The decision not to get vaccinated against coronavirus is a personal one, a matter of individual freedom. But the fact that not everyone sees it this way shows the extent to which the pandemic has politicized the private sphere.
BERLIN — I don't know about you, but for the libertarian in me, at least, the past few weeks in Germany have been very difficult. Although I have long since reconciled myself to the idea that we need a certain measure of law, order and solidarity to enable us to live together in society, I strongly believe that we should keep state intervention in the lives of citizens to a minimum.
The public furore surrounding the decision of German international soccer Joshua Kimmich not to get vaccinated is simply inexcusable. A person's body belongs to no one other than them. This is a red line that should not be crossed. As Jesus said, noli me tangere — touch me not.
The media attack on Kimmich's choice
But it's disturbing to see that people hardly agree. A quick look through the news coverage over the past few days left me shuddering. "The overheated vaccine debate is not about opinions, rights or individual freedom. It's about taking a stance," argued Anders Indset in a piece in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Everything about that is wrong.
Rejecting the idea of individual freedom when it comes to vaccines is simply inexcusable; nothing is more personal than a physical intervention. Using morality as a stick to beat someone with, a way of delegitimizing the decisions of responsible adults and demonizing them, is unacceptable. It seems that Germany only values diversity when it's a question of gender or skin color. But diversity of opinion, which leads to people making different decisions? Unimaginable.
Forced solidarity has no value.
Deutschlandfunk adopted a similar tone, with journalist Maximilian Rieger writing in a comment piece that "Joshua Kimmich has said that he has not yet been vaccinated because he is concerned about long-term side effects. He has every right to make that decision. But instead of setting an example of solidarity for young people, he has chosen to ally himself with the science deniers." The word "solidarity" doesn't quite ring true here.
Both writers claim they want society to come together, but instead they are sowing seeds of discord. How could Kimmich stand in solidarity with a society that wants to force him to do something against his will? How spineless would that make him? And what exactly would be morally right about that?
Joshua Kimmich has been criticized for his decision not to get vaccinated
The private has been politicized
Forced solidarity has no value. It is tolerance that holds a society together. That is clear from the work of the great liberal philosopher Friedrich August von Hayek (an Austrian, if you'll allow me a touch of national pride). We could do with a little more of his kind of thinking today.
The tragedy is that — as dramatic as it may sound — Kimmich's case stands for something much larger. Just think about it for a moment: an entire country is discussing whether a soccer player is vaccinated or not. In an interview, the head of the ethics committee has expressed concern, and a government spokesperson has made it known that they hope the sportsman will soon agree to be vaccinated.
It's clear that the pandemic has politicized the private lives of German citizens — and Kimmich is a German citizen, regardless of his status as a soccer star — to such an extent that we no longer find this debate surprising. But the private is not political. The private is private — that's why we have a different word for it.
Citizens can only be truly free if these highly personal choices are left up to them to decide.
Anyone who disagrees is turning a blind eye to what this creeping politicization of the private sphere reveals: a desire, on the part of the government and certain swathes of society, to interfere in citizens' private lives. This desire has no place in a liberal democracy. If it is to become the new normal, count me out. This paternalism makes me sick.
The meaning of true freedom
This debate reminded me of a recent development in my homeland of Austria, where responsible citizens have won a victory over the nanny state. After the country's constitutional court agreed to lift the ban on assisted suicide from 2022, the government has now set out new legal regulations on euthanasia.
Germany, however, is still waiting for the law on assisted suicide to change. The constitutional court in Germany also overturned the ban on assisted suicide in 2020, but thus far no new regulations have been introduced. That will be in the hands of the new government when it's formed. But even without a legal framework, the ruling means that doctors and euthanasia organizations can once again offer assistance to those who wish to die — and that is a good thing. Anyone who makes an informed, free choice to end their life shouldn't be at the mercy of the state.
Citizens can only be truly free if these highly personal choices are left up to them to decide. My body, my choice — that doesn't only apply to abortion (this dark chapter in the history of criminal law is a matter for another time) and the right to die, but also to vaccinations.