I want to put a text before you, from February 2020, the ideological landscape into which the coronavirus first arrived. It’s a review in The London Review of Books, a fine highbrow left-of-center publication, covering a book about plague and quarantine in 17th-century Italy. The book, by the University of London historian, John Henderson, details the attempts by the city of Florence — led by its public health board, the Sanità — to avoid the awful fate of other Italian cities: first by closing the city to commerce and then by imposing quarantines, lockdowns and what we now call social distancing.

The sympathies of the reviewer — Erin Maglaque, another historian of early modern Europe — are not exactly with the Sanità. Like our federal government in 2020, the Florentine state spent lavishly to make its restrictions sustainable, delivering wine and bread and meat to households (“On Tuesdays, they got a sausage seasoned…

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