The world is different today—and not just because of the coronavirus. Events seem to turn it more quickly: Viruses become pandemics in weeks; medical challenges become life-and-death emergencies in days; and freedoms, once sacred, are removed in minutes live on TV. Once secure and prosperous societies now seem precariously vulnerable.
The reality, of course, is that the world is different—it has never been quite as small. It took the Black Death years to reach Europe in the 14th century. It took the coronavirus a matter of weeks. The politics of this pandemic reflect this—jarring and seemingly out of control, forced into a furious sprint just to keep up with the exponential math of epidemiology. But while the world is different, certainly, at least, in Europe where life has largely been locked down, humans are not. Then as now, we fear death and crave security and search for leaders who fend off one with the other. One after the other, in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and now finally here in Britain, after Boris Johnson’s address to the nation last night, Europe’s prime ministers, presidents, and chancellors have sought security by switching off their economy, ordering that no one leave their home, and empowering the police to fine anyone who does so for anything other than life’s essentials.
Battle analogies are everywhere. And for good reason. “The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost,” Johnson warned. “But in this fight we can be in no doubt that each and every one of us is directly enlisted.” This was Johnson as war leader, urging each and all to do their duty.