Covid has taught us that man does not live by bread alone

by Francesco Giubilei

If we want to compare 2020 to a year in recent history, we could liken it to 1989; the year that started the collapse of the USSR. It was the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the division of Europe and part of the path to the failure of the Soviet Union and the crisis of communism.

In recent weeks we are experiencing not so much the end of the concept of democracy, but of liberal democracies as we have understood them to date, which entered into crisis in 2008 with the financial crash and has now reached a peak with the Coronavirus. The moment we leave the Coronavirus emergency behind us (hopefully as soon as possible), it will be necessary to reflect not only on the socio-economic consequences but also on the political and socio-cultural consequences of the epidemic.

The epidemic has demonstrated the fragility of human beings; although the vulgar daughter of modernity portrays us as immortal, there are situations and contingencies that do not and cannot depend on our will and are part of a higher order called nature. Not everything can be limited to materialism and rationalism, so contemporary men now find themselves like their ancestors of the twentieth and seventeenth centuries as well as the medieval ages.

Fortunately, the evolution of science and healthcare allow us to face the difficulties of a pandemic in a more effective way, but the solitude and loneliness of lockdown remains. But this is only a small issue compared to being confronted with situations beyond humanity’s control. What unites us in these moments? The sense of community which we forge through our common identity. Identity is the true concept on which our nations are based. In delicate moments we realise that we can only rely on our community: greater solidarity comes from our fellow citizens, aid from the national health system and, in a collective emergency, a sense of unity emerges.

It is precisely this sense of belonging that drives us to react with firmness and pride; it is the sense of empathy that is created and leads us to be supportive and aware of those being alone to face an emergency that is actually global. Globalisation is not the answer to our problems but rather the cause of many of them. Today, we are witnessing a process contrary to what was expected, with a return to the centrality of the concept of identity.

Liberal European democracies have increasingly approached an illiberal model of consent without many citizens realising it. We have witnessed the transformation of our countries into technocracies with a progressive replacement of clear democratic processes. In this sense, Italy has acted as a precursor. The popular vote is used as an extrema ratio, which has led us to the limitation of personal freedoms, government through decrees, and virologists and experts replacing elected officials in making policy.

The alternative to this new form of government is a conservative model that retains the positive aspects of liberal democracies (such as freedom, individual rights) and overcomes the most deleterious ones (globalism, the division of community and power to supranational entities). 

In recent weeks, there has been a failure of global society, and we have seen that the answers to the needs of citizens come from national states. Nations have actually helped people, while entities such as the European Union have proven their ineffectiveness with a slow and too focused response to economic and financial assessments when humanitarian aid would have been needed. Together with the concept of a nation, the value of the homeland has been rediscovered; it has been a long time since so many tricolours been seen on the windows of Italian houses, as well as the national anthem being sung with such frequency.

We have rediscovered the sense of community as opposed to a society of individuals without common ideals and, a spirit of solidarity and mutual aid has emerged. The pandemic has shown the fragility of the human being who, permeated by the rationalism and materialism of our time, believed himself immortal and invincible. This is all leading to a return of spirituality. The images of the Pope during the Urbi et Orbi blessing in front of an empty St Peter’s Square have travelled around the world and struck even non-believers for their strength.

Finally, the only way we can avoid the definitive decline of the West is a new model that we could define as “conservative democracy” through a rediscovery of the concepts of community, nationhood and freedom.

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