"It is much better to be feared than loved", we read in an apostrophe of the Prince by Machiavelli. Thus, fear ensures obedience. The conscious assignment of rights living space in the name of threat brought forward by freedom. If people are afraid, then even external compulsion is not that indispensable.
The emotion has been entrenched to such an extent that the role of prosecuting authorities for compliance becomes secondary. It is up to us to call the shots for ourselves. It has already been done. Isn't this the success of all states that managed to implement restrictive measures for the fight against health crisis in a timely and effective manner? States with a weak tradition of public confidence in governments, but also with a weak public health system - in the Balkans, Central Europe and Greece primarily - have managed to reduce losses in a miraculous way to this day, as (among other things) people have complied with the instructions, because of the fear of survival they felt. Thus, rules became an experience in people.
Fear is double-edged, though. As long as communities feel afraid, they accept restrictions. Besides, there is a distinction between rights violation and restrictions. Society, however, must move on to the next day by also fighting fear; and this day has already come. The convenient feeling for the authorities in the time of confinement becomes, therefore, an obstacle to the transition; especially when it has been developed in a necessary, masterful, and successful manner. Isn't that what we are facing with the debate about the opening of schools today? How will we fight fear without becoming unforgivable towards dangers? How will we navigate ourselves in the risk? This raises other types of dilemmas, both at the health, and institutional, as well as political level. How will this society- that having listened the danger retreated into itself- walk again in its opening? How will it be persuaded to take the step to relinquish the cruel privilege of confinement which was meant to be the convictions guarantee for its salvation?
"Blood, toil, tears and sweat"?
This is the case during this time when things are moving almost in the dark and out of control: The community prepares itself to break out of the siege. Which breakout can be bloodless, though? Who can guarantee that? Which government of the modern world, including Greece, could possibly promise what Winston Churchill promised in his historic speech to the British Parliament when he became Prime Minister, sending his country to World War II, at the time when the German divisions devastated Western Europe eighty years ago? (13/5/1940): "I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears and sweat".
How will we act? Will we consider a new public health system as a permanent mechanism for national security the same way we consider defence equipment in the event of war? Will we use the time we gained to shield our society against pandemic, or will we waste it with foolishness and obsession against anything public?
Will the EU be able to enter into a new agreement, a new New Deal that will not be based on rescue programs and burdensome memoranda that will skyrocket public debt to even more exceptional levels? How do we get back to normal governance where decisions are not just announced at six in the afternoon, but are made after consultation and participation, as appropriate to a truly democratic state? These are some of the existential questions we owe an answer to. In order to be able to take a step forward while being aware of ambiguity and uncertainty, we must be possessed by a more comprehensive feeling than threat. In order to be able to sustain trust in this road of absolute uncertainty, we as "people and members of society as a whole," according to our Constitution, must understand that the redesign of public policies will be based on forgotten principles of governance in the context of neoliberal capitalism: social justice, equality, solidarity. Otherwise, freedom will become synonymous with the selfishness of insecure people. And the next day will bring to light images of Revelation due to social suffering, and Leviathan panopticon states, just as Hobbes had predicted.
Navigating the risk
Lockdown was a solution. Cruel, indeed, but tested for centuries upon centuries during periods of pandemics. Nevertheless, if things do not go off the rails in terms of health in the near future, what will be remembered mainly is the social reaction caused by Covid 19, rather than the virus itself.
And this happens because humans of today seem to be more concerned about their and other people’s lives than in the early 20th century. In fact, this happens indiscriminately: from China to Europe and (despite the embarrassing moments the people had to endure because of the American President) in the United States.
There is a peculiarity in the reaction of humanity to the health crisis caused by Covid 19 in relation to previous pandemics that wreaked havoc. Human life mattered more than in the past. Today, world capitalism is willing to risk much more than ever before, destroying vital labour and productive forces for itself. And yet it does so. If we put conspiracy theories aside - that the alleged bad were inspired by the coronavirus in order to complete the establishing plan of a panopticon state and violate our rights- then we will realize the total magnitude of health and social danger we are obliged to navigate through the next day.
