Alfie Evans vs. The "General Will"
Much has been said and written about the tragic case of Alfie Evans, a two-year old British child with a thus-far undiagnosed neurological condition, whose life support system was ordered turned off this week by the British Courts, in spite of protests by the child’s parents.
The facts here are well known. Alfie has been in a coma for roughly a year. Doctors say he is beyond saving and that continuing to keep him on life support is a waste of money. His parents have objected loudly. As part of their campaign to keep their son alive they have received support from Pope Francis himself, and were able to convince the Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital, a Vatican-operated facility, to take Alfie and to treat him as best it can. The British courts refused to allow this, however, arguing that travelling might be dangerous for him. Errr…well…something….
Needless to say, this case involves a complicated mishmash of legal, ethical, and spiritual considerations, which have been debated endlessly in the press, as was a similar case last summer when the government did the same thing a year or so ago to child named Charlie Gard. We wrote a short essay on Charlie Gard for the Culture of Lifer Foundation (which you can find here). The focus of that piece – and of most of the media coverage of this case – was the ethical considerations that arise when the government becomes the financial guarantor of all services and thus the arbiter of life and death issues.
One other aspect of this controversy that has been given rather short shrift in the media coverage is the reaction of British law enforcement to those who are upset by all of this. To wit: the Merseryside Police Department – a regional police force that covers Liverpool – issued a statement this week warning people not to complain about what was happening at Alder Hey to little Alfie Evans. Chief Inspector Chris Gibson said the following:
Merseyside Police has been made aware of a number of social media posts which have been made with reference to Alder Hey Hospital and the ongoing situation involving Alfie Evans.
I would like to make people aware that these posts are being monitored and remind social media users that any offences including malicious communications and threatening behaviour will be investigated and where necessary will be acted upon.
Some critics have called this statement – and British police more generally – “positively Soviet.” And they’re right. Think about what they’re saying here: We’re OK with the state killing your child and forcibly holding him hostage to ensure that he’s good and dead, but don’t you say a nasty word about it…or ELSE! That’s pretty damned totalitarian.
Of course, this totalitarian impulse long preceded the Soviets. Its origins can be traced to the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who is widely regarded as the godfather of the Left. Rousseau’s impact on the Western world has been incalculable and incalculably destructive. His ideas have inspired and influenced every great Leftist thinker since. Among his chief contributions was a new and different “social contract.” Unlike the social contract constructed by John Locke – which drew from English Common Law and formed the foundations of the American revolution and constitution – Rousseau’s social contract rested on the notion that human liberty could only be understood and expressed through something called the “general will” (or the “common good”). Government did not exist to preserve the natural rights with which all men are born, but to guarantee the “liberty” of the general will. Or as Rousseau himself put it:
As long as several men in assembly regard themselves as a single body, they have only a single will which is concerned with their common preservation and general well-being. In this case, all the springs of the State are vigorous and simple and its rules clear and luminous; there are no embroilments or conflicts of interests; the common good is everywhere clearly apparent, and only good sense is needed to perceive it.
This is, of course, a remarkably stupid notion, akin to saying that if we would just all get along, we will all get along. But the Left has always loved it, largely, we suppose, because it gives its blessing to rule by an elite who represent this “general will,” and, even better, because it is accompanied by Rousseau’s assertion that anyone who doesn’t abide by the “general will” should be punished quite severely. Again, Rousseau put it this way (emphasis added):
There is therefore a purely civil profession of faith of which the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which a man cannot be a good citizen or a faithful subject. While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State whoever does not believe them — it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If anyone, after publicly recognizing these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law.
As we noted above, English Common Law and the Anglo-American tradition were perfectly anti-Rousseauian, based rather on Locke and his Thomist belief that government exists strictly to ensure the individual right ALL men are given by their creator. The Scottish Enlightenment and its progeny – namely the Utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill – changed that, however. And by the end of World War II, the British state had become largely Rousseauian, which is to say premised on the same intellectual vacuity as its continental brethren. Today, some seven-plus decades later, the transformation is complete, and Great Britain is no longer any more part of the Anglo-American tradition than are Germany, France, or Sweden.
As we noted in the aforementioned piece about Charlie Gard, today, the contemporary British state is fully Utilitarian, fully Rousseauian, and fully hostile to individual liberty as it was traditionally understood. The state MUST provide for the common good, and that means that it must ration public resources as efficiently as possible. And if a child happens to be a drain on those public resources, then that child becomes a threat to common good and must therefore be eliminated.
And woe to you who dare to disagree. The child’s killers are not criminals, but mere state agents. Those who voice their dissent are the real threat and must therefore be silenced. They too represent an unacceptable threat to the common good.
Great Britain is not yet revolutionary France or Soviet Russia, but it is far closer than most people believe. And Americans should pay attention.