The Return of Ivan Illich in Times of Corona

Humberto Beck

by Humberto Beck

These are, admittedly, extraordinary times. Since the crisis of the coronavirus started sweeping the whole world, we have all experienced a paradoxical experience of time, one in which temporality is simultaneously stagnating and in acceleration. While most of the inhabitants of the planet have found themselves isolated through quarantines and lockdowns that have slowed the perception of time (sometimes inducing the feeling of one single day repeating itself all over again), this perception has been accompanied by a rapid onset of unheard-of developments and events. In a few weeks, the news began to warn about the perils of unprecedented levels of unemployment and global economic collapse, and measures previously thought marginal (such as universal basic income) or pitted against austerity conventions (such as large fiscal stimulus plans), have now become either realities or central issues of public debate.

It is as if a sudden, violent sense of history had exploded in the midst of what already were turbulent times. World leaders and intellectuals began comparing the corona crisis with the Great Depression of 1929, and even considering it, because of the intensity of its consequences, the greatest upheaval since the world wars of the first half of the twentieth century. But faced with the uncertainty of the times, we should not forget that previous experiences of crisis have resulted, after thoughtful reassessment and the influence of imaginative leadership and planning, in radical, positive change. Crisis can open up new horizons, expanding the space of historical possibility. The launching of the project of European integration, as well as the consolidation of welfare states in a number of European nations, was this kind of result: a critical response to the horrors of the Second World War.

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