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A photo in Monday’s public prints brought the good news of people dancing in La Grande Motte, France as evidence la République appears on its way out of its COVID crisis.
Alas, the photo was taken last July, which seems a lifetime in pandemic days, one month before the French government went all-in on efforts to get control of this interminable pestilence.
Still, the picture caught my eye a) because a young man of my closest acquaintance works in La Grande Motte and b) because this young man had told me only the day before that “disruptive sociopaths” are to blame worldwide for good people being hoodwinked into vaccine hesitancy.
I’m not sure I put any more faith in the population mobilizing power of global sociopathy than I do in the mystical power of Davos Billionaire-QR Coding-Deep State-Conspirators to alter human history and human nature. But reporting from France suggests the notoriously sceptical gusting to cynical French have a taken a leap of faith in President Emmanuel Macron and his plan to at least get COVID under control.
Sharp-eyed semanticists will interject that the leap was far more of push propelled by a forceful appeal to self-interest. Macron’s key, uh, inducement, after all, was a stringent vaccine passport edict that made social life in France all-but impossible without proof of vaccination status. The outcome? It has reportedly gone from one of the highest vaccine hesitancy rates in the world last January to one of the highest vaccination rates among world powers this September.
More than 14 million people in France have received their first dose of vaccine in the 11 weeks since the passport was announced. About 88 per cent of those over 12 have had at least one jab. Infection rates have dropped staggeringly in a country where the virus was rampaging mere months ago.
Success is such that the State is already talking about lifting restrictions. They might soon be dancing in La Grande Motte again (provided persnickety anti-dancing Baptists don’t formally complain to the EU, of course).
Whether this demonstrates the efficacy of vaccine passports or, as some would argue, merely the cyclical variation of this pernicious pandemic, the rapidity of the overcoming of hesitancy underscores a key intangible that, paradoxically, has been so notably, indeed painfully, absent in almost every effort to bring COVID to heel. It is trust.
In his televised appeal to his compatriots as he introduced the passport system July 12, Macron made it a matter of national trust: “I’m conscious of what I’m asking of you. I know that you are ready for this commitment.”
Conscious. Commitment. Conscious commitment. Certain political figures here at home continue to pooh-pooh the notion that vaccine passports, among other COVID responses, are an overt suspension of liberty. Yet the French president acknowledged his awareness he was asking for just such an infringement of freedom. Speaking to a nation of adults, President Macron urged them to commit, by combining their self-interest and the interests of their fellow citizens, to trust in the government. Trust, that is, that the suspension of liberty would last only as long as the response to vaccination allowed; that no one, under the pretext of beating back COVID, would try to steal their souls.
Again, the outcome? Vaccination rates rocketing, infection rates diving, hospitalization and death rates dropping. Even the 200,000 strong anti-vaccine street protests that occurred across France are shrinking rapidly. And? Restrictions are being lifted.
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Is it too early to start victory dancing? Sure. But it’s hardly premature to put our hands together to applaud at least this instance of politics being done on the basis of mutually assured good faith.
From the beginning of COVID, my own deepest fear has been that liberties necessarily suspended would fail to be restored. It was us forgetting that our freedoms are not only human rights but the essence of who we are as human beings. It was governments finding it easier and more satisfying to continue encouraging that forgetting.
The 360-degree denialism prevalent throughout the pandemic crisis has only fed that fear. The consequences have been self-evident, self-destructive, and trust-destructive for almost two years.
Who needs “disruptive sociopaths” to fuel resistance among a population so frightened a-new on a daily basis that a panicked cohort within it finally digs in its heels and says: “No more”? Who needs a One World Government cabal of deep-pocketed/tall forehead conspirators to upend society when governments themselves have responded to the crisis with slapstick variations on dystopian satire?
Signs from la République – birthplace of liberté, égalité, fraternité – are it doesn’t have to be that way. Trust can return. Good things can renew, among them, reason. When that time arrives, assuming it does, the real question to answer will be: “How was trust in ourselves so badly shattered?” We need to know.
Convivium publishes texts that do not necessarily reflect the views held by Cardus, the Convivium team, or its editors. In the spirit of discussion, dialogue, and debate, we ask readers to bear in mind that publication does not equal endorsement. Thanks for reading. Join the conversation!
As reporter Ben Judah writes in a fine piece of journalism for the UK’s Standpoint Magazine, the mayor of the economically depressed town northeast of Paris near the Belgian border is a touchstone for a seismic shift in French political life, and so for the near to middle-term future of Europe