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Impact of Covid-19 on the fate of Liberal democracy

By: Fardin Jamal
Before outbreak of the Coronavirus, liberalism has been subject to many objections. The objections have not been limited to the scope of political philosophy. Nationalists condemn liberalism because of blurring national borders and cultural traditionalists reject it considering that liberalism doesn’t pay attention to the moral and religious norms (Galston, 2018). After the outbreak of Coronavirus new doubts regarding the effectiveness of liberalism have come to the ground which have more tangible and serious features. In the beginning of March of 2020, Chatam house issues a research arguing that root of democracy in Europe should be made deepened. At the end of the month they challenged their own research by mentioning that “it feels like we now live in a different world” and by rejecting their own previous research challenged efficiency of democracy to protect the lives of the citizens (Kundani, 2020). This is while, in most occasions liberal democracy was seen as a universal value and more than only a manner of political regimes among the others, (Faust, 2013). Thus, Covid-19’s effects have penetrated borders of health related issues and encompassed many aspects of human beings’ life. Now it is contributing to give a new understanding from the recent world. Similar to the Black Death Pandemic in the fourteenth century which resulted in the collapse of Mongol world order it is also possible regarding Coronavirus to change the current world’s order as well (Acharya, 2020).
Aside from the unpredictable result of the battle between the world and Coronavirus, in the present paper, the flaws of Liberal democracy which is considered as the end of history by Francis Fukuyamaa (Fukuyama, 1992) are demonstrated in relation to the protection of human beings. Thus, while the pandemic has brought a prominent crisis touching almost all parts of the world, the states reactions to the pandemic have shed a light on efficiency of their associated political regimes in relation to the protection of their citizens’ lives. Since, the life of citizens is prior to any other norm and value, failure of liberal democracies to protect it has an undeniable effect on the fate of this kind of political regime.
Liberal democracies fail to respond effectively to Coronavirus
Despite the existence of a broad range of partisans to democracy, there have been many objections to it as well. This is evident from thoughts of Aristotle who puts Democracy among bad types of government (Aristotle, 1905) up the writings of the famous founding father of the USA James Madison which is reflected in the federalist paper number 10th who accepts shortage of democracy for ensuring justice and rights of the minor parties (Madison, 2008: p. 49). From a practical dimension, whereas the world experienced the peak of democracy after the cold war, in the beginning of the 21st century, erosion of its associated values such as civil liberties has started from the past 12 constitutive years (Diamond, 2019b).
Coronavirus has echoed failure of the prominent examples of democracies during the pandemic. Till the second third of December 2020, USA, England and Brazil are among the top 10 countries which have the most positive cases and death related to Covid-19. More than 287 thousand of the population of the USA have died due to the virus (New York times, 8th Dec, 2020), this number is bigger than casualties of the country’s war during approximately five decades in Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam (Infoplease, n.d.). In the meantime, “Even as the UK government was promising to protect the elderly and vulnerable from the coronavirus, its policies were putting them and their carers at risk” (Grey & MacAskill, 2020).
There are occasions where democratic countries such as South Korea had effectively responded toward the virus (Selway, 2020). Kundani links the success of the East Asian democracies such as South Korea to the existence of a kind of “authoritarian residue” which gives them the possibility of limiting freedom of their citizens while having the willingness of their people to accept it. He believes that this is a threat to liberal democracies whereas liberal democracies have been introduced with guaranteeing basic rights and “there may now be difficult trade-offs to be made between those basic rights and security – and, after the experience of coronavirus, many citizens may choose security” (Kundani, 2020).
Inconsistency of liberal democracy requirements with Public safety during the pandemic
Covid-19 has contributed to significant increase in power of governments and provided the opportunity for them in order to take a broad range of measures in expense of the citizens’ liberties under the title of state of emergency without facing any tangible resistance. Gathering regulation has limited the right to assembly of human beings, by asking for staying in quarantine the mobility right of people are limited, the right to privacy are not regarded by using a wide range of technological means and similarly a significant amount of economic rights are curtailed since the governments force private factors to stop their operations in order to control outbreak of the virus (Frsa, 2020).
Covid-19 has brought a situation to have one option to choose among safety of the society and particular liberalism values within liberal democracies. These values are specifically related to freedom and privacy of the citizens during the pandemic.  Champions of quarantine argued in favor of it against freedom of individuals by taking into consideration its effectiveness to save lives of people. Jonathan Freedland to support this position relies on a relevant imaginary situation by mentioning that: “Imagine a family has escaped a rampaging bear in the woods, seeking refuge in a long cabin. After sheltering there for days and weeks, they are desperate to know when they can come out. But they would not simply be asking “When?” They would be asking “When will it be safe?” (Freedland, 2020).
Similarly, China relied on achievements of technology in many ways which have not been consistent with privacy related norms in order to combat the virus. During the pandemic, the government of China asked people in order to give their personal data to the government. Thus, people have to act in accordance to what the government demands in order to have access to public services. During the pandemic China used its technology to surveillance of its citizens in a broad range which in most occasions could be regarded as violation of the right to privacy (Ko, 2020). This is while Naom Chamsky considers usage of such applications justifiable during the pandemic by comparing it to the needed controls in wartime (Chomsly, 2020).
Aside from domestic levels Coronavirus questions the liberal international order as well. After the emergence of the virus in China a significant number of countries including the United States attended to close their borders. While the liberal international order requires political and economic openness, the virus pushed states to act in the opposite direction by implementing a high degree of closure measures (Norrlof, 2020).
Accordingly, during the pandemic in many occasions the public health and safety has taken position against liberalism requirements in both national and international levels such as mobility rights, privacy of citizens, the right of assemblies, economic rights and also political and economic openness. This is in the condition where even in the countries which are stuck to liberal democracy while imposing measures which are inconsistent with the principles of the associated regimes we have not been witness to many and significant resistance against the measures taken by the governments. This reflects that after the outbreak of the virus it has put shadow on the effectiveness of liberal democracies’ values which undermines its functioning as the ideal type of government.
Covid-19 as a tragedy for liberal democracy
In light of the responses which liberal democracies have had toward the virus and adversary of their associated requirements against public safety during the pandemic, it cannot be considered that the virus solely acts as a temporary crisis without impact on the fate of liberal democracy. Larry Diamond in this regard says that: “If citizens lose faith in the legitimacy of democracy as the best form of government if their institutions cannot function effectively during a crisis, and especially if a view takes hold that authoritarian regimes are managing the crisis more “decisively” many democracies will be at grave risk of failure” (Diamond, 2020). In the Meantime, the pandemic has forced some political leaders to admit weaknesses of liberal democracy. As an instance, Immanuel Macron president of France considered liberal democracy as the system which is not working effectively in regard to the environmental issues (Entwistle, 2020).
This is not rational to have a prediction regarding the fate of liberal democracy in the future but what the experience of covid-19 reflects is loading against the legitimacy of liberal democracy. By taking into consideration the success of China in regard to combat against Coronavirus it means that China is the winner of the ongoing global competition of ideas (Palacio, 2020). This is while China has the 114th position in political transformation index as a hard – line autocracy based on Bertelsmann transformation index (BTI Transformation Index, 2020).

