Thinking in times of pandemic

While scientists work to develop the vaccine against Covid, the world of ideas has not remained sluggish. He too is committed, in his own way, to producing antidotes to the multifaceted crisis that is hitting us. Since the shock of the spring confinement – and for many more months if we judge by the announcements of the editors -, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, economists try to identify what we learn from this unprecedented crisis.

To say that intellectuals were not taken by surprise would be a lie. The voluminous Crisis leaflets (Gallimard, 552 p., 17 €), which brings together the texts of around sixty authors written during the first confinement, testifies on the contrary to the upheaval it caused and the difficult passage “From shock to experience” (Arthur Dénouveaux and Antoine Garapon).

Faced with the cessation of current activities, the philosopher or the writer does not appear, at first, better equipped than the others. In In viral thought (Actes Sud, 152 p., 16 €), the philosopher Slavoj Zizek even sees in the lonely lifestyle of the intellectual, neighbor of confinement, a specific fragility: he has not had the possibility of changing his lifestyle to adapt to the new threat. “When there is no great change in our daily reality even though a serious threat hangs over us, then this threat is experienced as a spectral fantasy, which is nowhere possible to discern and which, for this very reason, access omnipotence ”, he writes. Perhaps he delivers here, indirectly, an explanation of the difficulties of the second confinement which no longer offers reassuring novelty in the face of danger …

Beyond this initial astonishment, the intellectual world was however equipped to think about a crisis, of which it had not foreseen the form but of which it had a presentiment of imminence. Many see it as a painful opportunity to invent other ways of living. “You should never waste a good crisis”, thus writes the historian and essayist Rutger Bregman in the collective work How to do ? (Threshold, 290 p., € 19.90). He believes that an ideological turn is now possible, while he was still limited to the margins not long ago. We have entered a time “Where ideological plasticity increases, where certainties waver”, considers Vincent Message in the same volume.

“When this crisis occurs, the measures that are taken depend on the ideas that are in tune with the times” : Bregman mischievously quotes these remarks by Milton Friedman (1912-2006), one of the fathers of neoliberalism, to take them backwards: it is now the proposals for regulation, solidarity taxation and sustainable investment that have the wind in the stern. Vulnerability brings us together, believes the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, who speaks of “Communovirus” (Too human a virus, Bayard, 110 p., € 14.90), while Slavoj Zizek reinvests the communist utopia, “As an antidote to disaster capitalism”.

The observation of the exhaustion of capitalism comes back under many feathers. Antoine Perraud, journalist, regular contributor to the literary supplement of The cross, believes that the pandemic signals the end of obsolescence “Real capitalism”, born from the defeat of “Real socialism” in 1989, but which mixes – like its late enemy brother – bureaucracy, opacity, authoritarianism, inegalitarianism and excessive productivism.

Jean-Luc Nancy, however, invites caution with regard to the multiple death notices issued to capitalism. “It seems sufficient to pronounce the word ‘capitalism’ to have exorcised the devil (…). We have to say it again, this devil is very old who provided the engine of the history of the modern world, configuring and shaping the world ”, he writes. “The unlimited production of market value has become value in itself, the raison d’être of society. The effects have been grandiose, a new world has arisen. It may be that this world is breaking down but without providing anything to replace it. “

The crisis thus plunges its knife deeply into our modernity, bringing its values ​​to life, touching the nerves of its contradictions. In the wake of the controversial questions raised in the spring by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, the philosophers Olivier Rey (Idolatry of life, Gallimard, 58 p., € 3.90) and Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine (Sanitary unreason, Le Bord de l’eau, 108 p., 12 €) question this crisis which has placed above all values ​​the will of ” save lives “. “On what freedoms (…) Are the populations not ready to compromise, what subjugations are they not ready to accept, in order to flee in the face of this terror (of death), with which no rite allows to come to terms? “, asks Olivier Rey, while Alexandra Laignel Lavastine criticizes the way “The massive and exclusive health argument immediately prevailed” and the “Pan-medicalism” who seized our societies “Post-tragic”. “Only the one who has lost his soul thinks only of saving his skin”, she said, quoting Bernanos.

Slavoj Zizek is less severe with our concern for life. With Maurice Blanchot, he believes that “Our desperate desire to survive” does not imply “To forget to change things”… The future will tell whether the sacrifice of confinement was a simple vitalist reflex or the necessary – but not sufficient – condition for the rebirth of humanist ideals.


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