America is in terminal decline; China is on the rise; the EU is too supine. What about “we, the people”? Are we colluding with the disintegration of liberal democracy by acquiescing to the “acceptable authoritarianism” of the lockdown, as Steve Bloomfield suggests? (“The new battle for democracy,” July.)
I share his concerns about liberal democracy but not his implied fatalism. “Liberal” and “democracy” are not synonymous, as Bloomfield acknowledges, but neither was their alliance an “accident.” European democrats devised rights charters to limit the powers of elected leaders because they understood that majority rule cannot ensure against tyranny. When legislating for liberty proved insufficient after the devastation of the Depression and Second World War, the UN drafted new universal human rights principles to underpin democracies, including basic economic and social rights. The failure of democratic governments to deliver such basic economic security and well-being for their populations after the 2008 crash was the decisive driver in decoupling democracy from liberal norms.
So democracy’s decay long preceded the Covid-19 crisis. Elected despots trampling on citizens’ rights are a feature of our age. But the Covid-19 crisis provides an opportunity to draw on a revived spirit of co-operation, collectivism and compassion to “build back better” and realign democracy with the values of dignity, equality and humanity. Liberty on its own will not suffice!
Francesca Klug, London School of Economics
Peter Frankopan’s article (“The next pandemic,” July) reminds us that few things in life carry zero risk. And some activities, such as research carried out into infectious disease in bio-containment laboratories, are essential, as we see today with Covid-19, to manage greater risks to society from natural (or deliberate) outbreaks of viral disease.
But even a very low likelihood of accidental release of a lethal pathogen, given its grave potential effect, creates a significant danger. This is an area where the precautionary principle has to be scrupulously enforced. However high the cost of security and containment measures, it has to be afforded.
It is always worth remembering, however, the well-known equation governing overall expected risk. That risk in this field is the product of four factors: the likelihood of accidental or malicious release; the vulnerability of different sectors of society to infection; the likely effectiveness of healthcare provision (and the detect, track, trace and treat system) in managing…