You’re no doubt grimly familiar by now with the odious term, “the precautionary principle”. This has become the go-to excuse for every leftist busybody, green curtain-twitcher and nanny-stater who just lives to tell other people what to do.
Want to stop a coal mine? “Ah, precautionary principle!” Lock up entire populations because of a mildly threatening disease? “Precautionary principle!”
We’ve been primed to cower before the “precautionary principle” by decades of apocalyptic rhetoric from the green-left.
Never mind the fact that none of these apocalypses – from the “Silent Spring” to the “Millennium Bug” to “Dangerous Climate Change” – has ever come to pass. In a society-wide case of “learned helplessness”, we’ve been scared witless so long, during the same time that we’ve lived through the safest period in human history, that we’ve turned into a generation of risk-averse jellyfish.
And that’s just how the bureaucratic statists like it.
With humanity constantly portrayed as huddling, frightened and forlorn, in the antechamber of the planet’s extinction, the “precautionary principle” – which makes avoiding even highly uncertain dangers the prime duty of government – has too often become public policy’s default approach, swamping the measured assessment of costs and benefits. And as that principle governs ever broader swathes of economic and social activity, we have gone from being actors who shape their own destinies to subjects who relinquish their independence in exchange for shelter from our fears, phobias and misfortunes.
As Field Marshal Montgomery noted, the worst afflictions of the 20th century originated in Europe. Two of them, Communism and Nazism, originated in Germany. The Frankfurt School has plagued us with all the odious eructations of post-Marxism, from Queer Theory and Gender Theory to Critical Theory (and its bastard American child, Critical Race Theory). German thinkers have more recently given us the Great Reset.
It should, therefore, surprise no one that the precautionary principle is an invention of a German thinker (whose doctoral adviser was, weirdly, given his Jewishness, Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger).
The longer-term results of that evolution should not be surprising: they were certainly apparent to Hans Jonas, who set the precautionary principle’s philosophical foundations in his magnum opus, The Imperative of Responsibility, which first appeared in German in 1979[…]the heart of Jonas’s argument is straightforward.
With the threats to the survival of mankind mounting, he argued, societies that were rich enough to worry about them would progressively have to abandon the substance, if not the form, of democracy, instead vesting power in “guardians” of superior insight who, like those sketched out in Book II of Plato’s Republic, would guide the unenlightened masses into accepting the precautionary principle’s drastic implications for living standards and traditional liberties.
As another German philosopher, Karl Popper, noted, “The Spell of Plato” has blinded generations of his followers to the horrific implications of his political doctrines. In fact, I would argue that Plato’s elitist disdain for democracy has so appealed to the left precisely because it flatters their vanity.
There’s a reason the leftist paper of record is called The Guardian: the left-elite view themselves as the superior guardians of a stupid, herd-like hoi polloi.
They see themselves as the benevolent dictators of a tyranny imposed for our own good.
“Banished from the public realm”, liberty would remain only as an “ontological capacity”, rather than as an existential actuality, allowing the guardians’ regulatory “tyranny” to keep man’s capacity to harm himself and the planet firmly in check. The safety blanket would, in other words, serve to suffocate the very way of life it was intended to preserve, thus “prizing the physical survival of the species over its freedom”.The Australian
And that is the heart of the “precautionary principle” laid bare: why dare to be free when we can cower in comfortable slavery?
In Robert Heinlein’s searing satire, Farnham’s Freehold, one of the characters literally gives up his balls to live as a pampered slave. I can think of no better metaphor for the precautionary principle.
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