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Sun 25 October 2020
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In the global response to the Coronavirus pandemic, Anthony Barnett sees an epoch-defining moment as governments are forced to put people’s health and wellbeing before market fundamentalism

Surprisingly Good News

Before COVID-19, most of us thought that the global system of power and interest put profits before life. I certainly did. How could this not be the case when so many are sacrificed for an international capitalism that drips with inequality, filling the harbours of the Caribbean with yachts as many millions go without basic necessities, let alone healthcare? 

Yet, when it came to the crunch, leading governments put the health of their citizens first, generating the sharpest worldwide recession ever known. 

The right believed the market came first, and approved. The liberal centre believed it did and wanted it moderated. The left was sure it did and opposed its priorities. At the end of 2019, all of us thought that market values ruled and democracy had been hollowed out, or even captured by authoritarians, and that human wellbeing came a clear second to financial and corporate interests. We were all wrong. 

That is the good news. Bad news will certainly follow.

The right is already reasserting the domination of corporate priorities. Vulnerable people are being forced to work in unsafe conditions. Many in the centre have returned to far-sighted hand-wringing. Too many on the left are agreeing with each other over how correct they were about the past. 

But the response to the Coronavirus pandemic shows that we can create a different way of governing life on earth. Not because there is a new ‘answer’ to which we can turn in our predicament, or an old one waiting to be finally collected from left luggage. But because the potential of far-reaching change has been created all along, under governments of all political stripes, and has now taken us by surprise.

It has become a claim, as the Cameroon philosopher Achille Mbembe puts it, for a ‘universal right to breathe’. A principle that means, unless others everywhere can breathe, my ability to do so is at risk.

And I mean everyone. Along with capitalism as we currently know it, socialism in its familiar form is also being discarded, as the rise of radical and democratic forces are accompanied by the defeat and marginalisation of the traditional left. 

Much is being written about the new direction needed when it comes to capitalism. A Green New Deal, ‘Doughnut economics’, distributive welfare, the ‘economics of belonging’, universal basic income, a ‘fiscal constitution’ – there are many far-sighted plans and proposals. All argue that democratic government, not the market, should determine the architecture of a more equitable and sustainable future.

Despite their growing influence, these proposals lack political traction. The surprise of the current crisis is that it creates an opportunity to overcome this weakness. 

It will be  a stormy transition. The pandemic of COVID-19, the unprecedented shutdowns it has forced governments to implement, the willingness of people to accept the sacrifice of lockdowns for the common good (excepting some in the US along with Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Dominic Cummings), the singular worldwide economic crisis, the ongoing mobilisations – Black Lives Matter, for freedom in Hong Kong, against Muslim persecution in India – and above all the climate emergency, tell us that an epoch is coming to an end.

Now we must roll up our sleeves to decide how it will be replaced.


Fifty Years of Globalisation

In part, the outcome will be decided by those who have a better understanding of recent history and don’t impose pre-existing assumptions upon it.

We are living through the end of a complex 50-year period. One that began in 1968, seen for good reasons as a left-wing moment. But it triggered a right-wing response that was to dominate the next half-century.

In Britain, 1968 was the year that Enoch Powell issued his racist call to arms against immigrants, that Margaret Thatcher made her first trademark speech at a Conservative conference attacking government regulation, that Rupert Murdoch acquired the News of the World. Above all, in the US,  it was the year Nixon became President. In 1971, he broke the Bretton Woods system of financial exchange and unleashed market-driven globalisation.  

Ten years later, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher fixed the reorientation of the world economy with the mantra that ‘the market knows best’. It became the success story of an era. In 2020, their approach would have meant treating the Coronavirus as another market force until the public achieved ‘herd immunity’; to “take it on the chin” as Boris Johnson said when he first addressed it as a major issue. This is also what the US President wanted. 

UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan in July 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs – CNP

Instead, in 2020, most governments shut down whole sections of their economies to save lives and precipitated the steepest world-wide recession in history. While some did so through gritted teeth, they felt obliged to put economic growth on hold to protect the old and vulnerable and prevent health services from collapsing. That this is being done badly and unfairly and is opposed by the hard-right was predictable; what is surprising is that it is being done at all. 

It might seem obvious that governments should act in this way. But it isn’t.

