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1. Globalization and pandemic: towards a world of “Greater Spaces”?
IT IS DIFFICULT to deny that the coronavirus pandemic has struck a severe blow to globalization, yet I do not believe this means a return to the old nation-states concept.
It is clear for me that globalization as we knew it is dead. The ruling elites have discovered, all of a sudden, that “offshoring” is not only an “economic” choice but that it also has political implications. Europe, which has led— even more than the USA—the economic offshoring strategy, now realizes that production of essential goods to fight the pandemic depends on foreign countries outside Europe that might undergo a crisis or even block supplies for political reasons. After this shock it is clear that “offshoring” will only take place in “allied” countries.
The management of the pandemic has shed light on the naiveté of those who claimed that “international” organisations were per se a good thing. It is time to argue that the selection process for the appointment of international bodies officials is far from being satisfactory. In sharp contrast to national authorities whose power is balanced with accountability before judges, a representative parliament and the people itself, the international officers enjoy unlimited power with near no accountability. Now the WHO is the subject of a strong debate about the supposed complicity of its ruling body with Chinese authorities.
Whatever the outcome of this debate will be, international officers are usually protected with a large immunity. This shows that the frame of international organizations needs to be reshaped to render them fully accountable.
However, I don’t think that the end of globalization will necessarily lead to a return to politics based just on a national level. Our economies can no longer be sustainable only at the national level. Let us just think about the supply of certain goods that seems nowadays essential, such as computers. I think that the ideas of Carl Schmitt on “Greater Spaces” as the new actors of International Relations are more real than ever. It seems that “Greater Spaces” ( Grossräume) will be the political form of the near future.
Spaces defined not just in geographical terms, but also in political, economic, cultural and social terms. Nowadays, outside a “Greater Space” most of the nation-states could not survive. But nation-states will gather in a space which fits their national idiosyncrasies, and not in any “Greater Space” bearing no resemblance to its basic features.
2. Review of the idea and tasks of the State This new situation will probably lead to a redefinition of the concept and tasks of the state. In my view, this may happen at various levels.
First of all, if the “State” is the “sovereign” political form, I think that the only “State” which might be qualified as “sovereign” will be that which constitutes a “Greater Space” or might lead such a “Greater Space”.
In this sense, only a few of the present States will remain fully “sovereign”: USA, Russia, China and maybe India.
I don’t think that even Germany could survive without other States. The other States either will adhere to one of these “Greater Spaces” or will have to reach a form of union adequate to face the new challenges. For instance, it will be difficult for Latin (Spanish) American States, Arab States or African States to unite. It will be less difficult, apparently, for the European States, but the many mistakes of the ruling elite in Brussels will constitute the main obstacle. Maybe there is a chance to build a West-European Union and an East-European Union if we take into account recent developments.
Secondly, I think that if the “State”, even if associated to a “Greater Space”, wants to survive, it will have to concentrate in its traditional (that is to say, original) tasks, abandoning a bulk of new tasks that place a burden on its budget and hinder the fulfilment of its very important functions. The State should no longer be the “tutor” of the people. The State should no longer be an “active” (and expensive) agent to shape a new “moral” different from the one rooted in the tradition of the people.
3. An existential crisis of the European Union We can all see that the European Union has completely failed in the face of the pandemic crisis. But will this crisis contribute to the collapse of the Union?
The European Union is one of the best examples of lack of accountability. The immunities that protect the high EU officials (Commission, European Court, European Parliament) prevent them from being accountable before the peoples and States of the Union. There have been many instances in this pandemic where the EU has proved unable to act as a Union. It is not just the question of the “corona-bonds”. It is the question about the closing of the EU borders to people and goods coming from China or other countries that were at the centre of the pandemic in the beginning.
It is a scandal that the supply of medical equipment in many countries of the EU had to come from China, because the EU did not provide a system to do it, etc. There is not even a coordinated industrial and commercial policy during this hard time. The scandalous salaries of EU officers have been shown to be extravagant considering their achievements.
The conclusion is crystal clear: the EU in its present form has failed. If it wants to survive it must be shaped in a very different way. But the leaders of the “French-German” axis did not even call for a Conference on the future of the EU. It seems they are happy with the present system. If this is the case the EU is doomed.
The situation offers an opportunity to governments who oppose Brussels policies. There will never again be an opportunity like this to do it. Even if they don’t want to leave the EU as the UK did, it is time for the dissident States (I mean specifically the so-called “ Visegrad group”) to not just resist the Brussels policies, but to present an alternative.
