The Most Important Book of 2023

Those readers who followed my blog posts during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 will know I became increasingly frustrated and bewildered, then angry, and finally depressed, about the institutionalized responses to the COVID pandemic, which in my opinion, became increasingly authoritative, draconian and regressive.

I warned about the performative power of epidemiological models and about the dangers of sleep walking into totalitarianism; I against the tyranny of lockdown policies, against the anti-democratic forces that ruled almost entirely unchallenged and railed against the silence of the academic left in challenging the reactionary politics that prevailed.  I had to defend my motivation for signing in October 2020 the Great Barrington Declaration against the charge of moral callousness and of being in the pocket of right-wing libertarians.

It was only in December 2021, nearly two years after the pandemic started, that I was able to write about the political left calling out socially regressive, anti-democratic and reactionary policies of COVID authoritarianism.

And now, from African historian Toby Green, at King’s College London, and political commentator Thomas Fazi, comes a brilliant and much needed analysis of the ‘silence of the left’ in the face of an authoritarian iatocracy.  In ‘The COVID Consensus: The Global Assault on Democracy and the Poor – A Critique from the Left’, Green and Fazi expose — with precision, clarity and authority — the reactionary nature of the response of the political-medical establishment – or what they call “the techno-media-pharma complex” — to the pandemic. 

Reflecting my own frustrations at the ‘silence of the left’, Green and Fazi explain their motivation for writing: “As writers who have always understood ourselves as being on the political left, we were drawn together by our incomprehension at how the mainstream left had supported policies which so clearly and manifestly unleashed economic warfare on the poorest sections of society, as well as on women and the young” (p.25).  As they observe, “it’s impossible to consider any aspect of the pandemic response of lockdowns and vaccine mandates as progressive” (p.210).

Of what they call “the laptop class” (p.439) who backed the historically unprecedented policy to shut down entire national societies, they observe “Politicians, opinion-formers able to work remotely, and university scientists in secure employment announced that [lockdown] was a price that had to be paid for a collective good, although none of them personally had to pay it—and, indeed, many of them saw their disposable incomes rising” (p.21/22).  This was in contrast to the young (especially school children), to women (especially those with caring responsibilities), to the elderly (left to die alone, separated from family), and to the poor (especially those in the informal economies of the Global South).

I shared the bewilderment of Green and Fazi in the lack of critique from the political left of ‘Big Pharma’, which collectively made tens of billions of dollars profit whilst receiving from the state near total protection from indemnity.  “Why [did] so many people, especially on the liberal and radical left – which historically has denounced the capture of governments and institutions by corporate interests – uncritically accept the information provided by vaccine makers and embrace the mainstream discourse around vaccines and mandates?” (p.194).

I would urge everyone to read this book, even if only the first 25 pages – the Introduction – or the even shorter 14-page Conclusion.  Green and Fazi ask all the right questions, most of which during 2020 and 2021 the political left and much of the media refused to ask.  From a traditional critical left perspective, they also offer some powerful reasons as to why this came about, not least the defending at all costs of a single totalising narrative which, in the name of science, lent power to authoritarian instincts, corporate power and surveillance capitalism and which sought to silence opponents.

Green and Fazi conclude their book thus, again echoing my own argument from February 2021: “In the end, if we believe in freedom of thought, democratic discussion and decision-making, international justice, open government and an end to the politics of crisis, we have to fight for them – individually and collectively as best we can” (p.448).

Mike Hulme, 21 March 2023