The pandemic response as contemporary imperialism

One of the New York Journal's most infamous cartoons, depicting Philippine–American War General Jacob H. Smith's order "Kill Everyone over Ten," from the front page on May 5, 1902.
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This is a guest article by Addison Reeves, a lawyer, political scientist, philosopher, and civil rights and civil liberties advocate based in New York. Addison critiques modern culture from a radical, leftist perspective at ModernHeretic.com, on Telegram and on Twitter.

The almost uniform support for totalitarian lock-down measures and mandates from those on the left has been shocking to see and has resulted in a feeling of political homelessness for those whose leftist values are what lead them to view the response to the pandemic with a sharp critical eye. This article shows that the reason why so many on the left have abandoned the values of freedom of speech and movement, bodily autonomy, and economic justice is because those people belong to the ideology of progressivism, which exists outside the left-right dichotomy.

Progressivism is an ideology that champions limitless growth, unbridled use of technology and the control of nature over any intrinsic sense of worth or fulfilment. We all get dragged along on the march of ‘progress’ because progressives assume any deviance from their values is inferior and because they tend to control the world’s resources. Progress under this model is linear; the future is always an improvement on the past, and any attempt to resist change or divert course is seen as regressive and unscientific.

Progressives often engage in leftist rhetoric, but their proposals always result in strengthening and expanding the existing, inequitable system and further entrenching the current, elite class. Progressives propose superficial policies rather than measures that would truly allow citizens to become more self-sufficient or otherwise reduce inequality because that would undermine their primary goal of unlimited growth. That is why progressives increasingly take refuge in identity politics; it allows them to talk about changing the system without actually having to challenge the exploitative aspects of society that they rely on for profit and growth. They then blame the increasing disparities on their opponents for resisting ‘progress’.

Progressivism is the direct descendant of the imperialism that dominated much of Western history for centuries. While the common narrative of modern history would have us believe that imperialism faded away in the 20th century as military aggression was replaced with international, economic cooperation and democratic revolutions, imperialism never died. In the United States and other countries there has always been a championing of Enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality alongside the denial of these same values to other groups who were conquered, exploited, or oppressed for imperialist goals of expansion and profit. The legacy of imperialism is just as deeply imprinted on the minds of Americans as liberalism is.

Progressivism = imperialism

Imperialism is the practice of one group of people forcibly subjecting other groups of people to its authority and control for its own benefit, though the imperialists often rationalize their actions as an attempt to save or improve its victims. The history of imperialism in the United States has lent certain traits to its successor progressivism: an extractive belief system, an antipathy towards the natural world, a rigidly prescriptive mindset, and a pathological feeling of supremacy.

Progressivism, like imperialism, is built on the depletion of natural resources, with little concern for sustainability. This attitude extends not just to the plants, animals, and minerals we consume, but to humans (‘human resources’ or ‘human capital’) as well. Thus, the extractive belief system is evident in the slave and sweatshop labor that has and continues to subsidize the economy as well as the rapacious attitude towards nature. As an acquisition-focused philosophy, progressivism treats humans as objects to be possessed and controlled, especially for financial profit. Progressives show no qualms about manipulating people or depriving them of freedom or livelihood to coerce them into compliance because they have no respect for personal agency, seeing other humans as just another resource to be mined.

Progressives view humans as separate from the natural environment, treating nature as something merely to be tamed and conquered. Nature is treated as inherently flawed and in need of improvement by humans. Human solutions, especially technological solutions, are always seen as better than letting nature run its course even when the problems are man-made ones.

Progressives are obsessed with using data, technocracy, and standardization to create a false veneer of objectivity that they use to reinforce the belief in the supremacy of their ideas and to discount the viewpoints that are discordant with progressive ideology, often disdaining opposition as unscientific and false. This is true even where the dissent is unfalsifiable, like satire or an opinion. Progressive imperialists see their own opinions as absolute truth and fail to recognize their own biases and implicit assumptions, just like how early American imperialists deemed their own racialized worldview as scientific and used whatever differences they could quantify between whites and blacks as further evidence of their own supremacy.

Imperialists’ belief that they have ownership of truth fuels their belief in their own supremacy in a circular manner. They believe they are better and smarter than everyone else and therefore that their beliefs are also superior. Deviants and dissenters are perceived as inferior just by virtue of their deviance from the dogma of progressivism. Like the imperialists before them, progressives’ belief in their own superiority is what is used to justify forcing their will on everyone else. They see no problem with censoring criticism, depriving individuals of freedom, and forcing lifestyle choices on others.

