Giorgio Agamben, “On the Time to Come”
What is happening on a planetary scale today is certainly the end of a world. But not—as for those who try to govern it according to their interests—in the sense of a transition to a world more suited to the new needs of the human consortium. The age of bourgeois democracies is over, with its rights, its constitutions and its parliaments; but, beyond the juridical rind, which is certainly not insignificant, the world that began with the industrial revolution and grew up to the two or three world wars and the totalitarianisms—tyrannical or democratic—that accompanied them ends.
If the powers that govern the world felt they had to resort to such extreme measures and devices as biosecurity and sanitation terror, which they instigated everywhere and without reservation, but which now threaten to get out of hand, this is because they feared according to every evidence of having no other choice to survive. And if people have accepted the despotic measures and unprecedented constraints they have been subjected to without any guarantee, it is not only because of the fear of the pandemic, but presumably because, more or less unconsciously, they knew that the world in which they had lived until then could not continue; it was too unfair and inhuman. It goes without saying that governments are preparing a world even more inhuman, even more unjust; but in any case, on both sides, it was somehow presaged that the former world—as it is now beginning to be called—could not continue. There is certainly in this, as in every dark presentiment, a religious element. Health has replaced salvation, biological life has taken the place of eternal life and the Church, which has long been accustomed to compromising itself with worldly needs, has more or less explicitly consented to this replacement.
We do not regret this world that ends, we have no nostalgia for the idea of the human and the divine that the relentless waves of time are erasing like a face of sand on the shore of history. But with equal determination we reject the naked, mute and faceless life and the religion of health that governments propose to us. We are not expecting either a new god or a new man—rather we seek here and now, among the ruins that surround us, a humble, simpler form of life, which is not a mirage because we have memory and experience of it; even if, in us and outside of us, adverse powers reject it every time in forgetfulness.
Written by Giorgio Agamben
November 23, 2020
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