Thomas Mann wrote that “certain conquests made by the soul and the mind are impossible without disease.” Dostoevsky also dwelt on the subject, writing about a sort of mysticism of illness, a common topic of the great European literature around the turn of the 20th century.
One might also recall Proust: “In Search of Lost Time is the great work of an ill person,” as Giovanni Macchia remarked. In this view, illness was seen as a journey into the soul to discover a new relationship between the self and external reality that the transitory health of the body had prevented us from seeing with such vibrant lucidity. The event of illness was understood as an event that happened to the individual, not to a community. But when an epidemic that is turning into a pandemic is actually affecting the entire world population and nowhere is safe, can one still imagine such a path of “redemption”?
If we read the best contemporary reflections that are able to cut through the oppressive volume of banality that is drowning them out, perhaps we can find something new: not only the strengthening of elements that are critical of the economic system and the institutional framework of modern capitalism, but also elements that hint at a different path.
This is quite obvious in Italy. Not a day goes by without even advocates of neoliberalism and institutional fragmentation lamenting the condition of public health and its regionalization. And it seems ludicrous now to insist on the thoughtless project of differentiated autonomy supported by the regions of the Italian North, the first ones that were overwhelmed by this unprecedented health emergency.
How many times have we heard the rhetorical trope that “Europe must speak with one voice,” which comes up from time to time in reference to the most diverse topics, such as energy policy or foreign policy? Now, this issue is being raised in a serious, acute and highly urgent manner, on two fronts:
One is not new, but is being pushed to the forefront in terrible and harrowing ways—namely, that of the migrants pushed from behind by Erdogan to run up against the militarized borders of Greece, a country in which the barbarically regressive direction of the recent change in policies and government is well understood.
The other is that of the possible economic policies to be implemented immediately in order to provide instruments and resources against the rising wave of the epidemic, in order to at least contain, if not reverse, the depressive effects that it is sure to leave behind on European society and economy.
These two aspects—as brutal as the former is, as dramatic as the latter—set against a backdrop of war and climate-environmental deterioration, are not separate matters, but rather aspects of a multi-faceted obtuseness that is impervious to any practice of solidarity between the countries of the EU. However, if the EU will not face these issues and put forward solutions, what is its role exactly?
The phenomena of de-globalization haven’t been waiting for the recent dramatic events to manifest themselves. For a long time now, the old structures of trade relationships have been in crisis. It has been some time since the profitability curve of the multinationals, which relocated entire factories in search of the lowest possible labor costs, turned downwards, or at least flattened. The dominant economic system has reacted by structuring new typologies and modalities for the formation and organization of the value chains, dismantling the welfare state, focusing on “platform capitalism” and “surveillance capitalism,” in which the expenses for fixed workplaces and for stable personnel are being eliminated, essentially operating with precarious labor or even free labor, veiled by the chrysalis of consumption. Today, all of this is laid bare to an even greater extent by extra-economic factors.
If we look beyond the empty words, in the matter of migratory processes, induced by wars and environmental disasters largely caused by us Europeans, the policy of a blind denial of life is unfortunately carrying on. However, at least on the economic side—no accident there—some glimmer of self-awareness is beginning to gain ground.
The topic of Eurobonds, in its many possible versions, is no longer taboo, nor is it any longer the extravagant idea of some doomsday prophet. On the contrary, a new neologism has arisen: “Coronabonds.” In essence, these would be bonds issued by the individual states but guaranteed by all the members of the Union, aimed at financing the fight against the economic consequences of the current epidemic.
As we know all too well, this is a matter of overcoming the sovereign and separatist logic of certain countries—not “frugal” but simply “cheap,” as the head of the Portuguese government called them—and, above all, the atavistic resistance of Germany. The pooling of risk between the different countries would cut it down to little more than zero.
Instead of discussing the regressive changes to the ESM, which crystallize the division of countries into financially “secure” and “insecure” ones, it is this innovation that should be discussed and decided upon with great urgency. This is all the more true since the rain of liquidity coming from quantitative easing has been losing more and more of its effectiveness, is fomenting new bubbles and is reaching neither companies nor people, stopping instead at the banks. This is not just useless, but downright disastrous in a situation in which, partly because of the recent restrictions, the crisis is being felt on both the side of supply and that of demand.
At the same time, a shift towards solidarity in the realm of the economy would open a path to countering the inhumanity with which we are treating migrants. Instead of barbed wire, tear gas, bullets and beatings, what we need to do is to open the doors of the EU, restore hope for life to those who have had it taken away, also due to our responsibility, defeat Erdogan’s criminal blackmail and discover together how we can build a new model of society.