The Munich philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin warns to loosen the everyday restrictions imposed in the fight against the corona virus “as quickly as possible”. “We now need to discuss how we can get out of this shutdown,” said Nida-Rümelin in an interview with the Handelsblatt. “We absolutely have to come back to the voluntariness that is so fundamental to our democracy.”
The former Minister of Culture emphasized that one should not talk down what is happening. “We’re overriding a lot of fundamental rights,” he said. Such restrictions on freedom should only exist as long as they are clearly limited in time.
“If we continued the shutdown for twelve, 16 or 18 months, we would damage the vitality of the economy, social and cultural life so severely that I would be very worried.” At worst, there is a risk of social collapse.
Nida-Rümelin recommends a gradual return to normality in society, which is accompanied by a “cocooning” of risk groups such as the elderly and the previously ill. “The selectivity of the virus gives us the opportunity to significantly reduce the number of victims if we protect the particularly vulnerable.” He suggests, for example, that protective locks be installed at old people’s homes.
East Asian democracies such as South Korea and Taiwan could be used as models in the fight against the pandemic, which were characterized by a “protective mask culture” and used cellphone tracking technologies. “We make our data completely nonchalant Facebook and Google available, so I think it’s not a problem if we can now temporarily provide the state with data on fighting the crisis, ”said Nida-Rümelin. However, the data would have to be anonymized. In addition, the use of the app should be voluntary.
Read the full interview here:
Professor Nida-Rümelin, how long can our free, pluralistic society endure the state of emergency of corona rigidity?
We cannot talk down what is happening. We override most of the fundamental rights: freedom to practice, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of demonstration and so on. This is a very massive intervention. Some even say that this is unconstitutional. I don’t want to join that. But there is an unease that I share. In my opinion, such restrictions on freedom may only exist if they are clearly limited in time.
Should we ease state access even though the virus is spreading?
The health system had to save time due to everyday restrictions. And that has been flanked wisely, much faster than in the global financial crisis, through economic and social measures to mitigate the side effects. But: It can’t go on like this for 18 months. We now need to discuss how we can get out of this shutdown as quickly as possible.
They advocate the “cocooning” of risk groups, that is, the encapsulation of the old and the previously ill.
In such a crisis, you have to have prospects that provide comfort. And consolation provides the extreme selectivity that distinguishes this virus. The data that I have just looked at very carefully for Italy show that the risk is very unevenly distributed across the population. That is a glimmer of hope.
People who belong to the risk groups will not feel that way.
The selectivity of the virus gives us the opportunity to significantly reduce the number of victims if we protect the particularly vulnerable. It is about cutting off infection routes, for example by installing protective gates on old people’s homes.
And for the rest of the world should everyday life begin again?
The rest of the population must quickly find their way back into their activities so that the social and economic system remains strong enough to cope with the crisis. If we continued the shutdown for twelve, 16 or 18 months, we would have damaged the vitality of the economy, social and cultural life so severely that I would be very worried.
In an internal paper, the Federal Interior Ministry warns at worst of a meltdown, of anarchy.
I share this fear. That is why I said early on that we have to think about the exit scenario. There are very different strategies for dealing with the virus worldwide. There is the containment strategy in East Asia, which, if we trust the numbers, has had resounding success in China, but with draconian measures. We have the South Korean strategy of tracking mobile phones, using a protective mask culture, but without general exit restrictions. We can learn from South Korea and also from Taiwan.
Aren’t you afraid that if the virus is loosened too early, the virus could get out of control again – and we in Germany will still experience what Northern Italy and New York are going through?
I don’t want to set a time, but I say: we can’t keep the shutdown down for months, that’s completely out of the question. We absolutely need to come back to the voluntariness that is so fundamental to our democracy. Everyone in Germany can get drunk to the point of senselessness, and can shorten their lifespan. It is part of the principle of a free society that people take responsibility for themselves, even if they do not benefit public health.
The cell phone tracking, which they highlight, critics consider entry into the surveillance state.
Mobile phone tracking is available in different forms. What scares people is the way the state keeps track of who was where and when. That would be highly problematic even in the crisis. However, there are reliable anonymization processes. This means that the state knows where an infected person is somewhere and can warn those who may have been infected. But the state doesn’t know who it is. We provide our data completely nonchalantly to Facebook and Google, so I think it is unproblematic if we now temporarily provide the state with data to combat the crisis – anonymized, which of course is not the case with Facebook.
Should such an app be mandatory to work?
We should first try it voluntarily, we are currently seeing that the population is very cooperative.
You already spoke to Italy, the country is particularly important to you. Does it hurt to see how badly the country is suffering?
Yes, I am closely connected biographically to Italy, I lived and worked there. The interesting thing is: Italy has always been a forerunner in history. Fascism was a sad example; he was only in Italy, then he came to Germany. But it was the same with futurism and the Renaissance. Most recently we experienced the populist erosion of liberal democracy – again first in Italy. And now Italy is also a pioneer in the fight against Covid-19.
Italy initially slipped, even more so than other European countries, and then reacted with draconian measures that the population accepted almost without complaint. At the same time, Italy has high levels of debt and a fragile banking system. That means: The country is demonstrating how unstable the situation is. It is not clear how the state can save the economic livelihoods that are about to collapse.
That is why the Italian government is vehemently calling for corona bonds – common European bonds to finance economic reconstruction.I think that is a sensible idea, at least when there are also control measures in place. Joint bonds could at least partially compensate for the weaving error of the monetary union, namely that economic developments have not converged, but have diverged since we got the euro. There is also a political argument. If the Italian prime minister, together with the Spanish head of government and the French president, calls for corona bonds and Germany then collapses this together with the Netherlands, the result is a further division of the EU. We cannot afford that, especially in this crisis.
What geopolitical consequences will the corona pandemic have?
One scenario would be that the Western countries coped poorly with this crisis – economically, socially, culturally, health-wise – and the East Asian states coped with this crisis well. I therefore very deliberately refer to South Korea and Taiwan, which are functioning democracies. If so, the contrast would be cultural rather than ideological. One would say that the East Asian way of doing politics, demanding solidarity, mobilizing volunteers works better in such a crisis than the Western individualistic approach. That would be less dramatic than if the consequence of the crisis were: Democracies per se are unable to cope with such a challenge.
Does the pandemic teach us new humility before the forces of nature?
There are limits to formability. That doesn’t mean we’re helpless. But there are many things that we cannot influence or control. Preparing people so that they do not remain stuck in fear and end up adopting a crisis management strategy that does even more damage than the crisis itself – that is a great challenge. And there may still be a lot ahead of us.
Thank you very much for the interview.
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