Being, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Harris, J. and Holm, S. (1995) Is there a moral obligation not to infect others?, BMJ, 311(7014): 121517. doi: 10.1136/bmj.311.7014.1215

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hobbes, T. (2012) [1651] Leviathan, N. Malcolm (ed), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Kupferschmidt, K. and Cohen, J. (2020) Can China’s COVID-19 strategy work elsewhere? Science, 367(6482): 106162. doi: 10.1126/science.367.6482.1061

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lelieveld, J., Klingmüller, K., Pozzer, A., Pöschl, U., Fnais, M., Daiber, A. and Münzel, T. (2019) Cardiovascular disease burden from ambient air pollution in Europe reassessed using novel hazard ratio functions, European Heart Journal, 40(20): 159096. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehz135

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Locke, J. (1980)[1690] The Second Treatise of Government, C.B. McPherson (ed), Indianapolis, IN: Hacklett.

  • Mucci, F., Mucci, N. and Diolaiuti, F. (2020) Lockdown and isolation: psychological aspects of COVID-19 pandemic in the general population, Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 17(2): 6364.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nozick, R. (1974) Anarchy, State, and Utopia, New York, NY: Basic Books.

  • Nussbaum, M.C. (2013) Political Emotions, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Obler, J. (1981) Fear, prohibition, and liberty, Political Theory, 9(1): 6580. doi: 10.1177/009059178100900104

  • Pareto, V. (2014) Manual of Political Economy: A Critical and Variorum Edition, A. Montesano (ed) (originally published in 1906), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Phillips, D. (2020) Brazil stops releasing Covid-19 death toll and wipes data from official site, The Guardian, 7 June, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/07/brazil-stops-releasing-covid-19-death-toll-and-wipes-data-from-official-site.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pike, J., Bogich, T., Elwood, S. Finnoff, D.C. and Daszak, P. (2014) Economic optimization of a global strategy to address the pandemic threat, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(52): 1851923. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1412661112

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pike, J., Shogren, J.F., Aadland, D., Viscusi, W.K., Finnoff, D., Skiba, A. and Daszak, P. (2020) Catastrophic risk: waking up to the reality of a pandemic?, EcoHealth, 17(2): 21721. doi: 10.1007/s10393-020-01479-8

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rawls, J. (1999)[1971] A Theory of Justice, 2nd edn, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Rubin, G.J. and Wessely, S. (2020) The psychological effects of quarantining a city, BMJ, 368:m313, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m313.

  • Russell, A. (2020) The rise of coronavirus hate crimes, The New Yorker, 17 April, www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-the-uk/the-rise-of-coronavirus-hate-crimes.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sands, P., Mundaca-Shah, C. and Dzau, V.J. (2016) The neglected dimension of global security: a framework for countering infectious-disease crises, New England Journal of Medicine, 374(13): 128187. doi: 10.1056/NEJMsr1600236

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Steiner, H. (1977) Critical notice, Mind, 86(341): 12029. doi: 10.1093/mind/LXXXVI.341.120

  • Tuck, R. (1979) Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1981) The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice, Science, 211(4481): 45358. doi: 10.1126/science.7455683

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • World Economic Forum (WEF) (2020) Coronavirus vs flu: how do they compare?, www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/coronavirus-flu-healthcare-symptoms.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • World Health Organization (WHO) (2005) International Health Regulations, 3rd edn, Geneva: WHO Press.

  • WHO (2019) Global Influenza Strategy 2019–2030, Geneva: WHO Press.

  • WHO (2020a) Basic Documents, 49th edn, https://apps.who.int/gb/bd/pdf_files/BD_49th-en.pdf#page=7.

  • WHO (2020b) Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19, www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-coVid-19---11-march-2020.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Worldometers (2021) COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, 30 January, www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/.

  • Wu, Z. and McGoogan, J.M. (2020) Characteristics of and important lessons from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak in China: summary of a report of 72 314 cases from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Jama, 323(13): 123942. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.2648

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 1 Karl-Franzens University of Graz, , Austria

Content Metrics

May 2022 onwards Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 48 48 48
Full Text Views 25 25 12
PDF Downloads 22 22 7

Altmetrics

Dimensions