Stephen Ware: Debate on masks, freedom


Can libertarians accept a mask mandate?

This op-ed by Kansas University Law Professor and noted libertarian Stephen Ware shows how libertarians can tolerate, if not embrace, a government mandate to wear masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19. It is free to read in the Topeka Capital-Journal here.

Here is an excerpt that I believe presents the heart of the reasoning:

In that sense, a mask requirement is less like a seatbelt law designed to protect the wearer and more like a law against driving under the influence of alcohol. Many deaths have been caused by drunken drivers who did not intend to harm anyone, and many of those drivers likely did not even realize they were dangerous.

Similarly, science may be discovering that many of us endanger those around us even when we do not realize we are dangerous because we are not yet experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, although we have been infected and are contagious.

COVID-19 raises the possibility that each of us is, without knowing it, like the dangerously intoxicated person getting into the drivers’ seat.

Protecting others, not yourself, is the main reason for masking. Although, protecting others has the benefit of helping tamp down the pandemic, making it less likely that you will contract the disease in the future.

We don’t praise intoxicated drivers for “bravely” creating and accepting risk to their safety while creating a substantial risk to innocent others. In the same way, those who “bravely” venture out in public unmasked should be criticized for the unnecessary risk they present to others.

Photo by Vera Davidova on Unsplash


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