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Exactly one year ago ‘A QUESTION’ was asked by Giorgio Agamben

The plague marked the beginning of corruption in the city… No one was more willing to persevere in what they previously judged to be good, because they believed that he could perhaps die before he reached it.

  • Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War , II, 53

I would like to share with those who feel like it a question that I have not ceased to reflect on for more than a month.

How could it happen that an entire country is ethically and politically collapsed in the face of a disease without realizing it?

The words I used to formulate this question were carefully considered one by one.

The measure of abdication to one’s own ethical and political principles is, in fact, very simple: it is a question of asking oneself what is the limit beyond which one is not willing to give it up.

I believe that the reader who will take the trouble to consider the following points cannot fail to agree that – without realizing it or pretending not to notice it – the threshold that separates humanity from barbarism has been crossed.

1) The first point, perhaps the most serious, concerns the bodies of dead people. How have we been able to accept, only in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, that people who are dear to us and human beings in general not only died alone, but that – something that had never happened before in history, since Antigone to today – that their corpses were burned without a funeral?

2) We then accepted without making too many problems, only in the name of a riskthat it was not possible to specify, to limit to an extent that had never happened before in the history of the country, not even during the two world wars (the curfew during the war was limited to certain hours) our freedom of movement.

We consequently accepted, only in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, to effectively suspend our relationships of friendship and love, because our neighbor had become a possible source of contagion.

3) This could have happened – and here we touch the root of the phenomenon – because we have split the unity of our vital experience, which is always inseparably both corporeal and spiritual, into a purely biological entity on the one hand and into an affective and emotional life. cultural on the other.

Ivan Illich has shown, and David Cayley recalled here recently, the responsibilities of modern medicine in this split, which is taken for granted and which is instead the greatest of abstractions. I am well aware that this abstraction has been realized by modern science through resuscitation devices, which can keep a body in a state of pure vegetative life.

But if this condition extends beyond its own spatial and temporal boundaries, as we are trying to do today, and becomes a sort of principle of social behavior, we fall into contradictions from which there is no way out.

I know that someone will hasten to reply that it is a limited condition of time, after which everything will return as before.

It is truly strange that it can be repeated if not in bad faith, since the same authorities who proclaimed the emergency do not cease to remind us that when the emergency is overcome, we must continue to observe the same directives and that the ” social distancing ”, as it has been called with a significant euphemism, will be the new principle of organization of society.

And, in any case, what, in good or bad faith, one has accepted to undergo cannot be canceled.

At this point, since I have accused the responsibilities of each of us, I cannot fail to mention the even more serious responsibilities of those who would have had the task of watching over the dignity of man.

First of all, the Church, which, by becoming the handmaid of science, which has now become the true religion of our time, has radically denied its most essential principles.

The Church, under a Pope named Francis, has forgotten that Francis embraced lepers. He has forgotten that one of the works of mercy is to visit the sick. He has forgotten that martyrs teach that one must be willing to sacrifice one’s life rather than faith and that giving up one’s neighbor means giving up faith.

Another category that has failed in its duties is that of jurists.

We have long been accustomed to the reckless use of urgent decrees through which in fact the executive power replaces the legislative one, abolishing the principle of separation of powers that defines democracy.

But in this case every limit has been exceeded, and one gets the impression that the words of the prime minister and the head of civil protection have, as was said for those of the Führer, immediately the force of law.

And it is not clear how, once the limit of time validity of the urgent decrees has been exhausted, the limitations of freedom can be maintained, as is announced.

With what legal arrangements? With a permanent state of exception?

It is the duty of the jurists to verify that the rules of the constitution are respected, but the jurists are silent. abolishing that principle of the separation of powers that defines democracy.

Quare silete iuristae in munere vestro?

I know that there will inevitably be someone who will answer that the serious sacrifice was made in the name of moral principles.

I would like to remind them that Eichmann, apparently in good faith, never tired of repeating that he had done what he had done according to his conscience, to obey what he believed to be the precepts of Kantian morality.

A norm, which states that one must renounce the good to save the good, is just as false and contradictory as that which, in order to protect freedom, requires renouncing freedom.

13 April 2020 – Giorgio Agamben [Una domanda]

Source: Giorgio Agamben – Quodlibet

  • Translated