Times of crisis allow us to reflect upon the role of our political communities and show us the possibility for change at the local, national and international levels.
The coronavirus is causing widespread panic across the world. Governments are enacting previously unimaginable measures in order to protect their populations: Airports are closing, curfews have come into force and ‘self-isolation’ has quickly cemented itself into our vernacular.
In these uncertain times it is easy to become depressed by refreshing interactive maps tracking the exponential rise in infections and deaths or nervously calculating how long a tin of beans can last. However, the response to the coronavirus also provides three reasons for hope, namely: i) the capacity of governments to adapt, ii) the strength of individuals and local communities to make a difference and iii) the necessity for cooperation across states.
Capacity of governments to adapt
It has often been as a response to crises that fundamental changes in political communities have occurred: The Great Depression gave birth to President Roosevelt’s New Deal in America, while the Second World War paved the way for the creation of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. The coronavirus offers a similar opportunity. Governments across the political spectrum have begun to rip up the economic rule book. The United States Government, among others, is contemplating sending cheques to the population, implementing a temporary basic income that until recently had been chiefly confined to academic discourse. Crisis redefine the possible and changes introduced now have the potential to be solidified for a fairer more just society. Indeed, in an era of globalization where the power of the state has often been dismissed as subservient to multinational corporations, it is invigorating to see how much governments can do when roused. We just need to make sure that we don’t let them forget it.
Strength of individuals and local communities to act
Just as governments have shown their capacity to adapt, so have their citizens. In modern states the expectations on citizens are often consigned to the obligations to vote, obey the law and pay taxes. This crisis has exposed the shortfall of limiting citizens in such ways. Governments are unable to deal with the outbreak alone, people are required to both restrict their own actions through social distancing, but also to step up and help each other. An outpouring of support for those who are vulnerable in the community has illustrated the strength of individual and community action to fill the gaps that the government can’t. The greatest asset a state has is its members and we must all realise that are political obligations extend beyond ticking a box every few years and begrudgingly filling out a tax return.
Necessity for cooperation across states
Finally, the coronavirus has more than anything exposed the necessity for international cooperation. Viruses pay no respect to state borders, they have total disregard for nationality or citizenship. Whether in monitoring the rate of infections, sharing information on how best to tackle it and ultimately developing and distributing a vaccine, countries must work together. In a world where nationalism and isolationism have been on the rise, corona has dramatically reminded us that humanity must solve its problems by working together or else we all pay the consequences.
For the Future?
Perhaps we will look back on the coronavirus as a blip. A minor inconvenience that forced us to remain indoors scrolling through Netflix and waiting for the ‘all clear’. Or perhaps the crisis will spark a fundamental shift in the way politics is conducted at the local, national and international level. It should not be overlooked that the response to the coronavirus illustrates the paltry measures we have undertaken to deal with the existential threat of our time: climate change. If we as individuals, communities and the international community can act so swiftly in response to corona than what else could we achieve if we set our minds to it?