Fifty years ago, the flu pandemic of 1968 was accepted as fate. Perhaps 700,000 people died, and no one thought about shutting down much of the economy. In 2020, Donald Trump and Johnson never wanted lockdowns and the Chinese President Xi Jinping delayed, hoping he wouldn’t need to order them. The French President Emmanuel Macron, known as the ‘President of the rich’, was astonished. He told the Financial Times: “The economy no longer has primacy. When it comes to our humanity, women and men, but also the ecosystems in which they live… there is something more important than the economic order…. We are going to nationalise the wages and the profit and loss accounts of almost all our businesses… It’s against all the dogmas.”

The shift, he declared, is “anthropological”. 

Trump and Johnson were at the zenith of their influence. Trump had brushed aside impeachment for his prima facie treasonous behaviour and was stoking a pre-election boom. Johnson was triumphant with a huge parliamentary majority in Westminster. Yet neither could act like their historic predecessors during the pandemics of 1920, 1957 and 1968, to protect their success and allow a few hundred thousand – mainly older people – to die early while shedding crocodile tears.

Most governments around the world faced with the choice did not even want to permit this. All found that they had to work with their populations to try and control the virus. Some did this far more quickly and effectively than others but nowhere have governments been able to evade responsibility even though the virus is not their fault. 

The impact of the microorganism has done something modest yet explosive. It has demonstrated that being governed by inhuman market priorities can be reversed. The hegemonic dogma of the past half-century – that this was not possible – has been broken, symbolised by an Economist cover in June 2020 headlined: ‘A Grim Calculus: The Stark Choices Between Life, Death and the Economy’. In December, as an advocate for market fundamentalism, it would have claimed that the economy is life. 

Corporate and financial priorities continue to dominate. But a crucial aspect of their power, the confident assertion that there is no alternative, is in ruins. Grim as many of the immediate costs are, the shared experience of people globally is doing something profound. The pandemic is creating the possibility of a new and better epoch as humankind starts to experience itself as a single species with a shared capacity for agency.

Our response to COVID-19 shows that the future of humanity is a matter of choice.  


Neoliberalism AKA Globalisation

What possible combination of forces had the power to eviscerate the ruling dogma? This is the question we have to answer if we are to prevent the dogma from making a comeback.

The answer is not the influence of socialism. Left-wing arguments against the domination of financial capitalism have reached a new level of eloquence, credibility and precision since the financial crash of 2008. But even moderate socialist challenges such as the Bernie Sanders campaign in America or Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the UK were swept aside. 

When I asked myself the question, I realised that I’d shared the dominant assumption: that globalisation is purely economic and financial, made up of supply chains, corporate alliances and market speculation. In fact, two additional sets of planetary processes have also transformed humanity across the past 50 years: one is a group of novel forces that resist market values, the other the new capacities of individuals and states generated within modern capitalism. Together, they are a match for market fundamentalism and provide the basis for generating the national and international political alliances needed to replace it. 

To understand how we have reached this critical point, with the future of the world in the balance, we have first to comprehend the form power has taken across the past five decades. I’ll focus on the two leading Anglo-Saxon countries. 

Since Reagan and Thatcher, the acceptable term – in effect a code-word – for market fundamentalism has been ‘globalisation’, while the more scholarly one is ‘neoliberalism’. Whatever you call it, its claim is that economic imperatives rule. That market forces ‘know best’, that government is the ‘problem’ not the solution, and that the role of the state is to serve the market by removing impediments to free competition.

But it is also like a theology, in that there is a contrast between what we poor suckers are supposed to believe and the actual practice of the church. In reality, it is not concerned with creating and protecting fair markets. Like all value systems, neoliberal globalisation is about power. Its real ideology is ‘winner-takes-all’, and it privileges corporate and financial interests. 

It is a distinctive form of capitalism, dominated by speculative finance capital. It loves risks and loathes the paternalistic forms of earlier capitalism, seeing them as confining and protectionist. It assaults institutions that persist in preserving traditional notions of integrity that check greed, whether they are religious, educational, legal or administrative. Profiteering from shocks and uncertainty and hostile to regulation, neoliberalism’s ideal location is a tax haven. While right-wing, it is intrinsically anti-conservative.

An inhuman, market-first globalisation has incubated its nemesis: a humanisation that insists everyone be treated healthily and the planet sustainably, not out of feelings of paternalism or benevolence, but in our collective self-interest. 

For 30 years, its influence expanded thanks to real economic growth (largely due to the revolutionary impacts of the microchip and the rise of China). But its core policies such as privatisation were never popular.