This crisis offers an opportunity to show that there is another way to organize the Union, that European States could implement other policies. Who cares now about the carbon dioxide? Some European countries, such as Spain, buy electricity produced in Morocco, burning carbon at the same time the EU forbids its own members to produce it. And the EU itself has no qualms about buying products from China even if they are produced with carbon-generated power. I think that the authentic Europe can only be found now in Eastern Europe.
4. The need for hierarchical economy based on reality
This crisis has demonstrated that mere economic calculus alone is the worst strategy. The economy is not a dimension that should eclipse Politics or Ethics. It is time to merge Economy with Politics and Ethics. This is the best investment in the long-term. Before it was a gamble, now it is a necessity.
The challenge is great: can we face this crisis oppressing freedom (as the Chinese “model” did) or will we be able to overcome this difficulty preserving the best of our culture and our tradition?
It is no wonder that the economy will suffer heavy losses and population welfare will be severely affected. It is time to organize politics and economy in a human way where the gap between higher and lower incomes does not reach outrageous degrees of immorality if we want all the people to face together this new challenge.
We are getting near the time where this will not be a “risky” decision but the wisest one. Any policy implemented in the near future will have to take into account the cost of the pandemic crisis.
Trade will diminish, many products and services will lose value in the marketplace not only because there will be less interest in consuming goods and hence less demand: after all what is the use of having a car if the freedom to travel is banned? A number of economic sectors will generate high rates of unemployment and there will be a need to reorganize the economic strategies to reduce poverty and unemployment. In this situation there will be no decision without costs. So it is about time to usher in a new policy based on freedom.
This situation creates a chance to return to realism and respect for a certain natural order in the economy, which today serves corporations and big players and operates with abstract indicators detached from life. This is a moment for a big choice. The arrogant “virtual” economy cannot survive the collapse of the real economy. Before the pandemic crisis our systems where subverted: the real economy was subordinated to the deliriums of the “virtual” economy. A “real” and not “virtual” problem, a biological pandemic, made this system collapse.
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There are still certain “virtual” services that provide “entertainment” to people deprived of their freedom and enclosed at their homes. How long will it last?
We will face serious problems, real problems, which cannot be solved with a “Netflix” production. This is an opportunity to organize the economy in a rational way: not every product is equally important even if is more coveted. The hierarchy of the economic must be restored if the country wants to survive. In economy, as in politics, not every issue is equally important. This is why not every political or economical or social or cultural issue is included in a Constitution, the fundamental law of a nation. The economy, if it wants to avoid a new crisis, has to be build in a rational, hierarchical way. A producer of corn should never have been considered less important than a broker of the stock market.
5. Freedom or tyranny, an inevitable choice One may wonder if we can expect a return to classical virtues, leaving the cult of freedom understood as arbitrariness and reviving civic attitudes, caring for the common good… or rather a way towards greater social control and fear management. The pandemic places our societies in front of a dramatic choice. Will it bring an end to peoples’ utter alienation or rather will it reinforce it? There are pros and cons both ways.
It will be interesting to see what the outcome will be.
Any society that wants to survive in the new pandemic, or, being optimistic, post-pandemic, era will have to learn the lesson. Freedom is the most precious quality of the human being. But this human freedom carries responsibility. We Catholics know that God created humans free which is the basis to consider the human species the greatest on earth, but this high status carries a great burden, it is up to humans to win their salvation or their condemnation. But a society that erased God deluded itself that the bad use of this freedom would incur no cost at all. The practice of goodness in the ideology of “Modernity” offered just a “psychological” reward for the individual, because there was no “postmortem” reward. It is not necessary to be a Catholic to see that an Ethics rooted in Catholicism brings about a more civilized society than an Ethics hostile to Catholicism. Maybe this is the end of “Modernity” as the process in which human thought tried to configure a society not just “deprived” of Catholicism, but rather opposed to it, especially in its Ethics.
But, on the other hand, the situation might degenerate towards greater social control and fear management. This is a real threat posed by the new situation.
The strategy of power is clear: it tries to exchange “safety” for freedom… and threatens the rebel who does not want to accept this “deal”. Of course, this is a fake deal.
