Masks, Culture Wars, and Public Health Expertise: Confessions of a Mask 'Expert'

28 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2020

See all articles by Robert Kahn

Robert Kahn

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Date Written: 2020


The arrival of COVID-19 has seen a sea change in how we view masks. As the author of an encyclopedia entry and law review article on anti-mask laws I know this well. Over the past three months, reporters have been asking me about masks, the reluctance of Americans to wear them and the Red vs. Blue culture wars. This paper outlines my experiences and thoughts. After briefly describing the volte face in attitudes towards masks, I take up the argument that, in the coronavirus context, the mask is not a symbol but merely a tool to fight the virus. Then I look at masks and the culture wars, focusing particularly on the argument masking is less common in red states for political reasons. Finally, I look at how to create a culture of masking. Here I look at how public health officials have at times undercut their position by relying too heavily on law enforcement solutions to masking and treating questions, such as whether to protest, as a medical issue rather than a political one. I conclude with plea to treat mask wears as persons, rather than targets of law enforcement, or subjects of medical study.

Keywords: Masks, freedom, culture wars, public health expertise, coronavirus

Suggested Citation

Kahn, Robert, Masks, Culture Wars, and Public Health Expertise: Confessions of a Mask 'Expert' (2020). University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Forthcoming, U of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Legal Studies Research Paper No. 20-08, Available at SSRN:

Robert Kahn (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

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