What Brave New World is this? Credit: Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images

March 24, 2020   6 mins

How prepared were we for this pandemic? Not very. Be it financially, logistically or medically, we’re scrambling to increase our resilience. Ideologically, however, a lot of people seem to have everything they need — not least, a limitless supply of easy answers. Phew!

The coronavirus may be wreaking havoc elsewhere, but to those of a certain mindset it leaves all their fundamental assumptions about the world miraculously undisturbed. Indeed, the crisis positively confirms what they already reckoned.

The remarkable thing is just how many different ideologies this appears to apply to — even those which are diametrically opposed to one another.

Maybe, just maybe, some of these partisans are clutching at straws. But which ones? Here’s my entirely objective and unbiased guide:


1. Socialism

I’m not suggesting that the lefties are enjoying coronavirus, but with the frontiers of the state rolling forward everyday, they can’t help but feel vindicated. The borrow-and-spend policies of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, so recently condemned as impossibly lavish, now look austere compared to the new fiscal orthodoxy. Magic money trees do exist after all.


…some of the smarter reds have spotted a fly in the ointment — a Tory fly. Even when the country goes communist, the Conservatives are still in charge! It’s the Tories spending all that money and exercising all that power. Just think what they might do with it! Marxian economist Grace Blakeley, for one, is worried:

“Make no mistake, this pandemic is epoch-defining. It could herald the end of the era of finance-led growth and the beginning of state-monopoly capitalism.”

So, what you’re saying, Grace, is that concentrating control over the economy in the hands of a centralised state might have its downsides? Hmm, interesting idea — don’t forget to tell your comrades.


2. Libertarianism

Oh well, it was good while it lasted. The free market, that is. Freedom of movement, too — that was fun.

Libertarians, some of whom are really quite clever, are well aware that plague socialism is the order of the day.

Still, always look on the bright side. For instance, now that it’s gone, perhaps people might realise that capitalism wasn’t so bad after all. And, who knows, the snowflake generation might just have second thoughts about socialism too — once they’ve been conscripted as farm labour.


…the libertarians might like to do some thinking of their own. For instance, where would we be now without a big and capable state? It’s almost as if a complex, market-based economy survives because of strong government, not despite it.


3. Globalism

A global pandemic only goes to show just how interconnected we are. I mean, viruses don’t care about borders do they? What’s more, the only way we’re going to get through this crisis — and stop the next one from happening — is through unprecedented international cooperation.


…Covid-19 has exposed the fragility of our ultra-globalised economy. We now realise just how dangerously dependent we are on overstretched supply chains — and, in particular, the manufacturing capacity of the People’s Republic of China. As for borders, the main reason why this plague spread so fast is because we didn’t seal them off fast enough.

Globalists like to present 21st century politics not as a battle between Left and Right, but between ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’. Well, yeah: we were wide open to this pandemic, and now everything is closed.


4. Anti-globalism

Same as above, only the other way round.


5. Authoritarianism

Tell you what, those Chinese don’t mess about, do they? There’s no asking people nicely to self-isolate. Instead, it’s order everyone inside, weld the doors shut and sweat it out. Whole cities and provinces on lock-down, just like that. 

Meanwhile we stand around staring like it’s not coming for us. And, so, while coronavirus rages across the western world, China’s now recording days with no new local cases! Makes you think.

Of course, we don’t have to do the full dictatorship thing, but it’s surely time for the smack of firm government.


…how did coronavirus get a head start on us in the first place? It took an authoritarian government to cover it up for several weeks. The brave doctors who alerted the world were silenced and citizen journalists have gone missing. Foreign journalists have been expelled, and if you think you can trust the official statistics, I’ve got a traffic-free bridge to sell you.

By the way, it doesn’t have to be the government in Beijing hiding the truth. It doesn’t matter how centralised a regime might be, they still rely on local agents — and where a climate of fear substitutes for democratic accountability, corners get cut.


6. Liberalism

Progress and freedom, that’s what liberalism’s all about. When we eventually beat this thing, it’ll be because of human ingenuity — so, one up for progress. And assuming that we make it through with our democracy intact, that’ll be one up for freedom. Altogether, not too bad — despite this being the most testing of times.


…while this lasts, there’s no doubting that ‘we’ has to come before ‘me’. There’s nothing like a contagious disease to remind us that individual actions have collective consequences. Not everyone’s learned that lesson yet — especially not the self-centred idiots who think that the entire edifice of democracy depends on them being able to go on the lash anytime they feel like it.


7. Post-liberalism

For post-liberals and localists of every description, this crisis couldn’t be a better demonstration of the importance of family and community. Indeed, the mutual aid networks springing up around the nation might just be the start of a lasting change in society.


…it may take more than the a moderately devastating pandemic to change our ways. Liberals like David Aaronovitch of The Times reckon we’ll be back to our individualistic, globetrotting ways ASAP:

“Those who imagine that the young, freed from a psychological and social austerity imposed upon them for the sake mostly of their elders, are going to decide to live for ever in such a condition are fooling themselves.”

I wonder if this is true of all young people? The smartphone-centred post-millennial generation was already notable for its reclusive tendencies — which this pandemic will only reinforce. I wonder if risk-aversion, rather than hyper-mobility, will be the biggest long-term barrier to rebuilding community.


8. Agrarianism

Agrarianism is a political philosophy that places a special value on farmers and farming. It hasn’t been a vital force in British politics for a very long time. Indeed, Brexit opened up a debate about whether the UK needs an agricultural sector at all. In a globalised economy why not just import our food from whoever can produce it at the lowest cost? That way we can stop paying subsidies to barley barons, and free up land for housing in some places and wildlife in others.

Well, coronavirus has put an end to that illusion. Suddenly, having a homegrown supply of food doesn’t seem such a crazy idea. Official lists of key workers (i.e. those who can still send their kids to school) include “those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of food”. In the post-pandemic era we won’t forget those empty shelves — nor the importance of a supply chain that’s anchored upon our green and pleasant land.


… the renewed interest in where our food comes from could prove to be a doubled-edged sword. To ensure that the post-pandemic era doesn’t become an inter-pandemic era, we need to de-risk the entire global food system. The livestock industry in particular should get ready from some very searching questions about things like antibiotic resistance and the origin of zoonotic diseases.

Indeed, we could see the trend towards fake meat become a stampede.


9. Environmentalism

The deep greens wanted a world of radically restricted extraction, production and consumption — and now they’ve got it. Global capitalism isn’t quite the unstoppable force it was cracked-up to be. Pollution levels are tumbling, saving lives even while the virus claims them. Meanwhile, governments are shifting to wartime economic policies not that dissimilar to what the advocates of a Green New Deal were calling for (albeit in the form of a mass mobilisation against climate change).


…just how sustainable is this halt to the functioning of a free market economy? We’re embarking on a large-scale experiment to find out — one in which we’re all participating whether we like it or not. We’re about to discover what we can live without and what we really can’t. The environmental movement had better pay attention.

As nations fight to get through and then recover from this crisis, greens face a struggle for relevance. Yes, we need to avert the yet greater dangers that lie in the future; but, for now, people are understandably focused on the present.

With the vital COP26 climate talks facing cancellation, it’s the interruption of capitalism, not its continuation, that poses the greatest threat to the fight against climate change.


10. Conservatism

‘There are limits’: that’s the essence of conservatism in just three words. Of course, what I’m referring to is real conservatism, not the fake stuff as peddled by various hucksters and mountebanks.

If you want more than three words, here are four: ‘progress is not inevitable’. To which one need only add a further five: ‘things can always get worse’.


…there is no but.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.