“Ce que révèle cette pandémie, c'est qu'il est des biens et des services qui doivent être placés en dehors des lois du marché. Déléguer notre alimentation, notre protection, notre capacité à soigner notre cadre de vie au fond à d'autres est une folie. Nous devons en reprendre le contrôle, construire plus encore que nous ne le faisons déjà une France, une Europe souveraine, une France et une Europe qui tiennent fermement leur destin en main.” – Emmanuel Macron in times of Corona
What our generation is experiencing the first time is history. We couldn't expect it because we were born after 1989. Since the moment of our birth, all horizons – of totality, at least – were shut down. This is the political topography in which we had to orient; the zoo in which the zoon politikon was incarcerated. Intellectuals like Camille de Toledo and Mark Fisher have written about it. Within the privatisation of political hope, there was no compass. Words like the public, democracy, revolution had a hollow ring to them. Today, revolution seems further away than ever – not the least because we all are isolated in our homes. And there is even less political orientation: even for those that base their evaluations on economic analyses. Is Corona good for capital because it kills unproductive – cost-intensive, unprofitable – classes like the elderly, or is it bad for capitalism because it interrupts globalisation? What is more neoliberal? Quitting basic civil rights by forcing people into becoming disorganised monads, often not able to sustain themselves (quarantine for the precarious); or letting a spreading virus collapse health systems that were already eroded by decade-long cuts in social welfare spending? How is it to be understood that Sweden, one of the official exemplars of the social democratic Northern countries, regresses into laissez-faire politics in times of Corona, whereas Macron – the very cliché of a neoliberal up to now – speaks out to win back control from the folly of free markets (see quote above)? Is the world not turned upside down if shops have to lock away commodities from their customers – if activating states of consumerism have to forbid to buy too much? In this situation, it is unclear how the contemporary measurements taken all over the world are to be judged. What is left to be taken for granted? Whom is one to believe about what?
We see, there is not more political orientation but less. Yet, what if precisely this is what “history” means? Everything was predictable throughout the last 30 years, from 1989 to 2019 – in a negative sense. Of course, it was clear that things do change rapidly, but the only question was: in which false direction? How too fast? Now, the present – the preliminary peak of an accumulation of crises – is opening up. In the current moment, all extremes seem possible. With China's gates being open for the market since decades, it is clear that capitalism does not equal liberal-representative, de jure (post-)democracy. Of course, with Franco's Spain, and especially with Pinochet's Chile, this should have been clear since long. Even on a plane of polity, authoritarian capitalisms are, if not the rule, at least on the increase. And was Merkel's “market-conforming democracy” ever in a principal contradiction to other political settings of capitalism? Is capitalism not precisely dependent on a multiplicity of diverging yet complementary forms of government? Whether or not, a market-conformist seems to be unlikely to embrace quarantine longer than needed. (Is this the first time to be thankful for Merkel's “Hayekism”?) On the other hand, since capitalists invest in times of crisis, crises – especially if under-politicised – bear the danger of making possible changes towards the worse. Naomi Klein's “Shock Doctrine” is a well-known analysis of that. Are times of crises not the most important switch stands in the history of capitalism? Isn't the destiny of future generations decided within the currents of creative destruction?