To ensure its domination neoliberalism cultivated political fatalism. This is central to its ideology. Most, quite possibly all, believers in neoliberalism deny that they have an ideology and scorn the use of the term – which is handy for them as it makes it harder to oppose. Instead, they say that it is only ‘natural’ to believe that the market-knows-best. This denial of its own agency lies at the heart of neoliberalism’s success as an ideology. While it celebrates individual success, it scorns political choice and collective action. Thatcher’s slogan, ‘there is no alternative’, became the order of the day and blended into the triumphalism of ‘the end of history’ after the fall of Soviet Communism in 1989. 

To ensure a chance of winning, centre-left parties embraced neoliberalism’s claims of market invincibility. Bill Clinton led the way in 1992 under the banner of ‘it’s the economy stupid’, declaring the end of ‘big government’. At what proved to be the high-noon of fatalism, in 2005, the supreme exponent of centre-left neoliberalism, Tony Blair, told the Labour Party that it could “no more debate globalisation than whether Autumn followed Summer”. It was his way of telling people that ‘there is no alternative’.

Of course, the centre-left was more decent and enabling than the right. But the gap between parties everywhere narrowed, a void opened up between people and government, voting declined and the young especially felt powerless and blocked. 


Neoliberalism Gives Birth to Monsters

Then, in 2008, the great financial crash shattered the credibility of neoliberalism’s mantra, that markets not governments know best, as massive state intervention was deployed to save the bankers.

But effective opposition had been squeezed out of electoral politics. In its place, a worldwide Occupy movement took to the squares to initiate demand for change. Inspired by Cairo’s Tahrir square it took off with the indignados, the May 15 movement in Spain, in 2011. Its high point was Occupy Wall Street with its claim to represent the 99%. There were manifestations in more than 900 cities across 80 countries. The Occupy movement showed that simplistic opposition to bankers and the financial elite was wildly – and rightly – popular. It was the death knell for fatalism.

If the participants of Davos, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were  alarmed, one sector of the world’s financial networks were appalled. The likelihood of even limited regulation, essential for more equitable outcomes, directly threatened the hedge-funders and the money-laundering, property speculating, adventure capitalists. Trump was one of them, as were the Barclay brothers – Boris Johnson’s employers at the Telegraph newspaper. They were bold – or desperate – enough to rip off the cry of the Occupy movement; they attacked the ‘elite’ for ‘rigging the system’. It took shameless self-publicists, scorned by the establishment for their dishonest narcissism and with little to lose, to pull it off. But Trump and Johnson leveraged media charisma into political triumph, thanks to ample funding and filching the populism and anti-elitism of the squares. 

Will Davis wrote that neoliberalism had “disenchanted politics with economics”. Now, figures such as Trump and Johnson re-enchanted politics and vaporised electoral resignation. They abandoned the lynchpin of neoliberalism’s supremacy – the fatalism it generated as it demobilised voters by sucking agency out of politics. This was the price they paid to secure the interests of those who backed them. Trump’s reprehensible 2017 tax cuts for plutocrats was the most egregious example of the strategy’s success.

The managers of fatalism – the more traditional media and political leaders – still struggle to get a measure of a president and premier who have thrown them overboard, so as to preserve the corporate interests they all once worked for. This should not confuse us. Neoliberalism gave birth to its own monsters. Despite their obvious unfitness for high office, Trump and Johnson represent the continuity of the core interests of market fundamentalism, which they sought to protect from the crash of 2008.

The fine words about ‘leaving everything to the free market’ had lost credibility. In their place, they ramped up the ugly belief that to hate losers and love winning is fundamental to human nature, and gave the wink to white supremacism. Rupert Murdoch personally embodies this despicable continuity. He was there at the beginning, offering to matchmake between Thatcher and Reagan in 1981. Every one of his newspapers worldwide supported the US-UK Iraq invasion in 2003. He backed Brexit in 2016. He is regularly phoned by Trump, who is symbiotically attached to Murdoch’s Fox News.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump in December 2019. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa

However, the differences between Trump and Johnson and their predecessors in the White House and Downing Street are important as they energise their influence.

