The Awakening of the Leviathan
3 de abril de 2020

Millions of books have been written about the authoritarianism of China, the Russian autocratic regime and even the so-called anti-liberal democracies characterized by the “national-populism” coined by Steve Bannon after Trump’s brilliant rise to power. However, it is not Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, or Viktor Orbán who have detonated the most recent manifestation of state power, but rather the coronavirus itself. Democratic and dictatorial governments alike have adopted some of the most restrictive controls on rights and freedoms ever seen.

There is no doubt that a wide range exists, from Duterte’s shoot-to-kill order in the Philippines for anyone who bypasses mobility restrictions, to the fines to which we are already accustomed to on this side of the world. However, in retrospect, it is evident that we are seeing a crescendo of instances in which the state is interfering in people’s lives. Without resorting to exotic conjecture or far-flung examples in different parts of the world, we can see how a vast majority of European countries have forced their citizens to submit to some of the most imposing and supervening conditions not even attempted during the Second World War. Colleges and universities remain closed, offices and commercial establishments empty, and enclosures accompanied by social distancing are the new status quo. All of this will bring with it a series of economic, social, and political consequences, of which we have still only seen the beginning. It is also needless to mention the psychological ramifications of this situation, or the impact it will have on families and people’s personal lives.

However, there will be time when the storm ends for calm analysis based on data and empirical evidence. For the moment, what should occupy our attention in addition to the preeminent priority of defeating this pandemic, is the monitoring of the state’s actions. As noted earlier, the unfolding of the Hobbesian Leviathan that we observe today is truly unprecedented, especially in the countries that surround us. These types of measures that are undoubtedly being carried out (which, for the most part are actually seeking the protection and well-being of the people) should also be a cause for concern. This is the case for two reasons.

The first is because of our getting used to the situation. Just as laws give an impression of normality or of legitimacy (which is certainly not always the case, see Nuremberg), each sphere of freedom and privacy that the state confiscates is hardly recoverable later. In the current case, the confinement measures to which we are subject constitute, in addition to their obvious consequences, the largest social experiment in the history of humanity. Many lessons will be learned, and even more conclusions will be drawn. It is clear that the state in turn will also draw their own.

The second is because of the cover-up. The extraordinary powers that governments have been granted to face the crisis that bedevils us is a double-edged sword: their use of that same power for spurious ends or reprehensible procedures. A situation where an executive contravenes the current legal order must be cause for alarm, but even more so because of the salvation discourse that actually brings about the establishment or strengthening of this same power. An example is what happened during the fateful night of March 30, in which the Hungarian Parliament granted Orbán the necessary powers to rule by decree for an unlimited period of time without parliamentary oversight. Or, without going much further, we can see the Moncloa’s constant attacks against freedom of the press.

The claim that the state is dangerous is not a question of ideology, but of history. While the first is capricious, the second is forceful in its verdicts. Thus, two great maximums are observed over time. The first is that while it is unquestionable that the state can position itself to be an effective ally in crisis management and the protection of life, it has historically also presented itself as the greatest threat against life, rights, and freedoms. It is no coincidence that there has been a rebound in the purchase of weapons in the United States in light of the measures taken by the government to deal with the coronavirus. It is important to remember that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution exists, above all, for the protection of the individual against the state. The second maximum is that whenever the state has received the ability to decide who lives and who dies, either through infamous processes of social engineering or those of medical triage, the consequences have been dire.

These are indeed difficult times, but the formidable machine-like beast of the state that is now set in motion for all to see does not indicate a peaceful future either. There are some who point out that the Leviathan has now appeared with the emergence of the coronavirus crisis. This is not true. He was already there, but dormant. And now, he has awakened.

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