However, no one can ever assure “safety” on this earth. But one of the fantasies of the modern world is to create “paradise” on earth. In the traditional world, there was a tension between a “dangerous” life on earth and the peaceful, post-mortem eternal life. The ideology of “Modernity”, which tried to tear religion from society, had to offer this “safety” that the religion offered in the post-mortem life. The more “advanced” and “modern” a society was, the more “insurances” it offered for every aspect of life. The fantasy of “safety” on this earth was at its peak when the coronavirus hit Western de-Christianized society. Instead of assuming that life on earth is “dangerous”, many are ready to sacrifice freedom, that is, the most distinctive feature of human life to obtain “safety”.
But if anyone dares to trespass prohibitions and tries to enjoy his freedom, he will have to face being reported to the police and receive punishments. The outcome will be an inhuman life.
6. Strategies of domination So-called “dystopic literature” has so far exposed two main strategies of domination: the “biological” (Aldous Huxley) and the “electronic” (George Orwell).
Many people discussed which of those dystopian societies was being or intended to be implemented. But the new pandemic offers a terrific opportunity for enhanced domination. We can expect a sharp fight on the part of the current rulers of this world to use this situation not only to preserve their status quo, but also to increase their influence and control.
What can we expect from them?
On the one side, the more people are coerced to stay isolated and physically uncommunicated, the more they are forced to connect to others through electronic, digital, that is, virtual ways. I think this isolation cannot bring anything good because man is a social being, a “physically” social being. Internet control is a real threat to freedom of debate and discussion, not to mention the eventual interference by foreign powers.
As I said, the rulers of the world need to destroy the social “physical” links to strengthen their power. The more social links are “virtual” and not “physical”, the more difficult it is to resist for free human beings and the easier for rulers to control people. The substitution of “physical” relations with “virtual” ones combined with devices allowing “geolocation” will make it hard to resist tyranny. This electronic control strategy could even be strengthened with the introduction of a “biological” pass as a tool to deprive some people of their freedom. There is real risk of a new kind of tyranny based on biology and the electronic devices: an interaction of the Huxley and Orwell nightmares (prophecies?).
7. Prospects for resistance
The reality of death, multiplied by the pandemic, provokes a shock in contrast to the virtual “aseptic” digital world.
This is not the best scenario for a laboratory-fabricated leader. The management of reality requires a real leader close to people and not just a fabricated one.
This is why the pandemic may also force a return to smaller, local communities.
This could be an opportunity for family renewal, local communities, and truly social organizations. But it is necessary to watch out. It is true that the collapse of globalization forces a return to smaller and even local, political, economic and social spaces or communities. However, there is a very serious risk that this “de-globalization” might be used by the power-holders to keep the population isolated. From the standpoint of extreme globalization, the new strategy of the power-holders could be enforcing extreme isolation using the fear of contagion to support this strategy. This I would dare to qualify as truly “satanic”.
A well-organized society certainly has strong family and local links. But if a tyranny is to be imposed in the postpandemic era, this will try to destroy any social “physical” links, even the familiar ones. Older people are being “marked” to be isolated on the grounds of their special vulnerability to the virus. Young people are likely to suffer restrictions based on “distance”. How will men and women meet each other? What are the prospects for marriage in this era of “social distancing”? What about meetings of the extended family?
The Catholic Faith is based on social, natural links and societies: marriage, family, parish (local community), diocese, motherland, and the universal Church. ALL those links and societies are based on physical relations, in the physical union of man and woman, children and parents, neighbours… It is with deep concern that the Church during this pandemic has encouraged the closing of churches and the substitution of the physical presence of the faithful at liturgical ceremonies with the electronic representation of the ceremonies. The physical body is of great importance to Catholicism. Let us not forget that the Apostle’s Creed confesses “the resurrection of the flesh” (“ carnis resurrectionem”). Let us not forget that the Church is “ ecclesia” (ἐκκλησία), that is, the “physical” assembly of the faithful. Yes, it is true that “spiritual communion” is a practice well established in Tradition, but it was not designed to “substitute” the sacramental one; it was designed to comfort the faithful when the sacramental one was impossible. The Catholic Church must raise the flag of the “physical” against that of the “virtual”. The human being, as flesh and soul, was assumed as such by Christ. The project to “virtualize” the human life reminds us of the ideology of “Trans-humanism”. But to despise the “human” is a sacrilegious act because Christ himself made the “human” divine. The Catholic Church is the ONLY structure that can stop the risk of a new set of national or continental tyrannies, but bearing in mind recent developments in the Catholic Church after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, will the Church do it?
Carlos Ruiz Miguel is a Professor of Constitutional Law and Director of the Center for Studies on the Western Sahara at the University of Santiago de Compostela