Germany is currently in a new lockdown spiral. Every day brings fresh suggestions for even stricter rules, and no one dares to even think about relaxing them any time soon.
Any attempt to fathom which restrictions on our freedom the politicians believe will achieve the required objective, and why they believe that, is doomed to failure. We’re allowed to go to the hairdresser, but we can’t get a pedicure. Our children sit alongside 30 others in the classroom, but in their free time they’re supposed to meet with only one single friend.
The Robert Koch Institute’s findings about which locations carry a particularly high risk of infection also apparently count for nothing because restaurants, which have just been closed again, were not among them.
And then there are the courts, which have already quashed a whole series of measures they deemed “disproportionate” or “insufficiently justified.” Curfews or the enforced closure of fitness studios were rescinded in many places as a result, as were bans on providing accommodation, or the requirement to wear a mask in all public places.
Lack of proportionality
The people who have to take these decisions certainly have an unenviable task. It’s not as if politicians have a secret catalog of measures that are necessary and efficient but are deliberately going further in order to subjugate the people, as a lot of muddle-headed people believe. On the other hand, Germany’s federal government, and some of the regional ones, seem to be motivated more by the populace’s fears and by hysterical headlines than by scientifically proven facts. As if they have to keep imposing ever stricter measures in some form or another. And with that, proportionality often goes out of the window.
One excuse that’s often given is that we still know too little about the virus and it’s better to do too much rather than too little. But since the spring, this argument has started to wear thin. The first vaccines are now on the verge of being approved, and although infection rates have risen sharply, the German health system is still far from collapsing, as was initially feared. We’ve known for some time now how the virus spreads, and which groups are most at risk of serious illness or death.
But we also know how dangerous a lockdown can be for people’s psychological and physical health, and how ruinous its effects are on the economy, and on our social lives. Sociologists are already issuing warnings about the “coronavirus generation” the youth of today, who will suffer long-term disadvantages.
Wanting Daddy to sort it out
But it appears that all this knowledge is being overwhelmed by a collective psychosis. Is there any better proof of this than the unimaginable popularity achieved by the Bavarian premier Markus Soder during the pandemic? The infection rates in Bavaria don’t exactly testify to his effectiveness, yet the opinion polls practically declare the CSU leader to be the next chancellor.
Soder was already saying at the end of March that “in a crisis, people often want Father to come and sort it out.” And even supposedly enlightened Germans are happy to rely on Daddy. The consistently high approval ratings for all the measures the federal and state governments have taken bear witness to this.
In its feature pages, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has already posed the “troubling question” of whether open societies are less well-suited than authoritarian systems to react to global threats. Unfortunately, our colleagues are right, we have to talk about what was, until recently, unthinkable: Has the threat from this dangerous virus and the accompanying panic so hypnotised Germans that they actually want to be governed with a firm hand?
Journalists call for strict measures
There are even many journalists who, rather than demanding parliamentary debates and judicious and minimal interruption to public life, are instead calling for “strong statements” and “courage” to lock citizens up in the name of the common good. Instead of subjecting politics to scrutiny, politicians are being encouraged to be strict with the people.
A few weeks ago, the author Jagoda Marinic observed in the daily Suddeutsche Zeitung that the “excessive caution in the current media discourse” over politics was so great that when the health minister, Jens Spahn, admitted that the measures imposed during the first lockdown had been excessive, he did so of his accord. The media had not asked him about it. “Is it a virtue now not to criticise?” queried Marinic, and rightly so.
In this way, there is a danger that the concept of political responsibility will become diluted. In a democracy, politicians cannot be afforded time out from their obligation to account for their actions not even when they have a serious, perhaps even unique, crisis to overcome.
You can’t do China by halves
This remains true even when there are indications that a majority of citizens would give up all their freedoms just to protect themselves from a disease that is being talked up into the deathly pestilence of our age.
Anyone who longs for Chinese-style authoritarian efficiency in fighting the pandemic must also be prepared to accept Chinese conditions in their entirety. Were this to be the case, we would no longer need parliaments or independent courts, either. And media debate would certainly be superfluous because when Father bangs on the table, the children must keep their mouths shut. DW