Covid 19: 2021: virus and crisis of the neoliberal era | Ideas

Diego Me

What a year. It started with welcoming Biden and says goodbye to Merkel with the scent of the end of the era. These two tectonic movements, together with the crazy events on the Capitol, foreshadow the entry into the new year, but also in the long-awaited new paradigm that leaves austerity behind, although it does not completely abandon the strong men, who still cling to power. and they strive to strengthen their dominion. The hottest moment will be in Brazil, in October: a victory by Bolsonaro over Lula would give wings to the Trump international and we would contemplate the death of a democracy directly. But let’s go back to the assault by that unhinged mob on the symbol of American democracy, a grotesque event that left the question about democracy itself in the air and brought us to the vertigo of the disintegration of the very idea of ​​the West. We are no longer the decisive actor in world events. We still navigate between the rickety memories of that 1989 that heralded our advent and that today we look between confused and melancholic. Because without democracy there is no West, and the West looks less and less like the West itself.

In January, with Philomena By freezing the flight of birds, the mutiny of nature forcibly confirmed our change of thought. The virus has changed everything and we are a bit stateless, with nowhere to return. Antonio Muñoz Molina said it: “This is not the world of before, which has returned.” But we are leaving the populist decade behind, and yet the threat of strong men still vibrates. Good thing Biden’s victory allowed us to think that something new was happening. The same virus that shook the world and killed more than two million people in less than a year, the one that closed schools, collapsed hospitals and plunged us onto balconies, made it possible for Europe to begin to reimagine our political community from interdependence . But Europe only advances fueled by fear. Protecting Europe is also fortress Europe. The proposal to centralize the Union’s external borders to stop omicron is also the metaphorical Wall of John Lanchester’s novel, a levee against immigration, willfully blind to that enormous humanitarian scar, “so fearless, so ruthless, so relentless”. Europe is closed and protected from the inside, an opportunity for the new social democracy, which should nevertheless avoid the temptation of a new chauvinism.

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Angela Merkel and Joe Biden walk to the White House press conference (in Washington, DC) in July 2021.
Angela Merkel and Joe Biden walk to the White House press conference (in Washington, DC) in July 2021.Guido Bergmann (Federal Government via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the most serious economic recession since World War II has been answered with a historic Recovery Fund backed by a debt of 750,000 million, perhaps the first step on the way to the fiscal union of the European club. Biden also opted for an expansive approach to economic policy, deploying an ambitious sequence of programs such as the Rescue Plan, Jobs and Families. Everything heralded the return of the protective leviathan-state, the end of an era marked by the stubborn and self-serving reluctance to defend the public. But the White House tenant has a difficult time: the obstacles facing his progressive politics, including friendly fire, could confirm the worst omens in the November midterm elections. If the Republican Party, hostage to Trumpism, advances, its room for maneuver will be drastically reduced and the reactionary shock wave will reach Europe.

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With Merkel’s departure, an ambivalent legacy is closed. The American and the German are figures from another era, so classic that they seem contemporary to us. He embodies the new beginning, and in it resounds the soundtrack of a time marked by fury, the age of the wrath of Pankaj Mishra, that of “the entirely expendable” of a society where economic growth “enriched only a minority. and democracy seemed like a game tricked by the powerful ”. The first 21 years of the century leave us with Merkel as the epitome of the rigid austerity with which she handled the 2008 financial crisis and the responsibility never admitted in the Greek collapse, and a moralistic discourse that stigmatized the countries of the South for their “wastefulness. ”, Praising himself for the German savings. Those national prejudices, revamped with economic arguments, turned his moralistic vision into orthodoxy that ended up imposing an erratic and unjust ordoliberalism that opened the populist decade.

A protester holds a banner at a protest in defense of public health in December 2021.
A protester holds a banner at a protest in defense of public health in December 2021.Atilano Garcia (SOPA Images / LightRocket via Gett)

Our learning, also ambivalent, is the politics of today: 10 years separate two crises of a different nature and answered in a radically opposite way. The finance company deepened the gaps already opened by globalization, the prolongation of Thatcher’s “There’s no alternative” or the inability to imagine alternatives, as Tony Judt would say. We were before the “monoeconomics” of Albert Hirschman, who was flying through the air on said Marxist: labor would not emancipate itself from capital, quite the contrary. The financial crisis, caused by man, ended up blaming the State for the contradictions of the fierce speculative capitalism that generated it. The pandemic, on the contrary, is the result of the revolt of nature and has forced the advent of the new climate regime: far from insulting the State, it has ended up giving it prestige. The result is the new paradigm, which replaces the Washington consensus and strengthens social democracy, a priori who could best contain and fit the values ​​of a post-pandemic time.

