Neighbors inhabit a distinct social sphere whose regulative ideal is the democracy of everyday life. Its chief elements are reciprocity and a practical disregard for the differences and inequalities that shape interactions in the broader society and in democratic politics. The democracy of everyday life has heightened significance during disasters. Neighbors hold our lives in their hands. But COVID-19 differs from physical disasters in ways that alter neighbor interactions. Contamination makes relations more fearful at the same time that isolation makes them more valuable. When the meaning attributed to the virus is not shared experience of disease and mortality but rabid partisanship, neighbor relations become distorted. This degradation of the democracy of everyday life signals that democracy itself is imperiled more deeply than political paralysis, corruption, and institutional failure suggest.
Nancy L Rosenblum is Senator Joseph Clark Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government Emerita with Harvard University. E-mail: email@example.com