Nonetheless, the fact that we do not succumb to conspiracy theories does not mean that we are reassured about our rights. This is because the crisis is always an opportunity. In a country whose name has internationally become synonymous with "crisis", we have heard this phrase many times in recent years. But is it an opportunity for change or acceleration of history? This seems to me to be the case of our times in terms of security, rule of law and democracy.
The crisis as an opportunity to rethink security
Let’s reverse the concept a little bit: the health crisis is therefore an opportunity to rethink the concept of security. Even the Greek Prime Minister acknowledged self-critically, to his credit, that he was not aware of the content of health security: “When I was talking about security, I had another dimension of security in mind. I never imagined health security, which obviously should be self-evident, although it is not always a given”. But how can he have such awareness when his entire political agenda has been built on security solely on the basis of police or military dimension?
Of course, there is nothing particularly Greek about it. In the name of war against terror and restriction of population movements, an one-dimensional security has been internationally established the last thirty years; the one that finds its expression in repression, deterrence and control. The one that was so high in the agenda of most European governments. On the other hand, security as a social care- which in the aftermath of World War II breathed life into the plan of European reconstruction, or a few years back into the US New Deal- has been consigned to the dustbin of history in the vocabulary of neoliberal capitalism.
The crisis is an opportunity to change the correlation for the benefit of security- care rather than security- army. Nothing is predetermined in this fight, but at the moment there is a historical turning point so that public health and primary care will be shielded as permanent and lasting mechanisms for community protection, without forcing us to rush around at the very last moment. And since the term "war" was used - inappropriately and abusively - in the case of coronavirus, let's give an illustration: States do not run frantically to find weapons when hostilities begin; on the contrary they go prepared. States do not run at the time a fire breaks out in order to find fire-extinguishing mediums. They have them on stand-by. The above mentioned seem obvious. It's time to think the obvious about the pandemic too.
This time, though, that the crisis is an opportunity for appropriate public policies aiming at health security is also a great moment of insecurity due to the unprecedented accumulation of uncertainty about where we are headed. The confession of this uncertainty by the experts themselves is a sign of honesty and integrity, but of course it does not make life easier either for communities or for governments that are called upon to make decisions.
Therefore, no matter how much we shield security with the social qualities it deserves, one thing is certain: the next day, the one we will exit from the lockdown siege, is full of uncertainty. The capital uncertainties through which our communities are called upon to navigate, give rise to the annulment of a fundamental principle of the rule of law, that is legal security, our ability to know what will happen to us if we comply or violate the rules. The rule of law will suffer because the rules to be enacted will only be able to approximately foresee the regulated situations. Therefore, nothing can prejudge the ability that allows people to make provisions.
Since the rule of law will inevitably suffer, let's safeguard democracy at least.
The insecurity of law. Well, it's a given that it will crush us. It has already cancelled long-term living plans, and along with them, the rule of law withers away. That is, the regulative state; the state which enacts by making provisions. The rule of law will suffer the next day, as incertitude is to such a great extent that it is impossible to expect precise regulatory guidelines. By that fact alone, we must do everything possible as a state to ensure that the measures taken are legal, necessary and proportionate and that they do not discriminate, by being aware at the same time that we continue on this road totally blindly and surely exposed to severe adversities. We face such adversities in calm times, isn’t it expected to confront them during the turmoil?
Just because it is a given that the regulative state will be violated, let’s turn our attention to the safeguarding of democracy: to fight so that the adversities on this blind path are at least our own. In other words, to be the expression of our will which is reflected through representative bodies, through collectives and civil society groups, through social movements of many kinds of collectives which show that society has its eyes open by remaining vigilant for its future. Social media are not enough for democracy...
In the condition that we know that the rule of law will suffer severely, we have a double duty to shield our self-determination in conditions of equality and solidarity. The members of a community are not citizens just when they are called upon to express their preference in elections. They are citizens when they claim a functioning Parliament; when they claim fewer decree-laws and more laws; when they claim control of the executive branch; accountability, participation, consultation, and transparency. When they claim the right of criticism, and pluralism in the media.
That is, when they claim the real ownership of the policies to come. Especially when these are going to be painful. The only remedy against this pain is democracy and social justice.
This article is part of the DOSSIER "FOCUS: COVID-19 - Political Debates on the Pandemic with a European Focus"