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COVID and the Era of Emergencies

What Type of Freedom is at Stake?

Danielle Celermajer and Dalia Nassar

Abstract

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.