Domestic imperialism today

One can recognize progressive imperialists because they are the ones who think their own beliefs are facts and those of the opposition are misinformation to be censored. They may pay lip service to freedom of choice, but upon further questioning you will find that that they also believe that people who make a choice in contradiction of progressive orthodoxy should be punished for exercising that ‘freedom’. They are the ones who increasingly believe that people on the wrong side of progressivism should lose their livelihoods or be excluded from society. They are the ones who believe they are morally justified in forcing other autonomous humans to bend to their will.

The phrase ‘vaccine hesitancy’ is characteristic of progressive imperialism today. The term is a propagandistic tool to pathologize non-compliance with an imperialist vision. Notably, the term implies that there can be no choice on the matter, that it is only a matter of time until everyone gets the vaccine. The entire discussion has been framed in starkly imperialist terms—asking how the state can overcome people’s objections and force compliance—rather than in the liberal terms of personal sovereignty and pluralism (acknowledging that different viewpoints are equally valid and that the decision should be based on personal choice).

Some will protest that the sacrifice of individual autonomy and the state coercion of vaccination is morally defensible because the intention is ostensibly to save lives. That very response is a perfect illustration of the uniquely imperialist mindset. That certainty that one’s position is objectively, morally right; that there can be no room for diversity on the matter; and that one’s superiority of belief is so obvious that it justifies forcing other individuals to submit their very bodies (and, in the case of those who may suffer fatal reactions, possibly their lives) is the epitome of imperialism, the basis from which much oppression has been borne. The assumption of infallibility and the feeling of entitlement to play God with someone else’s health is pure colonization of other human beings. The tendency to assume that someone else’s personal choices about his or her own life should be subordinate to your beliefs is the essence of imperialism. It is an expectation that one can and should dominate others.  Such a person is carrying on the storied legacy of the numerous imperialists before them. Every generation has them, and these people are this era’s imperialist oppressors, though of course, like all imperialists, they see themselves as heroes.

This is particularly salient when you consider the racial dynamics at play with regard to ‘vaccine hesitancy,’ with reluctance to take the vaccine being higher among blacks and other people of color. What could be a more striking example of domestic imperialism than today’s white elites assuming that the reluctance of people of color (as well as non-compliant whites) to take the vaccine is invalid and ignorant and must be overturned? The means that they are employing to entice these communities to comply—using everything from free fast food to hip hop videos—suggests that progressives do not think people of color are capable of having intellectual and philosophical rationales behind their decisions to opt-out. Consequently, progressives rely on cheap attempts to manipulate them emotionally, such as by producing a hip hop video telling people to get vaccinated. It is the kind of patronizing appeal that could only come from people who already assume they are superior and have no respect for the intelligence of any groups they seek to control.

Once again, we see the privileged white upper class acting as missionaries to spread their beliefs as absolute truth to classes of people they deem inferior to themselves, the modern-day savages whom they must tame, control, and manipulate in service of their supposedly objective worldview.

And like the missionaries of old, progressives rationalize their tyranny by claiming that they are doing it for the good of their victims and society. But the end-goal is their own progressive cause. That is why, despite claiming that their desires for vaccine mandates are about saving lives, progressives express little concern for the lives of those people who died after getting these novel technological interventions. Those people died in service of progressive goals so their deaths do not matter. To a progressive imperialist, every such death is a righteous one because humans are just another tool to fulfill progressive ends.

The topic also highlights the progressive loathing of nature. The idea of reliance on natural immunity—what humans have relied on for the maintenance of health since the dawn of human history—rather than on a completely novel technology is disdained by progressives as ignorant and pseudo-scientific. We are no longer permitted to live as human beings have lived for millennia because progressives have decided that such ways of life are outdated and wrong. We cannot opt out of new technologies.

Never mind the fact that proof of natural immunity has been the consensus in the scientific community until last year when progressives censored any scientists that failed to corroborate their directives. Progressives hate nature and refuse to respect its laws. We must all fear nature and live in disharmony with it. Progressives will not allow any other philosophy of living but their own. Yet, for all this faith in technology, the fact that people can still get and transmit the virus after getting the vaccine makes it in fact little more than a superstitious ritual that we all must observe as unwilling participants in the religion of progressivism. It, along with the rest of the hygiene and distancing theater, is an example of how adept imperialists are at transforming their own neuroses and self-interest into moral imperatives for everyone else.

The supremacy attitude and the entitlement to control others and deprive them of rights and privileges are the hallmarks of imperialism, the same qualities that have under-girded all the major human atrocities of the past and those underway and to come.

