COVID-19. REALITY AND REPRESENTATION
Testing "communicative democracy": from health protection to freedoms and rights
by Maurizio Manzin and Alberto Scerbo
Whatever its purposes, a state of exception, which no one is able to assess with certainty, is a one-time, unique occurrence, which once it has been declared, no one is in a position to verify the reality or severity of the circumstances which brought it into being.
In the media we can find all the typical characteristics of epidemics: accusations, conspiracies, exploitation, hidden interests, people who try too hard to play them down and many who call for cooperation and rationality to face the complex scenarios (of which no one has full knowledge).
(F. Bianchi - L. Cori)
- Deadline for submission of papers: September 12th, 2021
- Notification of acceptance by October 15th, 2021
You can participate in the call for papers with two types of proposals:
(1) Standard Article
(2) Review or comments
Papers must be unpublished and written in English (preferred) or, alternatively, in Italian. Along with the title, candidates should indicate: name, surname and employment status of the Author, accompanied by a brief abstract and keywords in English.
If co-authored (maximum of two co-authors), the attribution of each part must be indicated clearly on the document.
Papers will be reviewed by means of an “anonymous peer review” (double-blind).
The evaluation will be based on the following criteria: relevance, methodological rigor and the originality of the proposal.
Once converted into a .docx format, papers will be uploaded in the appropriate section of the Mimesis-TCRS website upon registration of the author. If they contain terms in non-Latin characters (e.g. ancient Greek), formulas or symbols, they must also be attached in a .pdf format for feedback.
For further details on editorial criteria (length of papers and abstracts, formatting, quotes, bibliography) please refer to the Guidelines for Authors (http://mimesisedizioni.it/journals/documenti/istruzioni-autori-ita.pdf).
The current global emergency, caused by the spread of the virus called Covid-19, represents an exceptional case study from many standpoints: science and medicine, politics and geopolitics, constitutionality, philosophy, sociology, law, psychology and communication, macro- and micro-economics etc. Because of this interconnection, as well as its complexity and consequences, a multidisciplinary capacity of observation and analysis are required in order to manage all investigative tools, keeping in mind the need to achieve a cohesive overall view. The Editors of this TCRS monograph believe that the legal-political perspective can lead to a synthesis, as it combines theory and practice (at the same time, it analyzes deliberative processes). For this reason, the call is open to all relevant competences, as long as they relate the specialist investigation to the thematic framework of the emergency as it is and as it is represented, detecting any dyscrasias (both conscious and unconscious) and highlighting the implications for democracy, health and freedom.
Possible related topics
Fundamental rights (finding a balance)
Public Health / Safety
Legal Sources (system of)
Emergency / State of exception
Communication / Information
S&T (Science and Technology) / Expert Opinion
Power and Fear
As a matter of principle, there are limitations concerning the coercion that a state is authorized to exercise in order to maintain the safety and integrity of its citizens. Other limits are those deriving from the rule of law, such as the separation of powers and legal certainty. Given the existing ways (if any) of assessing a serious and sudden threat to public health, such as a highly dangerous pandemic, to what extent must or can the procedures established by the law and the Constitution be negotiated? What do the distortions of the sources and the constant deferment of parliamentary deliberation entail?
These are just some of the issues concerning the management of the health emergency. Others can relate to new regulations which have been implemented (directives, recommendations, opinions etc.); as well as to the legal-public nature of the relationship (and, sometimes, the conflict) between the central bodies of the state and local administrations; and with the most relevant aspects of the observance/non-observance of the provisions by citizens from the perspective of an analysis of legal sociology.
The pandemic emergency presents critical issues for the democratic system. Therefore, it is crucial to reflect on such matters in order to find adequate regulations to address the health crisis. The most important question in such exceptional times is “who is to decide and how”. The need to proceed swiftly has led to the conclusion that it is normal for governments to adopt measures that suspend parliamentary activities, usually extended over a long period of time, in order to examine and assess the deliberative content. Urgent decrees, which branch off in many directions by virtue of the pervasiveness of the pandemic, overshadow the principle of legality, and end up favoring the supporters of the "redundancy, albeit temporarily" of Parliament. If the crisis is one of uncertainty, at least its long-term duration is certain, and it is, therefore, worth asking whether the prominence of such actions in which "decision" is being prioritized over that of "deliberation" is an expression of a more general crisis of the legal system and the rule of law, one which has been revealed during the current emergency.
