COVID and the Era of Emergencies

What Type of Freedom is at Stake?

in Democratic Theory
Danielle Celermajer University of Sydney, Australia

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Dalia Nassar University of Sydney, Australia

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The threat of emergency measures introduced in face of COVID-19 has largely been framed in terms of individual rights. We argue that it is not the protection of the sovereign individual that is most at stake, but the relations between political subjects and the institutions that enable their robust political participation. Drawing on Hannah Arendt's analysis of the ways in which isolation and the incapacity to discern truth or reality condition totalitarianism and are exacerbated by it, we argue that the dangers for the evacuation of democratic politics are stark in our era. We consider contemporary political action in concert in Germany to illustrate this critique of COVID-19 emergency measures. Drawing on the legal concept of “appropriateness,” we explicate how the German critical response to the shutdown is founded on a concern for democratic principles and institutions, and aims to achieve two crucial goals: governmental transparency and social-political solidarity.

Contributor Notes

Danielle Celermajer is a Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney and the lead of the Multispecies Justice Project. In 2011, she received 1.5 million euro to create and direct a multi-country project on the prevention of torture, focusing on everyday violence in the security sector. Her publications include Sins of the Nation and the Ritual of Apology (Cambridge University Press 2009), The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach (Cambridge University Press, 2018), (with Richard Sherwin), The Cultural History of Law (Bloomsbury 2019), and (with Alexandre Lefebvre), The Subject of Human Rights (Stanford, 2020). E-mail:

Dalia Nassar is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Sydney, a researcher at the Sydney Environment Institute, and a member of the Multispecies Justice Project. Her research sits at the intersection of the history of philosophy, the history of science, and environmental ethics and aesthetics. She is author of The Romantic Absolute (Chicago, 2014), editor of The Relevance of Romanticism (Oxford, 2014) and co-editor with Kristin Gjesdal of Women in the History of Nineteenth Century Philosophy: The German Tradition (Oxford, 2021). E-mail:

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