9 thoughts on “The pandemic response as contemporary imperialism

  1. I think this is wisdom. It’s this progressive tendency which will open the door to the widespread use of the new eugenics just as it did with the old. Anyone who doesn’t know the history or see the relevance today should look back at the racial catalogues and progressive reasoning of the first peak of eugenics and compare that with the construction of genotype-phenotype databases today. The primary technological players in genetics are deeply involved in the current manipulation of variants for epidemiology. They’re rolling out the new eugenics infrastructure as they do so. To my shame, I didn’t grasp the dangers in this techno-utopian tendency in my people two years ago. I didn’t see their fear of death either.

    1. I agree.

      The author of the article calls “imperialism” something that he describes but is rather similar to Auguste Comte’s “Positivism” of late 19th century: a philosophy that I take (without anything more than a shallow review of the History and texts, I must confess) as one of the main beams of the framework that produced the old eugenism of more than a century ago. I am sorry to see in this context the use of the term “imperialism”, commonly known in politics to refer to a concept completely different and well defined by Lenin in 1917.

      To the extent that Positivism is rather akin of the Hegelian philosophy of History and of its (continuous, linear and progressive) development, I prefer the “critique of the critical critique” developed by Engels and Marx in “The Holy Family”: many of the characteristics assigned by the author to “progressivism” can already be found in the “New Hegelians”.

  2. He or she has distilled the essentials of covid-fascism and the whole Politically Correct paradigm. It is potentially a much more odious fascism than the 1930s models since they arrogate to themselves the right to assault your body with poisons to conform to their warped views of reality. The tie with eugenics mentioned above is also an accurate statement of what is going on. The article itself reveals the contradiction between the divide and conquer political correction and the proscription of blacks and other minorities who refuse to play Russian roulette with their health according to the demanded compliance by the medicofascist regime.

  3. While this was a great article, it would have been even more complete to mention the eugenics movement of the last century, and that it was supported by many progressives at the time. I think that foundational thought laid a long time ago is the reason the left has responded the way it has to the lockdown, and it is not some recent corruption or forgetting its roots in the history of the working class.

    In Canada, the recent discovery of graves of Indigenous children at the government run residential schools has been on people’s minds. This is ironic in that the groundwork for the same segregation of society into classes with privilege and without, is being laid right now. At the time the dividing line was race, this time it is vaccination status. The side of the political spectrum talking the most about these children is also the side that is not only standing by, but is also actively encouraging the new segregation.

  4. The leftist critique of the current policies is so welcome. But, the specific thesis appears to be in conflict with the deep environmental concerns of a progressive of my acquaintance, as well as the campaign to “Protect 30% of the Planet’s Land.”

  5. Addison, you are fast becoming one of my new favorite bloggers. Thank you for elucidating the differences between progressivist and liberal/leftist values and helping to clarify why so many on the left have embraced authoritarianism, succumbed to propaganda, and abandoned their critical thinking skills and former commitment to questioning authority.

    BTW, I included your OffGuardian article, “It’s Just … Why I Won’t Submit” [https://off-guardian.org/2021/08/07/its-just-why-i-wont-submit/] in my last Recommendations Roundup [https://margaretannaalice.substack.com/p/recommendations-roundup-1-predicting] and will likely include this article in the next one. I look forward to reading more of your work at Modern Heretic.

  6. I broadly agree with the article but I think there are a few things to be wary of in terms of nuance. One of the big themes behind this situation we find ourselves in is the idea of population control. This is a direct reaction to the idea of there being a ‘natural’ limit to further human development of our relationship to nature. Malthusianism is something we need to be aware of when discussing the use of ‘endless technological development’ as if this were a category with a determinate boundary that we can take a view one way or the other on.

    Human beings determine their own means by which they answer the needs of nature and in so doing they become history making beings. This process of reformulating our relation to nature can never end. Technology is just one aspect of it, and it is an important one. To deny this is to fall into the anti-humanist idea that it is people who are the problem rather than systems.

    Technocracy is really the attempt to apply technology not to nature but to humanity itself. Scientism is the idea that science can aspire to certainty and basically mistakes the logical/mathematical rigour with which scientific results can be presented with the scientific method itself which requires the work of the human imagination as applied to the sensuous natural world requiring the all too fallible human judgement and is, fundamentally, as creative as any other art of humanity.

    Humanity will always use technology as part of how we endlessly transform our relation to nature but this endless technological development is defined by the wider human transformation of how we view ourselves in relation to nature.

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