The Corona crisis is shaking up many certainties. It is forcing liberals and the left to rethink entrenched narratives.
At a distance: MPs voting on the supplementary budget Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa
Corona is a giant red reset button that has suddenly been pushed. It shuts down social and economic life almost completely to zero, but not only that. Political discourse is also undergoing a reboot as the virus pulverizes ingrained ideologies, narratives and reflexes. After this crisis, one thing above all will be true: Everything is different.
For example, there is neoliberalism, which has also had a firm grip on German politics since the 1990s. This ideology is dead. Its sacred rules were: Private before state. The state must be lean, i.e. not too expensive, and the market will take care of the rest. In the face of Corona, no one can say such liberal truisms without being laughed at. It is now clear that a strong state with money, institutions and regulatory policy is needed for the market economy to survive. Slim is deadly, fat is essential for survival.
600 billion euros are being made available by the government these days to save large companies. This gigantic sum is to be used to nationalize companies if necessary. Does anyone still remember the liberal-conservative outcry when Juso leader Kevin Kuhnert published a few thoughts on communitization? Such a debate would simply be inconceivable today. Even hardcore liberals are advocating the renaissance of the strong state these days.
Christian Lindner, for example, argues like a convinced Keynesian. The state, he says, must "put all its fiscal options on the line" to prevent a structural collapse. And while we’re on the subject of myths that have been overtaken by time: Who, after all, are society’s top performers? In recent years, Welt, FAZ and others have always praised high earners in this way. The higher the income, according to the vulgar economic logic, the more valuable for society.
The virus has exposed this narrative for what it always was: a lie. The real high achievers in society are others. They care for the elderly, drive ambulances, take out the garbage or sit at supermarket checkouts. Usually poorly paid, they are currently ensuring that the core of social life does not collapse. These people deserve not only appreciation, but also the care of politicians and solidarity at the next collective bargaining. You can’t buy anything for applause from the balcony.
But it is also true that it would be intellectually rather poor to interpret the crisis solely in terms of one’s own convictions. It is not only market liberals who should question themselves; the left also has some thinking to do. And that goes far beyond acknowledging that Jens Spahn or Markus Soder are doing a good job right now. For many left-wing liberals, it is good manners to view the nation-state with contempt, as an outdated entity that stands in the way of the beautiful, globalized future. They see themselves as cosmopolitan cosmopolitans, and convinced Europeans take city trips to Barcelona and New York.
A United States of Europe? No way. Without the nation state, there is little that can be done when things get serious
The Greens love this vision. In their European election program, they write that they want to hold a broad discussion "about union models such as a United States of Europe, a federal state or a European republic." United States of Europe? Fiddlesticks. Without the nation state, there is little that can be done when things get serious. It is the decisive player, it enforces the necessary rules, it helps and regulates. People are more likely to trust it than an abstract-looking community of states.
In general, the EU is not cutting a good figure because it cannot contain its egoisms. Individual member states hoarded respirators or refused to supply medical equipment to Italy, which was badly affected. They prefer to produce for their own needs first. The supposed community of values blows the whistle against Corona, but has no problem with cramming more than 20,000 refugees onto a Greek island. The sanitary conditions in the Moria refugee camp are terrible. Heaven knows what will happen if panic breaks out there. The EU is just catching up with its past mistakes, especially the brutal austerity policy. It was the EU troika that forced over-indebted Italy to drastically cut its healthcare system in 2011. It is therefore time for left-liberals to put aside their European romanticism.
The red reset button also erases mechanisms that have been sacrosanct in politics. Government and opposition are suddenly working together. Selfish profiling tendencies are becoming noticeably less prevalent. Instead, the courage to correct oneself is growing. Many politicians wrongly believe that they have to appear infallible. To deviate from positions once taken is considered a sign of weakness. Thanks to the crisis, the ability to admit mistakes is becoming a virtue. As it pushes everyone, politicians, journalists and even experts, into a state of ignorance. The virologist Christian Drosten, who confidently rejects the gesture of omniscience, becomes a role model.
Politicians are always driven by the fear of making the public uncomfortable. The discussion about climate change is characterized by this fear, and radicalism is frowned upon in all parties, including the Greens. The climate crisis and the Corona crisis are structurally difficult to compare. But one thesis can perhaps be transferred: the Corona crisis shows that politics is capable of tough measures when survival is at stake. And that the vast majority of citizens are prepared to go along with them. Whether this can work in the case of climate protection is an open question. But we can hope that it will.