Center for Global Humanities Lecture/Seminar Series

Viral Times: Health Libertarianism in the Age of Covid

6:00 pm - 7:15 pm
Portland Campus (WCHP Lecture Hall in Parker Pavilion )
Sara Rushing
Free and open to the public. There will be a reception at 5 P.M. in the Art Gallery.

The vulnerability of bodies and the public nature of health and healthcare are on unique display and have heightened significance today, given our viral times. The term “viral times” captures both the COVID-19 event we have just lived through, as well as the social media landscape we have inherited over the past 25 years, where information proliferates and “goes viral” at an unprecedented pace and in ways that are detrimental to the health of the body politic. In this talk, Professor Rushing will bring together the acuteness of this moment with political and medical trends that have been present for much of American history, in order to explore the concept of “health libertarianism.”

If libertarianism is, broadly, an anti-government ideology that defines freedom as being left alone to decide for and care for oneself, or to “manage one’s own affairs as one sees fit,” health libertarianism applies this ethos to bodies and to public health. This thread of “medical freedom” activism is particularly robust in the speaker’s home state of Montana, where libertarianism has a strong history and deep cultural roots. But similar versions of libertarian ideology are increasingly widespread. What are the implications of this political and medical orientation at moments of particular public health threat? How might we think about the appropriate balance between being a skeptical, informed, and autonomous patient (and citizen), and cultivating trust in the medical establishment and respect for public health initiatives?


Sara Rushing is a professor of political science at Montana State University, specializing in political theory, including democratic theory and feminist theories of embodiment. Her recent book, The Virtues of Vulnerability: Humility, Autonomy, and Citizen-Subjectivity, explores how our experiences as patients within modern healthcare can inform our sense of ourselves as citizens, able (or not) to navigate complex power/knowledge dynamics within and beyond mainstream medicine. In The Virtues of Vulnerability, Rushing focused on giving birth, managing death and dying, and veterans with PTSD seeking care within the VA mental health complex. Her current research explores the concept of “health libertarianism,” particularly as “medical freedom” movements have grown increasingly robust in the wake of COVID and its associated mask/vaccine battles.

Suggested Reading

Rushing, Sara. The Virtues of Vulnerability: Humility, Autonomy, and Citizen-Subjectivity. Oxford University Press, 2021.


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