John Derbyshire: Will Coronavirus Be A Reality Check On Democracy Itself?
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[Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively on]

It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the coronavirus panic has some winners. The stock of Zoom video-conferencing software has been soaring, notwithstanding some bad publicity about its security features, or lack of them.

Less well publicized has been the bonanza for lawyers, with laid-off workers suing employers, businesses suing insurers, jailbirds and illegal aliens in detention suing to be released, travel firms, cruise lines, and airlines being sued by disgruntled vacationers, and so on. Do lawyers ever come badly out of anything?

Longer-term, out here on the Dissident Right, there's been a vein of commentary to the effect that this is all going to work out well for the causes we care about. A key text here is Greg Johnson's March 18th post at Counter-Currents, title "How Coronavirus Will Change the World." It doesn't summarize easily, but I'll read off Greg's main headings. Each one identifies a fact that, according to Greg, will be made more obvious by the current crisis and its aftermath.

Globalism is bad.

Democracy is bad. If that made you jump, I'm going to give Greg the benefit of the doubt and assume he's in the Winston Churchill camp here: Democracy's bad, but not as bad as the alternatives. More on this in just a minute.

Global "free trade" is bad.

Liberalism is bad.

Diversity, multiculturalism, open borders, & anti-racism are bad.

Conservatism is bad.[Links added]

By "Conservatism" in that last one Greg means what we at call "Conservatism, Inc."

That's all good upbeat stuff, but I have my pessimistic doubts. Greg's assuming that under pressure of a political and economic crisis, people in the generality will come to see reality more clearly—the reality, for example, that strictly regulated national borders and ports of entry are essential to the common good.

I dunno, Greg. That particular aspect of reality has been obvious to me, and to a great many of us over here, for a long time, but the obviousness of it hasn't worked its way through to political action.

Even under pressure of the current crisis, it hasn't. Our government is still cheerfully bringing in tens of thousands of guest workers from abroad, even as the numbers of unemployed Americans rises through the stratosphere.

At his presser this Wednesday, President Trump told us that without foreign guest workers coming in to do agricultural work, actual quote from the President, "we're not going to have farms." Reporting on this, John Binder at Breitbart noted that, quote:

H-2A foreign visa workers make up only about ten percent of the total U.S. crop farm workforce.

The President's remark illustrates an important counter to Greg Johnson's optimism. We should not underestimate the determination on the part of our ruling class—even members of it, like Trump, with a reputation as mavericks—to keep the cheap-labor rackets going and to cling to their cherished catch-phrases—"jobs American won't do," "crops rotting in the fields," "nation of immigrants," and the rest—in defiance of any amount of reality.

Whether the American public, suffering Depression-era levels of unemployment, will let the ruling class and their tech-billionaire enablers keep their rackets going, is another question. It's perfectly possible that we shall, though. I've always thought T.S. Eliot greatly overrated as a poet, but he wrote a very wise and true thing when he wrote that "Humankind cannot bear very much reality."

That all said, I would like to add just one extended quote from Greg Johnson's piece. It's true, and it's relevant to my next segment. Edited quote, from under the heading "Democracy is bad":

Democracy encourages politicians to think only as far ahead as the next election. Since disasters happen only occasionally, every politician knows that they are unlikely to happen on his watch …

It is fashionable now to deride the "deep state" for being democratically unaccountable bureaucrats. But in a democracy, only a democratically unaccountable permanent bureaucracy can engage in long-range planning to secure the future against preventable evils.

China, by contrast, is not democratic at all, and despotism has its advantages (for the despots) in the age of Big Data.

On a global scale, one thing likely to change in a big way is our relationship with China.

In a big way, but not likely a good way. I bring some prejudice to this topic. I've been hating the Chinese Communist Party since I first got a close look at them nearly fifty years ago. They run a brutal, corrupt Leninist despotism.

Remember, to take a random recent example, their treatment of scholarly, peaceable dissident Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Liu couldn't go to Oslo to accept the prize because he was serving an eleven-year jail sentence. He got that sentence for publishing a document calling for political reform and a more open society.

So ChiCom power will collapse at last, like the old U.S.S.R. did, right? And the people of mainland China will enjoy open, consensual, constitutional government at last, as the people of Taiwan currently do. Right?

In my dreams. There are some structural instabilities in the system, to do with corruption, environmental degradation, demographics, and the inevitable slowing of economic growth now that the low-hanging fruit has all been picked. As best I can judge, however, the ChiComs are good for another decade at least. They might even make it to the ChiCom centenary in 2049, although personally I'd bet a modest amount of money against that.

Tucker Carlson occasionally has Gordon Chang on his show as a guest, introducing him as the author of a book titled The Coming Collapse of China.

That always gets a smile out of me. I reviewed that book when it came out … back in August of 2001.

As horrible as it is for people who can think independently, though, oriental despotism has some advantages over free, open societies. In the age of Big Data, it may have some new advantages it never had before.

In the Asia Times, David Goldman is claiming that the Chinese are beating the virus with their all-encompassing electronic surveillance: Covid-19: Focus on what China did right, not wrong | Beijing stopped the epidemic by combining conventional measures with the application of digital technology, by David P. Goldman, April 3, 2020

The level of population surveillance the ChiComs are aiming for might very well prevent future pandemics. Personally, as a lover of liberty, I'd rather take my chances with the viruses.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

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