We’re all worried about older people right now. But I’m worried about the young too. I fear they lack the social nous and moral muscle to deal with a crisis as profound as the Covid-19 pandemic. I fear that the cult of fragility is so widespread among the youth that some will struggle to rise to the occasion of facing down this wolf at the door of our society.
Our first priority must be the elderly, of course. We know Covid-19 is more dangerous for them than it is for other age groups. (Though I wish the media would stop giving the impression that every old person who catches it dies. That isn’t the case. To spread fear among the old is its own kind of disease, causing moral and mental harm to people who often feel isolated enough as it is.)
But in order to protect the elderly through these dark days — dark months, in fact — we need strong social networks. We need real social solidarity. And as John Stuart Mill understood so well, a strong society springs from strong-willed individuals. Society needs ‘strong natures’, he said, because the ‘same strong susceptibilities which make the personal impulses vivid and powerful are also the source from whence are generated the most passionate love of virtue’.
This is one of the most serious problems we face in the 21st century: a shortage of ‘strong natures’.