However liberal democracy was considered as the best type of government by many authors including Fukuyoma who considers it as the end of history, in the same time there have been a wide range of objections to it from different dimensions. Outbreak of Coronavirus acts a milestone in this regard by putting a shadow on the effectiveness of liberal democracy in regard to protecting the lives of the citizens. Statistics show that prominent examples of liberal democracies are among the top states in regard to the number of positive cases and deaths of Covid-19.
On the other hand, China as a non-democratic acts as a successful pattern of combat against the virus.
Furthermore, the pandemic contributed to having a new understanding of the political philosophy in the world. After the outbreak states have been forced to take measures which have not been consistent with requirements of liberal democracies. Disregarding the rights to assembly, privacy, mobility and business on behalf of the governments have not faced tangible objections in a broad range in favor of public safety and health. A significant number of the liberal democracies’ citizens during this period doubted the effectiveness of their associated governments particularly in relation to their ability to control the similar crisis and to protect the safety of their citizens.
Arguing in favor of an entirely declined liberal democracy as a matter of future is not rational at the moment. Nonetheless, the pandemic has caused the space between democracy and liberalism broader. This draws a direction toward illiberal democracies.  Meanwhile, it acts as a catalyst in regard to decline of liberal democracies which has been started from more than the past one decade, after experiencing its peak after the end of the cold war. Thus, on the opposite side, the pandemic will affect positively in relation to the increase in number of authoritarian regimes.

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