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COVID-19 opinion: Liberty in the time of Corona

We are not facing a simple trade-off between liberty and public health, but a more complex challenge to maintain liberty as non-domination, writes Cécile Laborde, Nuffield Professor of Political Theory, for the Department's OxPol blog.  

“As both democratic and authoritarian states have imposed exceptional measures restricting political and civil liberties, there is a nagging suspicion that democracies might not turn out to be inherently superior regimes.”

As new restrictions interfere with our basic freedom of movement and social interactions, we must be careful not to lose our liberty as ‘non-domination’, warns Professor Cecile Laborde.

In her perspective piece ‘Liberty in the Time of Corona’, she outlines three key features of political states which preserve their citizens’ liberty as non-domination:

  1. The state of emergency should be the exception, not the norm
  2. There should be high quality public information, transparency and open public discussion.
  3. Power should be exercised for the benefit of all the people, not a faction.

In recent years, she writes, there have been setbacks on all fronts. From cuts to public services, anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that protect some people more over others; an increase in anti-terrorist legislation since 9/11; and the latest push-back against experts: “The conditions of democratic resilience have slowly been eroded.”

During the global COVID-19 pandemic the department has decided to share opinion and blog pieces written by members of the faculty, who are bringing their unique research perspectives to engage with the big questions of the day. The views expressed within opinion pieces do not represent the department’s official view, instead they shine a light on the intellectual plurality of our diverse community of academics and scholars.

Professor Cécile Laborde is Professor of Political Theory FBA, Nuffield Chair of Political Theory