Philosophical lessons from lockdown

French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533–92) famously said that facing our mortality is the only way to properly learn the ‘art of living’. He was right. This book is about what we can learn from COVID-19 about the art of living, as individuals but also collectively as a society: this crisis could potentially change our lives for the better, ushering in a more just society. The book will explore a number of key themes through philosophical lenses. Chapter 2 asks whether coronavirus is a misfortune, or an injustice. Chapter 3 focuses on the largest cohort of victims of coronavirus: people in old age. Chapter 4 asks whether life under coronavirus is comparable to life in the so-called ‘state of nature’. Chapter 5 explores the likely impact of coronavirus on the global phenomenon of populism. Chapter 6 investigates the relationship between post-truth and coronavirus. Chapter 7 focuses on the role of experts during this crisis. Chapter 8 looks at the spike of incidents of domestic violence during the lockdown via an analysis of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Chapter 9 explores four key lessons that must be learned from the COVID-19 crisis: that politics matters; that central states are necessary; that taxation is important; and that radical reforms, including the introduction of a universal basic income, are crucial. Chapter 10 considers what philosophy can contribute to the debate on COVID-19, and why we have a moral duty not to become ill.

Vittorio Bufacchi

Before we had COVID-19 we had populism. Modern-day populism is founded on a specific but crude and somewhat distorted understanding of the social and political landscape, where only two political groupings exist: the perfidious elite, including experts and scholars, holders of the reins of political and economic power, and the excluded masses. An irreverent, nonconformist agenda explains populism’s attraction, especially right-wing populism. This chapter argues that the COVID-19 pandemic may have exposed the underlying weaknesses, incompetence, and long-term inadequacy of many populist leaders around the world.

in Everything must change
Vittorio Bufacchi

This chapter gives some consideration to what social, political, and economic changes need to be made, domestically and globally, after this pandemic crisis is over. If everything post COVID-19 goes back to being essentially similar to life pre COVID-19, we will have wasted a unique opportunity to eradicate some of the worst underlying conditions of social injustice which inflict misery on billions of people across the globe. There are at least four main lessons we must learn from the COVID-19 crisis. First, the importance of politics. Second, the necessity of a well-funded state. Third, the imperative to raise taxes to give the state adequate resources. Fourth, the requirement to introduce new radical social and economic reforms.

in Everything must change
Vittorio Bufacchi

The potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on the world economy is beyond measure. The risk is that if the economy collapses it will also bring down civil society with it. Political philosophers have a term for this: we are being propelled towards the ‘state of nature’. This chapter suggests that extreme crises do not bring out the best in people. A negative, almost nightmarish account of the state of nature has a long tradition in the history of philosophy, and at the centre of it we find the widely maligned but often misunderstood seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. At the risk of defending a highly controversial figure, this chapter suggests that Hobbes still has a great deal to teach us about life under COVID-19.

in Everything must change
Vittorio Bufacchi

Incidents of domestic violence skyrocketed during the weeks of lockdown. This phenomenon was universal. In Ireland reports of domestic violence increased by almost 25 per cent after the coronavirus lockdown period began. This chapter focuss on one cultural event that captured the imagination of millions of people during the lockdown, especially in the UK and Ireland: the televised adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. The impact of domestic violence on young lives is one of the main themes in Rooney’s book.

in Everything must change
Vittorio Bufacchi

We live in an ageing society. The average age of death from COVID-19 is over 80. Care homes have taken the full force of this epidemiological tsunami. In Ireland 63 per cent of fatalities from COVID-19 related illnesses have occurred in nursing and care homes, not hospitals. It is now beyond doubt that in the way most countries prepared for the pandemic, nursing and care homes were not a priority, as reflected by the present mortality rates. Society’s relationship to people living in old age has never been under closer scrutiny; thus there has never been a better time to go back 2,000 years to the philosophical work of Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Old Age (44 BCE). This pandemic has fully exposed the lack of respect our efficiency-obsessed modern society has for people in old age.

in Everything must change
Richard Lapper

Chapter 11 looks at the breakdown of Brazil’s efforts to control deforestation and the growing international concern about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. This chapter considers some of the issues that have divided Bolsonaro’s supporters. The dramatic increase in deforestation in 2019–20 brought to the fore global concerns about the impact of deforestation on global warming. Much of this was down to Bolsonaro, whose administration weakened the institutions whose monitoring and policing work reduced deforestation in the period between 2004 and 2012. Bolsonaro provided encouragement for his wilder supporters – the small farmers, informal miners and loggers and property speculators who have colonised parts of the Amazon. The town of Novo Progresso in Pará celebrated Bolsonaro’s first six months in government by coordinating a series of fires in neighbouring tracts of rainforest. Yet many powerful commercial interests are alarmed by the impact of environmental damage on Brazil’s reputation abroad and the potential loss of markets and investment. A painstakingly negotiated and valuable trade deal with the European Union completed in 2019 may well come unstuck, for example.

in Beef, Bible and Bullets
Richard Lapper

Chapter 9 examines the role of the rapidly growing neo-Pentecostal churches. An estimated 30 per cent of Brazilians were evangelical Protestants in 2020, up from only about 6 per cent in 1980. The socially conservative churches, particularly the large and financially powerful neo-Pentecostal churches, are increasingly influential at all levels of Brazilian society and have established close links with Bolsonaro and his family.

in Beef, Bible and Bullets
Brazil in the age of Bolsonaro
Author: Richard Lapper

Backed by Brazil’s wealthy agribusiness groups, a growing evangelical movement, and an emboldened military and police force, Jair Bolsonaro took office as Brazil’s president in 2019. Driven by the former army captain’s brand of controversial, aggressive rhetoric, the divisive presidential campaign saw fake news and misinformation shared with Bolsonaro’s tens of millions of social media followers. Bolsonaro promised simple solutions to Brazil’s rising violent crime, falling living standards and widespread corruption, but what has emerged is Latin America's most right-wing president since the military dictatorships of the 1970s. Famous for his racist, homophobic and sexist beliefs and his disregard for human rights, the so-called ‘Trump of the Tropics’ has established a reputation based on his polemical, sensationalist statements. Written by a journalist with decades of experience in the field, Beef, Bible and bullets is a compelling account of the origins of Brazil's unique brand of right-wing populism. Lapper offers the first major assessment of the Bolsonaro government and the growing tensions between extremist and moderate conservatives.

Richard Lapper

Chapter 2 describes the way in which the extraordinary growth of social media and the increasing competitive pressures faced by traditional newspapers, radio and TV helped Bolsonaro overcome the disadvantages that Brazil’s political establishment believed would keep him from office. Several factors helped propel his successful social media campaign. Bolsonaro’s second son, Carlos, designed an effective strategy. The popularity on the internet of Olavo de Carvalho, a Brazilian philosopher notable for his unconventional extreme right-wing views, was significant, while the knife attack that left Bolsonaro hospitalised for much of the electoral campaign also turned out to be to the candidate’s advantage. Above all, it was Bolsonaro’s anti-political style which proved attractive to more conservative Brazilians. Like Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte, Bolsonaro benefited by openly opposing political correctness.

in Beef, Bible and Bullets