Again: there is hardly any chance to judge on safe ground how what happens is to be evaluated. But doesn't the opening of history reside in this fact: that facts are really unclear, for a change? That they are more or less than veiled? That perhaps, at the moment, it is not simply that they are potentially fake, this is: that they are neither falsifiable nor verifiable for citizens? (Which is the general problem of abstracted, mass-produced pseudo-publics since the inception of the spectacle, as figures as different as Debord and Habermas have shown.) Meanwhile, however, facts as such (not only their mediation) seem to have become unclear: are those in charge now really stumped themselves? This would be something rare, if not something new. Of course, there were the years 2001, 2008, 2015. Years our generation will remember and associate with certain “political” events. These dates may have unsettled some orthodox ideologues: priests that really started to believe in god, beyond the utilitarian use of their theology for the sake of power. Weirdly, these dates made them think a second time. Frank Schirrmacher was an example in times of financial crisis; Macron is in times of Corona. But 9/11 (and the following US-imperialist wars), the financial, the state and the European crisis were successive crises leaving someone else holding the baby just to finally shift the structural problem onto refugees as “their” “crisis” – an emergency solution of the political centre leveraging the extreme right into parliaments if not governments all over the Northern hemisphere. For this reason – because capitalism was never to be debated (unlike racism) – all these crises dates were just deepening the direction taken. Today, on the contrary, we no longer know in which direction we are heading. Indeed, can one still head in a direction if one has lost one's head? Can one appeal to reason if one has lost one's mind? For capitalism means to lose: head and hand, reason and emotion, culture and nature – life. Yet, this time – 2020 – it is proven (beyond fetishisation) that it is humans that are system-relevant, not banks, money, or credit. And these humans are sent into danger to keep the economy – to keep society – running. That it is humans that humans depend on hasn't changed, but that we realise it may have. In this sense at least, the future seems a bit more open. Whether like a wound or like a flower is undecided. Maybe, it is open like Pandora's box: releasing catastrophe but also hope – the most and the least cared for.
So, what now? What next? It all appears as if no longer being programmed. Hence, the first time, our generation is clueless: not due to no alternative being around – TINA, with which we were (a-)socialised – but due to a true impossibility of knowledge. For those used to TINA, this is unparalleled. Analyses stop being securitised. They almost become good or bad guesses. We don't know how to deal with this. Not that it is likely that it is us who have to decide, out of a sudden. Far from it! But the dead end's wall looks as if it has been broken through. And we don't know what lies ahead. The abyss? Another world? The dystopia of going “back to normal”? The first time, we will have to see: we cannot foresee. We have to start doing. This is the moment history is revealing itself.
Now whereto? What is happening? For sure, crisis is – we are used to it. Hence, capitalists will invest. And as always, it is capitalism or us. But for a change, we are remembered: of ourselves; of history. Whereas political danger lurks ahead more than ever, something else dawns parallel to it. What dawns are hopes. Age-old hopes for an end to the infinite progression of “progress”. Renewed hopes from the early 2000s for an end or for another globalisation. Renewed hopes for an end of multinational capitalism, taken from the years shortly after 2008. Hopes for the end of neoliberalism beyond the negative import this “end” may carry since Trump's 2017 election. In fact, history means: hopes are dawning again. Hopes for practices of subsistency, for a united humankind, for a planet-wide change in consciousness. In the so-called anthropocene, it is shown to us how nature takes a deep breath when humans are in crisis. And still, history is back: the future is open. The first time, those born after '89 can dare to imagine a world beyond apocalypse. Since “apocalypse”, in fact, is what the “end of history” denoted. Now, whatever this means: the end of history is over. Politics returns, for better or worse. At the same time, capital waits for new colonisations. The two can but don't have to – indeed must not – work together. This, at least, is the potential of the moment: the return of history, politics and nature beyond capitalism. The potential of the moment is the dawning of presence: taking into account responsibility both for the hopes of tomorrow and of yesterday. It must be stressed, however, that this should not be misunderstood as a kind of fetishisation of crisis – which the left (in its counter-factual hope for a better world) is very vulnerable to. The point simply is that a sense of a more open future is back.
For sure, opening a blog when the future opens is epistemologically hazardous. Every interpretation, today, is risky. If anything paves the way to ridicule one's ability to judge, then it's starting a blog when history begins. Yet, the intention here is not to say the truth but to talk about the necessary: change – towards the better. If the idea of a democratic public is to become of any substance beyond liberalist ideology again, then by grasping it now: even or especially with the danger of proving oneself a complete fool. When hope dawns, and when dire danger lurks ahead – when all extremes are possible –, shutting up is not a good idea. In this sense, welcome to our blog: the Broken Circle opens with some articles in times of Corona.
This essay was written by Lukas Meisner, spring 2020.