The pre-COVID-19 order isn’t coming back, “for the former things are passed away.”
Even if a vaccine or a cure is discovered tomorrow, we won’t pick up where we left off. The world that lies beyond the lockdown is an altogether colder, harsher, and more authoritarian place.
In part, this reflects changing geopolitics. We talk of the pandemic as a global crisis, but its impact has not been felt symmetrically. Western economies have been unusually hard hit. China is the only nation on the planet that has bounced back to where it was: Its economy will end up growing by 2% in 2020 while the United States shrinks by 5%, the eurozone shrinks by 8%, and the United Kingdom shrinks by 10%. And that’s before we get to the debt figures. Chinese Communist Party leaders are now comfortably set to meet their objective of running the world’s largest economy by 2030.
That fact alone is vast enough. English-speaking populations have been ascendant for three centuries, long enough for their precepts — free speech, regular elections, uncensored newspapers, jury trials — to come to look like universal values. We may be about to discover that there was never anything universal about them.
Indeed, even in the core Anglosphere states, liberty is retreating before the disease — or, rather, before the panic and collectivism induced by the disease. An extraterrestrial visitor, judging only by the texture of daily life, would think that the U.K. and the U.S. were more repressive regimes than Russia or China, where people are free to eat out, attend concerts, and travel. The citizens of those autocracies also display a sense of patriotism and purpose that has been lost in the liberal West, wracked as it is by identity politics and culture wars.