The democracy on the edge,

Cédric Lombard
5 min readMay 21, 2020

Free will and responsibility in times of Covid-19 crisis, and their perspective looking at global warming crisis

The difference between democracy and totalitarianism is, however, very simple. For democracy, there are no single, definitive answers to problems; the reality is complex, and answers are always to be found in the consensus of the opposites. For totalitarianism, on the contrary, the reality is viewed in an oversimplified, Manichean way; it is split in two extreme, good and bad, black and white. The very concept of simple answers to complex questions is the prerogative of populists and dictators.

In the context of Covid-19, the ability of democracies to take quick decisions has been applauded, as the executive power has ruled by decrees and the parliaments have been put between parenthesis for a while. It has been an opportunity for many governments at the beginning of the crisis to shut down other debated questions and claims. The temptation remains to continue to rule with unilateral responses. This temptation represents an abysmal risk for our democracies. Until when shall the population accept its house arrest. It is agreed that an unqualified response was certainly necessary to give the society the sufficient time to understand and react. But now that we know more, now that the health systems of each country have shown their strengths and weaknesses and that it has been adapted thanks to the crisis, a return to democracy is a necessity. The return to balanced decision is a must.

The power of an unqualified response must yield against a measured one, resulting from the compromise. This limitless power hinders the free will and the liberty of movement. Be it based on scientific evidence, the belief that some individuals know what is good and prohibit what is bad, will always be dangerous. Science must be looked at in a greater perspective, balanced by the kaleidoscope of complexity. Indeed, the most of the countries’ governments have followed World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations to the letter. But WHO is elected by nobody, WHO is focused on health, what do its experts know about the management of a country, the global economy and the balance of a specific one, a society, poverty, or a even a human mind. WHO is not democratic, it knows about physical health, but nothing else. The WHO has no other legitimacy than science. It has not been created to think about nothing else but health.

In the perspective of the global warming crisis, many have seen in the blunt decision of the Governments in reaction to the pandemic, its ability to take decisions for the greater good, based on scientific assumptions. Is the credibility of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) greater or lesser than the one of the WHO? The IPCC is composed of experts from many different specialties and tend to internalize the social, geographical, economical, political aspects of the crisis to come. While with the Covid-19, the WHO recommendations led to the quarantine half of the humanity, most governments have been prompt to react bluntly against all forms of liberty, the IPCC has a hard time to be heard and followed. Indeed, if the urgency is obvious in both cases, the Covid-19 emergency represented an immediate threat, while the global warming has still only a superficial impact on our daily lives, it gradually unfolds over time. Likewise, the measures taken in a crisis like the Covid-19 one, have immediately noticeable and therefore profitable consequences in a political assessment, whereas the measures taken in the context of global warming will affect humanity and the planet only in several years and decades and it thus more complicated to take a political advantage out of it in the present.

The totalitarian temptation appears more attractive as it results in immediate effect. Many see, in the window that the incisive response to Covid-19 opened, an opportunity to redefine our way of life and our collective answer to the global warming or inequalities or even globalization. The temptation is to see in dictatorship the only way to take decisions in times of crisis. The perception that democracy, its procrastination, its compromises, its anchoring in the present is not compatible with the challenges we face. And yet, there is no definitive, even scientific, ways to answer any challenges. Complexity is the rule, and democracy is our best way to approach it. There are no simple answers, and democratic procrastination is the only opportunity to come up with subtle answers. The populism that we see emerging in the democratic debate is not democratic but essentially totalitarian.

The Covid-19 crisis places us, today, at the time of de-confinement, before these political choices. How to resolve the crisis in a balanced way: on the one hand, put the responsibility on the only citizens, whose practices represent the only barrier against the disease (as we do with the global warming); at the other extreme prohibit liberty and movement, in the name of the defense of life against all odds, especially itself. How to balance the problems that a good decision in the short term, could cause in the longer run, such as an economic crisis, a recession, a world war. The consequences of this crisis will be felt for at least 10 to 20 years. What is the social, economic, psychological cost of the decisions? The shock wave of some drastic political measures taken on the recommendation of a group of experts focused on their realm. How to minimize the impact of its consequences, how to correct it?

Along with the question of the return to democracy, we have to remember that the consideration of the time is crucial in the democratic equation. The issue of inter-generational equality must be placed at the center of the democratic debate. The Covid-19 and the political decisions that have been taken, create a dramatic imbalance for the young people who are ironically spared by the disease and who will pay the heaviest tribute, having lived for many a traumatic confinement at home, and then condemn to grow or reach adulthood in a world in crisis. Global warming follows the same logic, but upside down, because it is the absence of decision-making to maintain the living standards in the short term, that preempts the future of humanity and generations to come.

Those who live in democracies must always remember not to accept simple answers. We shall always remember that everything is in balance, the balance between an extreme and its opposite reading. We always have to be attentive to the balance between today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. The Covid-19 crisis represents an opportunity to question the becoming of our relationship with power and the way we expect our governments should solve the crisis to come. The Covid-19 crisis is a good opportunity to think about the concept of sacrifice, for whom and when. It should not be that of the glorification of power in its rawest form. No, the power which provides a unique, definitive and obviously reassuring solution to a given problem, is dangerous for freedom which it might claim it defends. Decision making has to be balanced and found in the compromise or it will probably destroy the very idea of life and well-being. We shall always remember that democracy is the only system, that permits to subtly balance of free will and responsibility.

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Cédric Lombard

Swiss, living in Colombia, Cédric is an entrepreneur active in impact investing since 2001