The term uchrony is cultured, but it designates a classic literary form that consists of imagining, based on real events, how history could have unfolded differently. The process makes it possible to demolish the preconceived ideas that make believe in a historical necessity after the events have occurred, when they could have happened otherwise. Therefore, the exercise of uchrony is extremely healthy and even necessary to question any ideology that its supporters consider inalienable. The term uchrony seems essential to me to ask ourselves about the way in which the States have managed and continue to manage the Covid pandemic.
For the supporters of statism, hostile to liberalism, the market economy and the wisdom of
individual options, this pandemic is a party; it allows them to reverse the trend towards liberalism which, for forty years, has ceaselessly reduced the role of the state and returned it to its essential functions. At the start of the pandemic, amid general panic, governments immediately took charge of the fight against the virus. Thus, in the face of this unknown enemy, with no other precedent than the so-called ‘Spanish flu’ of a century ago, the States adopted a war system and a bellicose vocabulary.
During his first public address, just two years ago, the French president addressed the nation and began his televised address by declaring: “We are at war.” With this beginning, the public powers were allowed everything; the citizens, virtually mobilized, had no choice but to obey or, if they did not obey, to pass as dissidents, traitors to the country. For the record, I remind you that governments like to wage war, which gives them unlimited powers and allows them to increase, without much democratic control, public spending and interventions. Long history also shows that the progression of state interventions, once the war is over, won or lost, does not abate; the state does not back down. The pandemic, which has increased public spending and the economic interventions of our States, is giving them a new youth that no government will be willing to give up once the ‘war’ is over.
As this war is not over, we do not know whether it will be won or lost, but we can be sure that all heads of state and government will proclaim its success. But if we look closely, considering the novelty of this virus, we are still surprised by the strategic confusion of these states at war. Before tests and vaccines, governments denied the usefulness of masks (especially when none were available), and then made them mandatory. Schools were closed, then reopened, and then closed again. They closed the borders before reopening them and then closing them again. They forced us all to stay at home before they released us and locked us up again afterwards. Depending on the country, the vaccine and the tests were and still are sometimes mandatory and sometimes not. Businesses and employees have sometimes been given grants to avoid bankruptcy and sometimes not, and no one knows for how long.
It will be objected that this whirlwind of sometimes contradictory teasing was based on science and followed the whims of the virus itself. It may be, but the only significant victories against the pandemic have not been the work of the State, but of private capitalism: tests, vaccines and now medicines. Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have become rich, but without them we would be reduced to religious processions, as in 1920. Thanks to their profits, reinvested in research, we can look forward to new vaccines and future treatments.
Let’s go further and imagine that the States, instead of ‘making war’, had made pedagogy. Imagine an educational policy instead of a restrictive one, provided by experts and not by politicians, which explained, in clear terms, the usefulness of masks, vaccinations, hygiene, safety distance and isolation when necessary. Wouldn’t the peoples have spontaneously adopted, on the basis of this information, the gestures that save? Ucronía: wouldn’t it have been more effective to trust informed citizens than to adopt the restrictions imposed by the authorities? Isn’t this coercion, because it comes from above, what has caused social movements against vaccination and other dangerous behaviors, such as refusing to wear a mask or wearing it wrong, clandestine parties, etc.? Could civil society, informed rather than coerced, have handled the pandemic better than governments? Uchronia, certainly, but one that is worth imagining.
The same goes for the economy. Supporting all companies, without distinction, will have allowed the creation of an unknown number of zombie companies, whose sole purpose is to collect aid and then disappear. How will everyone else pay it back? With a massive increase in taxes or with a general increase in prices, that is, an indirect taxation of the poorest. I do not want this uchrony to be interpreted as support for anti-vaccine movements, which are criminal because they harm themselves and those they infect. The sole purpose of this uchrony is to recall what liberal thought is: a choice.
In the face of any threat, governments have the reflex to nationalize instead of wondering if civil society, the free choice of enlightened individuals, would not lead to better results. We cannot compare what a liberal management of the pandemic would have been like instead of its state management. But the uchrony allows, at least, to consider it and not accept, submissive, it is not very well known what ‘return of the State’.