Covid-19 and “Social Distancing”

Christopher Caldwell has an excellent article in the New York Times (August 21) on the views of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben about Covid-19. Agamben points out that “The emergency declared by public-health experts replaces the discredited narrative of ‘national security experts’ as a pretext for withdrawing rights and privacy from citizens. Biosecurity now serves as a reason for governments to rule in terms of ‘worst-case scenarios.’ This means there is no level of cases or deaths below which locking down an entire nation of 60 million becomes unreasonable. Many European governments, including Italy’s, have developed national contact tracing apps that allow them to track their citizens using cellphones.”

Agamben is especially critical of “social distancing.’ Caldwell says, “He believes that the fateful inheritance of the coronavirus will be social distancing. He is puzzled by the term, ‘which appeared simultaneously around the world as if it had been prepared in advance.’ The expression, he notes, ‘is not “physical” or “personal” distancing, as would be normal if we were describing a medical measure, but “social” distancing.’ His point is that social distancing is at least as much a political measure as a public health one, realized so easily because it has been pushed for by powerful forces.”


11:10 pm on August 22, 2020