by Mary Harrington
Monday, 13
September 2021

Did Ayn Rand defeat vaccine passports?

Sajid Javid is known to be a fan of the individualist philosopher
by Mary Harrington
Clubbers return in Brighton. Credit: Getty

Health secretary Sajid Javid announced yesterday that the much-debated plan to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and other venues at the end of September was not going ahead.

Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, Javid insisted that while the government ‘was right to look at it’ and the plan would be kept ‘in reserve’ he was pleased to say the passports would not be implemented as previously announced, adding that it was ‘a huge intrusion into people’s lives’ and ‘most people instinctively don’t like the idea’.

Javid is widely known as a fan of Ayn Rand’s brand of radical individualism, reportedly once telling Parliament’s Crossbench Film Society that he wooed his future wife by reading her passages from The Fountainhead. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find him resistant to implementing as national policy a requirement to show medical paperwork in order to do something as everyday as going clubbing.

This is all the more so when growing evidence indicates that vaccination doesn’t in fact put a stop to infection, or even transmission of the virus — it mainly reduces the severity of symptoms. If the aim is not eliminating Covid but simply ensuring healthcare systems aren’t overloaded, then provided vaccine uptake is good (as is the case in England, where 89% of over-16s have now had at least one dose) there’s no need to constrain anyone’s movement.

So this announcement feels like a breakthrough of common sense amid a slew of countries announcing vaccine passport policies. But we should read Javid’s invocation of Randian personal freedom cautiously.

Firstly, Javid reiterated that the measure was held in reserve for future vaccine response efforts, a statement underlined by no. 10 today. Secondly, the government is suspiciously quiet on any willingness to rescind the overall Coronavirus Act. This Act is the enabling legislation for the whole raft of emergency Covid management measures, and has no ‘sunset clause’.

According to the FT, though, a government spokesperson said last week that “The British public would expect us to retain these powers in case they are needed through the winter.” One might observe that, absent substantial polling, “would” is doing some heavy lifting in that sentence. In any case, the longer we live with its ‘emergency’ measures, the more normal they will become — and perhaps the less enthusiastic our governing betters will be about having those powers prised from their guiding hands.

Given this, we might read Javid’s u-turn on a vaccine passport measure that’s both overtly draconian and of little practical use as less a victory for substantive individual freedom and more a concession to its appearance. A debate over whether unvaccinated twenty-somethings should be free to lick each other in nightclubs is of far less consequence than one over the continued presence of the Coronavirus Act on the statute book.

Join the discussion

  • I am also a fan of Ayn Rand. I do not understand all of the subtlety of the Coronavirus Act, but it has the appearance of King Canute commanding the waves (think Jacinda Ardern and the Zero Covid crowd). As a lawyer trained in the beginning of the Age of AIDS, when there was no distinction made between being HIV+ and having AIDS, and when it was far from clear how “AIDS” was transmitted (kissing? shaking hands? toilet seats? close proximity?), ALL lawyers at my extreme left law school said that it was their responsibility as lawyers and our responsibility as future lawyers to protect society from a tiered system, with second class and perhaps third class citizens. It was generally accepted–I recall no disagreement whatsoever–that it would never be acceptable to show random people personal health information, i.e. some sort of health certificate, to do normal things. All agreed that this was completely unacceptable in a free society, and that it was our job to protect against this.
    I write this from Europe. I have a vaccine passport, which I have used recently to travel, to use the gym, to get in the casino. I don’t like this, but this is not the hill I am willing to die on.
    It is sad that the same people who said this (vaccine passports or equivalent) would never be acceptable are, writ large, the first ones to demand that the government exercise more control, tell the people what to do not matter how little sense it makes, as long as it appears that the government is doing “something.” Think masks.
    If it is the job of the elected/appointed boffins to “save lives,” why is driving not outlawed, as that would save X lives per day, guaranteed? Is it perhaps because we as individuals are willing to accept a certain level of risk as part of getting on with life? Perhaps some make better choices, using seatbelts, not riding on a motorcycle, but can’t individuals accept a certain amount of risk that these individuals decide is right for them?

  • “I write this from Europe. I have a vaccine passport, which I have used recently to travel, to use the gym, to get in the casino. I don’t like this, but this is not the hill I am willing to die on.”

    The future may show it would have been a hill worthy to die on. The entire response is going to have destroyed a hundred million lives at least – as you watch its fruits spread in the world, the third and developing world mostly, if it triggers the massive Depression I suspect it may, then Billions. The response also destroyed the concept of Western Rights and Freedoms.

  • Then one day it is over your head.
    “You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”
    “Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”
    “Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?
    “To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

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