Laura Dodsworth has published an excellent Q&A with Toby Green and Thomas Fazi about their new book The Covid Consensus: The Global Assault on Democracy and the Poor – A Critique From the Left. The authors explain that their purpose in writing is that “although many critics of the Covid policies have come from a Right-wing perspective, we wanted also to develop a critique from a Left-wing, internationalist and anti-neoliberal perspective. In a sense what this shows is that, while the question of COVID-19 has been politicised like almost nothing in history, the questions it raises go far beyond traditional party political frameworks.”
Here is an extract:
Q: You said that in the space of eighteen months, the response to COVID-19 had upended seventy-five years of democratic norms. Can you explain what you mean and again provide historical comparisons?
A: What we saw was the institutionalisation of what Giorgio Agamben and others have called the “state of exception”. The state of exception is when the norms of daily life are upended because of the arising of a crisis which is said to be so severe that political norms have to be suspended. The state of exception has in fact been a core element of political life in Western geopolitics. We saw it during the aftermath of 9/11, when certain aspects of daily life were restricted; and it has been seen far more often in places where Western political power has been exerted, in colonial Africa, and in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what has happened is that the state of exception took over Western political life completely: freedom of debate has been restricted, freedom of movement upended, norms supposedly safeguarded by Conventions on Human Rights (such as the right to a family life) trampled over — and all with no legal comeback, as the powers of the judiciary to intervene were also severely curtailed.
After such a shock to democracy, what happens next? In this case, as we put it in the book, it is on life-support. We have been able to write, research and publish this book, even if it is very difficult to get mainstream media to cover it. This shows that the tenets of democratic debate and discussion still exist. We are not under house arrest or worse.
Nevertheless, we must recognise that the pandemic response has thrown up some severe questions about democracy in the (mis)information age: as we show in the book, misinformation has been the rule and not the exception, virtually on all sides. Since democracies rely on the theory of rational choice, which requires accurate information — if this no longer exists, then democracies are in trouble.
Q: You pointed out that the protests in Trieste, London, Paris, and Melbourne and the truckers’ protest in Canada were largely ignored by the mainstream press. The coverage of many aspects of Covid prompted me to question deeply for the first time, how much we trust the media to comprehensively and accurately report on world events. I believe we see something similar with coverage of purported anthropogenic climate change. Did Covid change your relationship of trust with the media? Can you think of other current and historical examples of media blackouts?
Again, this is one of those issues where the Covid crisis presents elements of continuity with the past, while also marking a radical turning point. Of course, anyone with a functioning brain has been aware of the deeply biased and pro-establishment reporting on the mainstream media for a long time now. However, the kind of propaganda campaign that we witnessed during the pandemic was unlike anything ever seen before.
Read More: Misinformation and Hate Speech Have Been Rife in the Past Three Years, But From Defenders of the Covid Consensus, Not Dissenters