At its zenith, neoliberalism was unlimited in its aims. In a message to President George W Bush in 2003, shortly after the American launched the assault on Baghdad, Blair wrote: “Our ambition is big: to construct a global agenda around which we can unite the world; rather than dividing it into rival centres of power.” Trump and Johnson are creatures of the twin catastrophes of defeat in Iraq as well as the financial crash. They replaced the failed “global agenda” of world unification with national boasting, chauvinism, hostility to immigrants and cultural wars. 

Perhaps a good term for Trump and Johnson and the other ‘strong men’ around the world with whom they are related is ‘neo-populists’. In contrast to classic populists, like Argentina’s Juan Perón who actually reallocated wealth to the working-class, their success stems from pretending to do so, while manipulating the media, poisoning the internet, defying legal norms and intensifying corruption.

What is real about them is that they have had to abandon the fatalism that was central to the success of neoliberalism. It was replaced by electoral daring, spearheaded by the promise of real change: making America “great” or getting Brexit “done”. By succeeding in the polls the neo-populists renewed belief in electoral agency: they proved that voting can be effective. Ironically, because they abhor the actual redistribution that they promise, they are unable to build true majority support, which means that their continued success will depend on the suppression of voter turnout. 

But, in December 2019, they were riding high. Trump and Johnson retained a patina of credibility as the men who blew away the bullsh*t about globalisation benefiting everyone. They and their fellow neo-populists bestrode the planet from Brazil to Moscow, confident that humanity had succumbed to their core belief – that life means the winner takes all. 

Then, somewhere in Hubei, a micro-organism jumped species and nestled into a human throat. As the pandemic swept around the world these men – and they are all men – could not tell us, as their predecessors had, that we must accept our fate. For their rhetoric proclaimed that the people knew best and came first. Once Xi Jinping, the man they most feared, was obliged to shut down China, and medium-sized democratic countries with experience of pandemics, such as South Korea and Taiwan, demonstrated that the virus could be controlled, it was the demagogues who found ‘they had no alternative’. 


Radical Movements

Two sets of forces whose influence has been accumulating over 50 years obliged the authorities everywhere to set the lockdowns in motion despite their reluctance.

The first are the movements that have challenged the relationship between people and power over the past 50 years – feminism, human rights, environmentalism, anti-racism and calls for popular democracy. Each has its own complex and contested history, but all have strengthened the presence of a popular determination at once individual and shared. 

Since 1968, the sweeping effects of feminism have vaporised the submissiveness and resignation generated by macho hierarchy. With the #MeToo movement feminism has escalated from the defensive call for equality to the offensive – opposing private male entitlement and aggression. There is a long way to go but it has created expectations of equal treatment even in a country as patriarchal as China.

So too has the advance of human rights, both as legal norms and as a demand for liberty. For example, Charter 77, which was published in 1977 by Czechoslovak dissidents resisting communism, had a historic role in boosting the influence of human rights. It was mainly a demand for detailed legal rights, but it concluded with a call for everyone be able to “work and live as free human beings”. 

Clementine Reid waves an Extinction Rebellion flag during a cycling protest in London. Photo: PA Images

In a different way, the environmental movement has forced us all to confront the collective consequences of the way we live. When Extinction Rebellion took direct action, it echoed the impatience of #MeToo for real change as it demanded action on the sustainability of life on earth. And in this century the explosion of experiments in deliberation and citizens assemblies enabled by the internet has popularised arguments for ‘real democracy’. Their ongoing energy can be witnessed on the streets of Hong Kong and now Belarus and in networked politics everywhere.

Together, these inspiring movements created a swirling counter-flow to the values of market fundamentalism. One feature they share in common is that, even if many on the left are now among their active supporters, none originated from the traditional social democratic, socialist or revolutionary movements, which often opposed them. Extinction Rebellion was started by greens, impatient for action. ‘We are the 99%’, the myth-busting slogan of the Occupy movement, was the work of mutual-aid anarchists, among them the much-missed David Graeber.

There is a parallel with religious faiths. None of them either helped initiate these movements and often resisted them. Yet, because they can provide a haven from the profit motive, many of their members too became active advocates of rights for all, sustainability and participative democracy. 


Thank You, Capitalism

On their own, even the wide mix of forces openly opposed to the priorities of market fundamentalism would not have been sufficient to oblige governments to order lockdowns. A second set of factors are also at work.

They stem from the transformation of the human condition generated by consumer capitalism itself over the last half-century. It is double-edged process. It manipulates customers and employees while also empowering us. The most dramatic examples are the internet and smartphones. They hugely enabled users’ capacities with linked computer capacity. At the same time, the giant platforms that dominate the internet seek to tame and control the collective energy they permit, turning our metadata into their commodities and seeking to commercialise our souls. 

