An Example of Bottomless Ignorance in Walworth County

Some residents of Walworth County, Wisconsin object to public health measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. So hysterical is their opposition that one reads Opponents say county’s coronavirus safeguards are ‘like Russia’:

Confronted by a raucous crowd of opponents fearing government intrusion, Walworth County Board members have backed away from a measure outlining public safeguards against the coronavirus.

County officials said the proposal would have reinforced state law granting county government the authority to quarantine people afflicted with communicable diseases.

But opponents shouting and heckling during a June 9 county board meeting accused officials of moving to undermine individual constitutional freedoms with the public health initiative.

“This seems like something that would happen in Russia — not here,” said Madison Elmer, an opponent from the town of Walworth.

The ordinance recommended by county staff would authorize health workers to quarantine people infected with a communicable disease, involuntarily if necessary.

The measure authorized staff to destroy a person’s furniture or clothing to avoid spreading disease. In addition, it permitted “quarantine guards” to keep infected people isolated, with fines of up to $500 for violations.

County officials said Wisconsin state law already allows counties to take all such actions, if needed, to protect public health in the event of a communicable disease outbreak like the coronavirus.

There are, truly, significant powers to act under Wisconsin law: see Wis. Stat. § 252 (Communicable Diseases). They are, as the chapter makes plain, to be used only during the spread of a communicable disease.

In this way, it is false and ignorant to compare public health measures to conditions “in Russia.” To be libertarian – as I am – requires that someone assess accurately the threats to liberty. Provisional and limited health measures would not render Walworth County like Russia, either under Putin or as it was under the Soviets.

Madison Elmer, who sadly may pass as the most learned man in the Village of Walworth, could use a bit of reading between ignorant claims at disrupted public meetings.

If he cannot read accounts of Soviet and recent oppression in Russia in the native language of that country, he might consider three English language accounts of oppression there. Of recent authoritarianism, I would recommend Masha Gessen’s Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin and Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Of Soviet history – millions of murders having been committed under the Soviets – Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine comes to mind.

These accounts should be sufficient to disabuse even foolish people from frivolous comparisons to Russian history.

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