Eoin Higgins's essay at The Atlantic--unfortunately titled "Not Getting Vaccinated to Own Your Fellow Libs"*--about liberals who are vaccine hesitant [pay walled, probably] raises some real concerns. But seems clueless about some of the stakes.
Speaking of the liberal, but vaccine hesitant, Higgins asks [bold added by me],
Do they remain on the left, even as the politics around the conspiracy theories they embrace lead them out of their ideological comfort zones? Or do they dispense with progressivism in favor of a view of the world that holds that public health is subordinate to personal choice?
Well....if we live in a polity that respects individual rights, then we need to recognize that there is always a tension between public health and personal choice. I also think we need to recognize that sometimes personal choice does indeed trump public health, at least sometimes.
Look: I'm in favor of covid vaccines (and other vaccines). I'm also in favor of government imposed mandates to require people to get those vaccines. But to say, as Higgins seems to, that one cannot be liberal without sometimes questioning whether public health should override personal choice is part of the problem.
I'm using "liberal" where Higgins uses "progressive." If Higgins is likening the current Democratic party coalition to the (subset of) people who were called "progressives" in the early 20th century, then I confess that he's onto something. As a historian, I'm skeptical there was really such a thing as the "progressive movement" in the early 1900s U.S., but there were a number of people who have since been called "progressives" who showed almost no respect for individual rights when it came to public health concerns. Recall Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s statement from Buck v. Bell: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
I don't think that's what Higgins intends. Or I hope he doesn't intend it. A more charitable reading is that he's using loaded terminology and unfortunate turns of phrase to critique non-conservative vaccine hesitancy. But he shouldn't be surprised if non-members of the choir don't listen to the sermon.
*I'm critical of that title. The liberals whom Higgins discusses don't seem to intend to "own" liberals the way that non-liberals do. In fact one of his arguments is that those liberals don't see any contradiction and are somehow ignorant that non-liberals are also vaccine hesitant. I strongly suspect Higgins is either misinterpreting his interviewees' lack of public awareness, or is way over-emphasizing the point. But as far as the title goes: I understand authors don't necessarily get to choose the titles that magazines assign to their articles. So we can give Higgins a pass on that.