Perhaps the most troubling of the life-enhancing impact of modern capitalism is on our bodies and how we experience them. The intensity of investment in appearances and wellness has generated unprecedented (and profitable) neurotic disorders and psychic and bodily pain. At the same time, self-care has empowered people and a healthy vitality is now expected as a right. The paradox is that, while market economies seek to turn everyone into passive consumers, when it comes to our bodies, people everywhere are becoming active ‘demanders’: informed and not deferential – a process reinforced by the celebration and the mainstreaming of yoga and meditation, interest in nutrition and support for the disabled. 

‘We are going to nationalise the wages and the profit and loss accounts of almost all our businesses… It’s against all the dogmas.’ The shift, Macron declared, is ‘anthropological’. 

Despite the privatisation of city and suburban life, improved living standards have also permitted everyone to experience how physical and mental wellbeing can flourish with networks of support, faith and interests. Odd as it may seem, this contradictory process is reinforced in modern employment culture. Expectations of health and safety, reinforced by trade unions where they still exist, and the need to respect and motivate skilled workforces, generates a demand for dignity. 

Equally important, scientific knowledge and medical techniques have revolutionised the ability of health services to restore and rehabilitate our bodies well into what used to be considered a debilitating old age. With many societies – although India is a major exception – spending an average of at least 10% of their GNP on health provision, there is an unprecedented potential to deliver medical support to all. 


The Pincer Movement

When the pandemic arrived, governments were caught in the equivalent of a long, historic pincer movement that obliged them to limit the contagion and prevent deaths, whatever the costs to the economy.

Populations were no longer fatalistic and demanded the right to life for all. This is something society can now provide thanks to the transformation of healthcare, including personal understanding and access to knowledge. Without the demand, governments would not have ordered the lockdowns. Without the capacity to deliver, they could not have done so. Together, the calls for equal rights and the transformation of our ability to deliver health have ended the submissiveness and deference that marked all previous history, at least since agriculture replaced hunter-gatherers.

An inhuman, market-first globalisation has incubated its nemesis: a humanisation that insists everyone be treated healthily and the planet sustainably, not out of feelings of paternalism or benevolence, but in our collective self-interest. 

Grand statements of this sort can be tested by specific examples. One popped into my inbox recently. The not unintelligent right-wing website Reaction emails its subscribers. On 13 July, Gavin Rice reported on a YouGov survey that said 60% of the UK public wanted face-masks to be compulsory in shops. This, he wrote “points to the British being very much in favour of being bossed about by the state… It will certainly mean that those in favour of economic freedom, and liberty, will as a matter of urgency have to work out how to make the case more effectively”. It is a response that takes for granted the neoliberal assumption that the desire for freedom and liberty is intrinsically individual and state power is intrinsically despotic. But wanting a law to stipulate mask-wearing in shops can express a desire for freedom – in this case freedom from catching COVID-19 and the consequences of an uncontrolled pandemic – not an infantile wish to obey orders and be “bossed”.

Regular people live with uncertainty and risk. We debate if it is safe to send children to school or return to work. We are modern people who understand probability. We know wearing masks in a confined public space is effective only if everyone does it.  A preference for a law recognises this shared interest, it shows a desire for joint agency not passivity and subordination. In its modest way it demonstrates the emergence of a networked, self-conscious humanisation – the precondition of liberty for all. 


Humanisation

Back in December, I would not have embraced the term ‘humanisation’. It would have seemed wishy-washy and a way of avoiding class inequalities. But the virus has exposed the hard, material realities of humanity as a species. At the same time, the worldwide support for previously scorned and impoverished frontline workers gives humanisation an egalitarian authority.

By humanisation, then, I mean a practical, planetary politics that puts human values above those of the market, values that include liberty and health as well as rights for all; an open, deliberative and collaborative democracy; and a sustainable way of living on our planet with each other.

This may sound rather worthy and solemn but it includes the energy and unruliness of festival and carnival that is so antipathetic to the controlling surveillance of the corporate state. It calls for a politics based on networked solidarity that is neither individualist or collectivist, the forms of which are only just beginning to be explored and are only possible thanks to the capacities of digital technology. It will have to deal with its currently dominant opponent: ‘winner-takes-all’ politics that lauds competition, generates insecurity and precariousness and favours corporate influence. 