The public health issue is closely connected to that of safety: in both areas, how much freedom are we willing to sacrifice? To what extent should we allow the public sphere, which is administered by the state, to limit/determine that of private individuals? The conceptual and ethical starting points which lead to the general rules and regulations (those created by government and Parliament) and the individual ones (dictated by the courts), seem to be stuck between the individualistic option (where individuals decide) and the social option (where the state decides), thus revealing an underlying impasse typical of modern times, between the “one” and the “many”. Can there be an obligation of community solidarity without this appearing to be a contradiction in terms? There are many possible reflections in the fields of political philosophy, constitutionalism and rights, even from a critical perspective, with respect to the concept of "healthocracy".
Faced with the pandemic, the suspension of many fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of movement and the freedom of initiative, has been justified by a quasi trade-off between freedom and safety. On the one hand, it is stated that the complete protection in the face of risks would eradicate the meaning of freedom itself, while on the other hand it is considered unreasonable, in the present situation, to claim rights we once considered inviolable. This argument implies a radical split between law and freedom, identifying the latter – as Thomas Hobbes did - with “license”, i.e. the right to do what one wants. A very different perspective is that of those who have always defended a not "de-moralized" conception of freedom, linking it to the recognition of the other and of their properties. From this viewpoint, any political balance between freedom and safety is inadmissible, since it would be a matter of identifying which behaviors should be prohibited precisely because they violate the freedoms of others.
State of exception
It is well known that this expression is a pivotal concept in Carl Schmitt's theory, which refers to the 'theological' matrix of that sovereign decision which alone can (re)create the juridical-political order. There have been many different interpretations of this concept since then (from Walter Benjamin to Giorgio Agamben), but always interpreting the state of exception as a (critical) demarcation line between before and after, no-longer and not-yet, regarding a political entity. It took a "black swan" – i.e. the Covid-19 emergency – to convince us to seriously re-measure ourselves using this controversial category, testing its explanatory capacity in a context which is completely different from the one in which it had been designed for. Can the statute of the exception, then, be considered unaltered, even in our "multi-level" world, or, as some maintain, is it time to rethink the normality/exception binomial itself?
Not surprisingly, communication has taken on a key role in emergency management. Social media have been crucial, both because of their de facto institutionalization (being the source of knowledge of the new dispositions) and because of the effects of a network discussion, which can help to determine the pros and cons in a public debate. The virtualization of the agora is largely influencing the places established for decisions, testing the mechanisms of "communicative democracy" and sharpening stances on the need to control the network. The theme can also be addressed by analyzing certain contentious theories, both normative and descriptive: fallacies, bias, persuasive strategies, "derailments" etc. These dynamics, which have characterized the dissemination of news, are now being studied by experts of public speech, informal logics and multimedia debates. The theme of fear – a constant in many forms in public communication- could also be worthy of in-depth studies, especially in relation to the idea of "phobocracy" that has characterized European history on several occasions (from Hobbes to totalitarianism).
The specific relevance of expert opinions in the medical field, who are capable of orienting (or replacing) policy-makers, offers the cue for in-depth studies in the field of the epistemology and sociology of science. The anthropological model based exclusively on (physical) "health" that becomes "salvation," has led to the modification of other values (mainly “freedom” and “work”) and is challenging a hierarchy that used to be consolidated in the Constitution. The union between this model and the gnoseological primacy attributed to technoscience, confers the "last word" status to experts whose opinions, by the very nature of scientific discourse, should instead have a probabilistic and falsifiable character. The weight of expert opinions with respect to political and governmental choices seems to have the same importance which is usually given to scientific evidence in judicial processes, or to neuroscience in the determination of guilt. These contemporary forms of reductionism certainly deserve renewed attention.