Everybody wanted action, but Nobody wanted to act. Anon
Over the past two years my sense of belonging to a liberal democracy has fallen apart. Until then, I’d basked in a lifelong feeling of security that my ability to amble down a London street breathing God’s fresh air was my birthright as a freeborn English woman. And as a child wandering the fields of Gloucestershire, I intuitively knew a truth well understood by indigenous peoples: simply by virtue of being human, I had a right to be on the earth.
Adult life, teaching political philosophy and reporting on policymaking, added layers of words, concepts and processes of reasoning to this lived experience. I learned that preserving the sense of the-right-to-be that came with being alive was part of a struggle against tyranny that had pervaded human history: there had always been those who sought to disrupt the relationship between self and world, whether out of a desire for resources or to exert control. I understood that Western societies had made irreversible progress in this respect, devising a system of governance with inbuilt protections against the all-too-human tendency to dominate others. It was finally understood that power resided with the people and, when handed to leaders, was always done on a conditional, limited and temporary basis. The system that enshrined this, with its constitutions, declarations of rights and separations of powers, was formal and abstract compared to the sacred relationship between human and the life force experienced by ancient peoples, but it suited the complexity of the modern world and had its own beauty. And then my political innocence shattered.
The moment of shattering came when two policemen walked across a deserted park to tell me, a lone Englishwoman, that I no longer had the right to be outside.
The incident was part of a seismic shift that took place in almost all Western democracies in the early months of 2020, a shift from the belief that rights are inherent, held by the people individually and collectively, to the idea that rights are granted or withheld by the governing powers. At the time, you remember, the assurance was that the suspension of rights was but temporary, done for an exceptional reason that would soon pass. But as time went on and politicians, the media and big business talked of the need for new…