The Tragical History of Dr. Fauci
The outgoing NIAID director had a point when he claimed to represent Science itself. Good riddance.
“Till swoln with cunning, of a self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And, melting, heavens conspir’d his overthrow;
For, falling to a devilish exercise,
And glutted now with learning’s golden gifts,
He surfeits upon cursed necromancy;
Nothing so sweet as magic is to him,
Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss:
And this the man that in his study sits.”
—Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus
Last week it was farewell to Liz. This week it’s Tony. So long to those who would deny the American people their self-government.
Dr. Anthony Fauci announced his retirement Monday. He told Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times he will “pursue the next chapter” of his career in December. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is 81, and has been in his post for 38 years. Fauci is a tragic figure, for his career represents in an individual the final collapse of American republicanism and the basic idea of common sense upon which it was built.
He is hardly to blame for any of what you might find objectionable in his actions as a public employee, anymore than a pitbull can be blamed for biting a child. Fauci is a creature of mid-century Scientism and the administrative state, and could not help being himself, whether during AIDS or Covid. There is no reason to pathologize him or psychologize him; we need not make appeal to his diminutive stature or well-noted love of press attention to explain his decisions and arrogance. He is a bureaucrat, and by all accounts a good one; that is more than enough.
Thus to make any examination of Fauci is to see the logic of these structures at work. Indeed, the man was more correct than many on the right understood when he claimed, “You are really attacking not only Dr. Anthony Fauci, you are attacking science.” Science as institutionalized in entities like the NIH and NIAID is as much a self-licking ice cream cone as the military industrial complex. In such an environment “science,” as represented by men like Fauci, exists now less for the relief of man’s estate than for the self-perpetuation of those people and organizations who can lay claim to its authority.
The consequences of this cult of Scientism were perhaps never seen so starkly as in the case of Covid-19. It is difficult to recall the twists and turns of the early official responses to the pandemic, so many new normals stand between us now and then. But in the disease’s likely origins in a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology we find the irresponsible self-dealing of institutionalized science at its worst. Gain-of-function research is the intersection of enormous theoretical benefit—understanding a disease, and therefore how to treat it, before it emerges in a population—with enormous practical risk: actually making a new and deadlier disease that can escape the confines of a lab. But that theoretical benefit has made it perfect for the grant mill, an easy project to propose, fund, and publish on.
The NIH under the Obama administration ended federal funding of such research, because the risk isn’t worth it. Fauci and others worked for the reversal of that moratorium in 2017, to the glee of minor Covid villains like EcoHealth Alliance president Peter Daszak. In Congressional hearings, you should recall, Fauci clashed with Sen. Rand Paul, himself a doctor, a “man of science,” over the propriety of this reversal, and whether U.S. scientific institutions like the NIH bore any responsibility for possible consequences of funding virologist Ralph Baric, who partnered with Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology to perform gain-of-function experiments.
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Add to all this the role the CDC, OSHA, and the like played, with Fauci as the face of official health policy, in governing American life from 2020 up to the present. The cost not just in economic terms, but to human development and flourishing, especially that of children uprooted from normal community life by masks and remote schooling, is incalculable. Now of course the CDC has relaxed its Covid guidelines, belatedly acknowledging the place of personal judgment in making health decisions—and the significance of the fact that the widely mandated vaccines do not prevent the disease or halt its spread at all but only lessen the severity of infection. Director Rochelle Walensky has admitted that in its “big moment” the organization “did not reliably meet expectations.” But there is nothing in her plan for the institution to become “more nimble” that suggests a rethinking of fundamentals; the regrets are only about execution, the proverbial arrangement of deckchairs.
The final end of such thinking and such institutions is the total rationalization of life. I do not say human life, for in pursuit of general rationality the distinction between human and not human is blurred along with that between public and private, such that politics is displaced as one more sphere of management, more troublesome than most. So it is that the conflict between President Donald Trump and Fauci became not politics—the executive representing the American people to their public employee—but politicization. This is in the administrative mind an insertion, a usurpation of expert power by the rival power of popular consent. If all is matter not of chance and prudence, but of science, then why should not the scientists rule?
Goodbye, Fauci. My guess is Senator Paul will have questions for you even in retirement.