I had expected the first terrain of the battle for humanisation after COVID-19 to focus on health – both because it is now a determining issue in US politics and because industrial farming and pressures on the environment have increased the frequency of contagious viral mutations and we must prepare for a new pandemic. 

Protestors pulled down a statue of the slave-trader Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol in June 2020. Photo: PA Images

Far sooner than I dared hope, post-COVID-19 humanisation declared its influence. But in a quite different form.

Everyone in America – whether black, brown, Latinex, yellow or white – could see that the murder of George Floyd meant his killers expected collusion from those around them. It did not occur to them to treat Floyd as an equal human being. It vindicated the Black Lives Matter movement, which had begun under President Barack Obama and called for an end to supremacist culture and not just better policy outcomes. It brought history into play to achieve lasting change, confronting the barbaric history of slavery.

This obliged all of us outside of America to assess our global inheritance. It has become a claim, as the Cameroon philosopher Achille Mbembe puts it, for a ‘universal right to breathe’. A principle that means, unless others everywhere can breathe, my ability to do so is at risk. 


How to Make the Change?

But how can humanisation, whether in terms of health for all or the ending of racial supremacism, mount an effective challenge? Especially when the right, sensing the loss of influence, are mobilising?

Market fundamentalism succeeded because it is an ideology. Its claim, that human freedom resides in giving primacy to market greed, is a cultural claim about human nature not an economic policy. In 1981, after two years in power, Thatcher summed up her assault on collectivism by saying that “economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul”. For her, the role of the state was to assist people to compete with one another, wholeheartedly and cold heartedly, for wealth.   

A successful effort to supplant such misanthropy has to start from a different, positive vision of human nature and our planetary co-existence. The pandemic shows that it has the advantage of being more truthful. For an irony of the worldwide confinements and restrictions is that we directly experienced ourselves as belonging to a single species.

The pandemic generated the most global six months ever in terms of shared experience. So while the unwinding of international supply chains, greater domestic sourcing and less indiscriminate tourism in vast cruise ships stuffed with casinos, may indeed be ‘de-globalisation’ for neoliberalism, it isn’t for people around the planet. On the contrary, a humanitarian form of globalisation is needed based on the planetary setting of our species inhabiting a vulnerable ecosphere and our social and collaborative nature; one that frees the world from being defined by the market. Thanks to COVID-19 we now know this is possible.

In teaching us about the nature of our humanity, the pandemic also confirmed the importance of national differences and contrasting government policies. It did not reduce us to a homogeneous multitude. This poses anew the familiar question of the role of the nation. To put it simply: if we are to replace inhuman globalisation, voters will need to elect parties in national elections that are committed to this. Alongside local networks, global movements and institutional organisations, a springtime of civic-minded nations will be critical for the success of a planetary humanism. 

It is essential to resist fastidious revulsion from national sentiments. The neo-populists have claimed popular agency. They have torched the fatalism that sustained their predecessors. The vengeful and frequently embittered rhetoric of Trump followers and Brexiters, even when they are winning, is rooted in their misanthropy. But they also draw on a genuinely human energy: they appeal to the idea of self-government and despise those who patronise them and suffocate democracy. And at least they address, even if they do not resolve, long-standing economic grievances. 

To defeat them we have to draw on the positive energy they have released with more democracy not less, starting with our own countries. It is suicidal to surrender the attractions of popular agency to the ‘Iron Men’. In the immediate future, divisions will intensify, violence will break out and there will be more chaos. But the pandemic has demonstrated that the forces exist to provide a positive alternative.

We now we know that most people on Earth can act in concert with science-informed intelligence and that there is a widespread willingness to do so. Already, this has changed what it means to be human and demonstrates that we have the potential to replace the world’s corporate-dominated market economy, currently burning the planet, with one governed by equitable priorities. 

The challenge is to generate the alliances that can forge this, the politics of human globalisation. Scientists will need to be more political and outspoken, socialists will have to become modest and open-minded, nations will need to develop self-confident and collaborative democracies, markets will need to benefit all, not financiers and monopolists.

What is needed is possible. The pandemic shows us that we have the ability to become a better species.

This article is drawn from and develops ‘Out of the Belly of Hell: COVID-19 and the Humanisation of Globalisation‘ published by openDemocracy in May


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