Richard Smith: The faults and dangers of an iatrocracy, The BMJ Opinion, August 11, 2020
The first thing that struck Bernard-Henri Lévy, arguably France’s leading public intellectual, about the covid-19 pandemic was the rise of “medical power.” In his short, enjoyable, and provocative book The Virus in the Age of Madness he explains why such power is both undeserved and dangerous.
Now aged 71, Lévy is one of the Nouveaux Philosophes inspired by among others Michel Foucault, and he reminds us that Foucault observed that governments have learnt as much from the hospital as the prison. In The Birth of the Clinic Foucault described the management of outbreaks of plague in the 18th century: in Lévy’s words, “exile to an island or a ghetto on the outskirts of the city, as was the practice with lepers and the insane, gave way to confinement of entire cities, where all citizens were under house arrest and neighborhood watch patrols wrote up holdouts. Once night fell, everyone was out on their balcony, not to applaud the caregivers but to enable the sanitary authorities to tally up the dead, the dying, and the living.”
“But,” observes Lévy, “until now, never had things gone quite this far.” He emphasises the uniqueness of how we have responded to this latest in a long line of pandemics, including to the “Hong Kong Flu” of 1968 that killed a million people. “Never had we seen, as we did in Europe, heads of state surrounding themselves with scientific councils before daring to speak.”
With thanks to Federico Soldani for this link