All coronavirus responses are local*

By Dan Schueftan*
Thursday, April 16th, 2020 @ 1:14PM

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When faced with a scarcity of resources and a severe shortage of goods, national solidarity – not globalization – is paramount in democracies.

The world will be drastically different after the coronavirus crisis – economically, socially and politically.

Some of the changes can already be predicted among Western democracies, assuming their economies rebound.

The changes, both among the leaders and the average folk, will shape how open societies behave in the foreseeable future. Some aspects will be restored to their former glory, having been unjustifiably eroded over many generations. Chief among them is the framework of national solidarity.

After the Nazi trauma in the middle of the 20th century, the legitimacy of nationalism has increasingly declined among European elites, owing to the exaggerated fear that it could lead to a slippery slope to fascism.

This erosion has picked up pace over the past generation because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of globalization – which is based on yet another false rationale that national frameworks are no longer needed in the era of mutual dependence.

This also led to the emergence of the notion of universal, supra-national solidarity. The European-wide entity that was initially a form of cooperation between sovereign states has gradually lost control over the scope and depth of the processes, to the point where the citizens’ control over their democracies and their ability to shape their destiny has been undermined.

These processes have been championed by the leaders, who considered economic efficiency and power-hungry bureaucrats in Brussels as the most important thing, but they have also been promoted by elites who wanted to have an imaginary post-national world.

This imaginary world was dealt a crushing blow when massive waves of immigrants arrived in Europe from African and Middle Eastern countries in the middle of the last decade. It lost its momentum in the face of the Brexit movement and the rise of right-wing forces in most democracies. But the coronavirus trauma could be the last deadly blow and any appeal a post-national world still has left among the general public will be lost.

The key to such a change in public perception relates to solidarity. Who do people consider as their identity peers? Who do people consider to be part of their ethos?

From the 19th century onwards, this solidarity framework has been in the form of the nation-state. In recent generations, a great number of Western elites, especially in Europe, have tried to expand this ethos to a form of universal solidarity: “We” is actually everyone all over the world – we must help and even go beyond that and accept them as part of us. We have to give up our privileges.

This ethos was lost on the general public, which accepted it willy nilly. When a million immigrants arrived in Europe in 2015, it triggered widespread discontent that ultimately changed the political map in the West. The proponents of this ethos lost their stature and self-confidence and ultimately had to seal the continent’s borders shut.

Now they are trying to blur, whether intentionally or not, the difference between international cooperation against the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to take global responsibility for the welfare of humanity. It will soon become clear that when faced with a scarcity of resources and a severe shortage of goods, only national solidarity can marshal support among the general population and give democracies the legitimacy for tough decisions in times of crisis.

The open democracies currently affected by the virus will recover. We will soon learn the scope of the spread in poor countries, which lack proper health care infrastructure and have long been on the precipice of disaster.

These include most African and Middle Eastern nations. Millions might die, and tens of millions might fall into despair. In the optimistic scenario, the nations will be provided proper vaccines and medicine and get help to rebuild their health care systems.

Politicians in developed countries will not get support from the public if they allow an uncontrolled number of migrants to enter in search of better welfare and health care.

Ultimately nations will self-isolate and global problems will be dealt with by each nation-state.

*Dan Schueftan is the head of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa

*This commetary was published by Israel Hyom, on April 16, 2020


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