But make no mistake, the new European social democracy of Olaf Scholz drinks a lot from the ineptitude and the abysmal ideological and programmatic hole in which conservatism is stuck. Merkel has been very lonely for the last 15 years, and it has been she and her particular way of doing, for better and for worse, that have managed all the crises, from the annexation of Crimea to the drama of the Mediterranean and, finally, the pandemic. His departure, however, may cause radicalism to take hold, as Merz’s election would seem to confirm, and a part of European conservatism to choose between the Hungarian turn or the strange sovereign neoliberalism of Boris Johnson. The challenge for the European progressive family will be to hegemonize the change initiated by the COVID, which, according to the optimist (historian) Adam Tooze, has finally broken the long neoliberal era. The new cycle could be exploited by the social democracy if it managed to shape the future, consolidating and turning the Next Generation EU, for now temporary, into the embryo of a European fiscal policy.

A health worker administers the first dose of the covid-19 vaccine to a girl in Castilla-La Mancha, in December 2021.
A health worker administers the first dose of the covid-19 vaccine to a girl in Castilla-La Mancha, in December 2021.Pablo Blazquez Dominguez (Getty Images)

The risk is that this intellectual and political vacuum persists, also academic, unable to address and name the causes of the new social fragmentation and to understand how they are transferred to our political systems. We see it in the France of non-representation and yellow vests, but also in the strange confusion of those who call themselves “insubordinate” and follow Mélenchon, a champion of the establishment; and also in the extreme racist right of Le Pen and Zemmour, in the harshness of the liberal Pécresse, in the classic socialist desnorte, in the thriving Greens or in a Macron who juggles with Europe under the Elysee Palace syndrome, activating the dangerous game of identifying French interests with the interests of the Union. The contenders are in position and can lead to any combination in the April elections. It is the result of a multiple and divided nation that no longer fits the old Jacobin republicanism. The territorial division is also the division of lifestyles, and the gap also affects that graduated France that looks with disdain on those who have no education. At least we already know that these failures are identified by looking at our emotions, at all the fears that condensed Submission, by Houellebecq. Still today, however, we see the antagonism between proud Paris and the invisible peripheries, the stubborn undermining of social cohesion, the perennial class barriers, now traversed by up-to-date forms of contempt.

Populism exploited new social divisions while liberalism reacted as a trench ideology. His inability to channel the wounds he made up for by bragging against the threat of charlatans and autocrats. The “soporific simplicities” of the lounge liberals about democracy, its enemies and the free world, we read in the incisive Mishra, led them to experience the world as a permanent accumulation of catastrophes. And meanwhile, progressivism speaks of the “popular classes” as if we could still designate a new and unique subject of emancipation, unwittingly recognizing their inability to understand what is happening. There is a strange myopia in judging movements like #MeToo or Black Lives Matter as “identity politics” as they travel the globe, including China. A new form of protest is here to stay, says Philipp Blom, but we dedicate ourselves to looking back “to project identities and commercialize with nostalgia.”

A protester waves the national flag inside the Capitol after the storming of the building on January 6, 2021.
A protester waves the national flag inside the Capitol after the storming of the building on January 6, 2021.Miguel Juarez Lugo (DPA via Europa Press)

But when we link the perception of what happens to us to a feeling of irreplaceability, melancholy makes its way. It happened with the surreal assault on the Capitol, but also in the chaos of Afghanistan and the unreality of its rapid fall. Because there is a new international order, with a strong Russia teaching us what “hybrid” war means and an India that could be China’s counterweight. And in the midst of this, a master of cynicism like Tony Blair (who spoke of values ​​when he wanted to say power) lashes out at Biden’s “idiot” decision to leave Afghanistan … How can we expect the world to resemble the West if it has stopped acting as a block? We see the rupture between the Anglo-Saxon and the continental worlds daily in the disputes between Johnson and Macron and the dangerous game of Biden, taking France out of the Aukus. These are the pieces that are on the board, accompanied by the voices that say they want to preserve a form of political organization, nurtured with rights like no other, which undoubtedly deserves to be defended. But to do this you have to look at the world head-on and, in the words of John Gray, rehearse, again, a certain sense of reality.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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