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Response to Blog № 2 by Prof. Dr. Jessica Gienow-Hecht

Apr 02, 2020

This is a nice and fitting assessment in many ways that gives food for thought and will make readers consider or reconsider what they believe the nexus of COVID-19 and (indeed, any pandemic crisis in the future) and the liberal script may be.

 When we filed the application, in 2018, we were proud to have done so at a moment in time when our ideas hit a central nerve. Now, it seems, our concerns over and interest regarding contestations of the liberal script are timelier than ever before. At the RU Borders, we have just begun a discussion on how to factor the virus into our general theme.

I do sense a note of, forgive me for saying so, liberal triumphalism in the text that may not be intended. Even in Germany, people are divided over the appropriateness of the recent measures. It is true that there is a public discourse that is rather supportive of measures taken, liberties constrained, home schooling offices imposed etc.

 Yet individual health officials and political observers worry deeply about the political, social and medical impact and long-term ramifications of current restrictions and plans. Historians know that major organisational transformations responding to moments of crisis typically don’t go away once the crisis is over.

 In the cluster, we need to think about what a social situation like the one we are currently experiencing does to a liberal society, the way we live with, talk to and interact with one another in schools, families, institutions, at work and elsewhere. Data protection laws, e.g., are in the process of being seriously compromised down to the inner workings of our own organisations. In Bavaria, the number of denunciations in the name of health concerns (people reporting their neighbours to the police) has gone up; both government and the media have approved of this. In northern Germany, individual communities have tried to shun out apartment owners from other cities. 

 All of which is to say: We may believe that in this country, liberals are managing well while populists don’t and that “once the crisis is over” we will return to a version of the liberal script and society we used to know. But that very version may have changed quite dramatically in the process, depending on the extension of the restrictions. New norms and expectations including home office work, online teaching and controlling, data surveillance, legal processing are already materialising, making users ranging from school children to employees, much more vulnerable. The most important question for us, it seems to me, is, once again, how much of a health crisis (or any sort of fear) the script is able to stand, what the script is worth if we condition it for whatever reason, and to what extent the historical lesson of no return needs to be factored into our expectations for the future.

 All the best

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Jessica C. E. Gienow-Hecht