In the last year, European citizens have experienced a new relationship with their respective states. The emergence of the pandemic has brought to the forefront the prominence of the state in all its breadth. For many, the situation was completely unknown; for others, especially those who have lived under dictatorial regimes, a little less. In economically, socially and politically reasonable conditions for the majority, the state seems to be retreating. In times of crisis, their presence increases at a gallop, like the tide.
When we do not live in a period of continuous exceptionality, each of us acts according to his possibilities and condition. We take the children to the park, plan weekend outings with friends, have dinner at a restaurant and return home quietly, prepare for the holidays and compare destinations or go to work on the same path where we know there will be traffic.
When we do these actions we do not give them any importance, but when in one way or another we see our ability to carry them out limited, in their absence and from a retrospective point of view, we understand them as a whole. as “freedom”. Although freedom does not have the same meaning for every citizen, it is not even understood equally throughout life. Prominent travel literature writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, for example, in one of his most striking works, A time to keep quiet, left perplexed and upset, after sharing for a season the stillness of the Benedictine abbey of Saint Wandrille, in Normandy.
For a monk, the changes of recent months can be almost imperceptible. The breath of the state apparatus through new laws, decrees, confinement orders, closures, and restrictions may lead, on the other hand, to the majority to the conclusion that the more its power is manifested, the less our freedom. The simple conclusion is that the more one there is, the less there is of the other. Even more so when we tend to equate this power with the ability to coercion – sanctions – or control – applications to track infected.
In this situation it is easy to be predisposed to buy the arguments of those who present us with dystopian futures from the field of philosophy – Byung-Chul Han or Slavoj Zizek, as the most popular paladins – or literature – “governments take advantage of chaos and fear of the desperate, ”said the mother ofThe story of the Servant, Margaret Atwood, last week at the inauguration of the Barcelona Biennial of Thought.
It is also easy to be tempted to protest and rebel against the measures that are imposed. “It’s my business and no one has to tell me when I have to close,” “in my house there is no government that dictates to me how many people I stop the table, on the weekend we go to the mountains because no politician can to prevent me from doing what I want in my free time ”,“ we are old enough to know how to take care of our health and taking canes on the terrace we don’t bother anyone ”and a long list of other things like that.
However, and although the inverse correlation between state power and freedom seems obvious, at a time like the present it is not so much. Freedom for people living in society, who in Europe are the majority, is not an individual attribute but related to and dependent on others, from partner and friends to strangers. The freedom to do everything we imagine and miss when we look back these days is, first and foremost, the result of the state’s ability to generate certainty and authority through the laws and rules that sustain and organize it.
Although so far it has been very hard and waiting for what can come, with significant effects on the economy, the support and strength of our European states, their sub-state structures and collaboration between them. –Not the opposite– they are the best guarantee to recover the now limited daily life. Only when we allow with our votes to pilot it inept, talkative or patriotic do we have a chance to see its rules and architecture threatened. And then yes, to make probable the lucubrations of the misfires of science fiction and to lose the freedom that we have thanks to the State.
Joan Esculies he is a historian and writer.