The virus in the age of madness



Appointed book-length essay about how the pandemic may lead to insidious societal changes.

French philosopher Lévy invokes scores of eminent thinkers, including Foucault, Lacan, Plato, Pascal, Sartre, Camus, Genet, and Latour, among many others, to mount a strong, sometimes strident warning about the social, moral, and political consequences of the pandemic. Calling his book “a midpoint review,” he claims that “First World Fear” is causing a rejection of globalization and retreat into isolation, ignoring worldwide famine, poverty, and oppression. Although he concedes that sheltering in place, wearing masks, and following hygienic measures are needed to contain the virus, he advocates “examining concretely, precisely, and in detail the complexity of the measures that need to be taken, in the world now, to combine the health emergency with the protection of people’s livelihoods.” Even though he condemns those who deny science—Donald Trump, et al.—Lévy is skeptical of placing “blind confidence” in doctors. However, rather than raising questions about physicians’ current claims, he weakens his argument by citing historical instances in which doctors promoted eugenics and other “harebrained” ideas. His concern here seems, as he suggests, “far-fetched.” The author scorns those who insist that the virus is sending a message—nature’s warning against environmental exploitation or God’s wrath to humanity led astray—and similarly chides romantic narcissists who see confinement as a path to self-knowledge. “More than most,” he writes, “I am a partisan of repairing the world.” However, he sees a dark future where autocrats use the virus to enact authoritarian agendas—as is occurring in Brazil, Turkey, China, and elsewhere—and where there is “the transformation of the welfare state into the surveillance state, with health replacing security,” and the social contract replaced by “a new life contract…where you abdicate a little, or a lot, of your core freedoms, in return for an antivirus guarantee.”

A stirring alarm addressed to an unsettled world.

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