Sunday, 29 March 2020

Coronavirus: Some Morrisian Hopes

A week into the UK lockdown, can we hope, however tentatively, for new progressive values to emerge from the current crisis?  Can people rediscover the new limits imposed on their lives as opportunities, as a sensory re-immersion in the present and its simple local pleasures?  Of course, for many, economic anxieties will be severe, but there is still a chance that we might partially move to that Morrisian ethos evoked in News from Nowhere: ‘they were eager to discuss all the little details of life: the weather, the hay-crop, the last new house, the plenty or lack of such and such birds, and so on; and they talked of these things not in a fatuous and conventional way, but as taking, I say, real interest in them’.

Could those local libidinal investments then acquire a degree of theoretical articulation?  Might they move towards a critique of the frantically fast-moving globalised economic system which allowed a disease outbreak in Wuhan to become a planetary disaster so very swiftly?  Will the renewed admiration for our National Health Service and other expressions of social altruism and self-sacrifice point towards a renewal of solidarity against neo-liberal austerity and individualism?  Will anger at the past decade’s underfunding of public services, which leaves us so stretched and vulnerable at a time of general crisis, emerge and take political shape?

Severe crises affect national ‘structures of feeling’ (to borrow Raymond Williams’s old term) in deep but complex and unpredictable ways.  They can benefit the Right as well as the Left, and no crisis has its political effects of itself, by its own inbuilt momentum.  Hence the Morrisian-utopian task that Alain Badiou has recently enjoined upon us: ‘As for those of us who desire a real change in the political conditions of this country, we must take advantage of this epidemic interlude, and even of the – entirely necessary – isolation, to work on new figures of politics, on the project of new political sites, and on the trans-national progress of a third stage of communism after the brilliant one of its invention and the – interesting but ultimately defeated – stage of its statist experimentation’.

1 comment:

Kotick said...

For a good summary of the kinds of thinking that are emerging, and the kinds of social change that might emerge, from the coronavirus pandemic, see