Social distancing, mask mandates, and lockdowns have put civil society on ice. Church congregations either do not meet, “meet” in socially distancing congregations, or try to fellowship over video conferencing. Many schools are still closed, still trying to replace face-to-face learning with farcical “distance learning.” Public sporting events have been almost nonexistent. Many small businesses have gone under, and many of the survivors are struggling. Most remaining social interaction has been pushed to social media, which at its best is a weak substitute for face-to-face human interaction. Even ardent supporters of mask-wearing can’t deny that they stifle communication, verbal and nonverbal. When was the last time you saw someone smile in public?

Some restrictions were perhaps unavoidable, even prudent measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, but the restrictions have clearly harmful side effects. Our government has deliberately fragmented society to protect ourselves from a disease.

What are the unintended consequences of allowing government to overwhelm civil society, even for good reasons?

The closest parallel in recent history to prolonged social distancing may be the atomization of societies under totalitarian regimes. Totalitarian regimes usually take power during periods of massive social and political upheaval, and they must perpetuate the upheaval through reigns of terror in order to retain power. This completely isolates the individual, subjecting him or her to the full power of the central government to prevent any coherent political opposition from forming. Intervening institution such as families, churches, schools, media, unions, and political parties are co-opted or eliminated. Local and regional governments, the military, and the police are brought under central control. Any legislative and judicial bodies are either dissolved or converted into rubberstamps for the ruler, whether one man (e.g., Hitler) or an oligarchy (e.g., the Soviet and Chinese politburos).

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