Ioannis Papagaryfallou By: Ioannis Papagaryfallou
Research Assistant in Global Health
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10 Sep 2020 : COVID-19 and Internationalism

The COVID-19 global health crisis has triggered economic and political processes that defy easy conceptualisation. The LSE COVID-19 blog, and the latest issue of the journal Nations and Nationalism, contribute to the elucidation of the political and economic aspects of the crisis caused by the pandemic. Both sources acknowledge the tentative character of scientific knowledge and the impossibility of predicting the future with any degree of accuracy. However, they also make a number of valid points regarding the future of the nation-state and economic life within its confines and beyond. The participants in the intellectual exchange ‘COVID-19, Nationalism, and the Politics of Crisis’, which can be found in the July issue of Nations and Nationalism, share a common belief in the potential of COVID-19 to amplify nationalism. However, there are also significant differences of emphasis between them.

Christopher Hughes (LSE) and Liah Greenfeld (Boston University) discuss the politicization of the pandemic and the ensuing tensions in the US-China relations. Greenfeld suggests that there is something inevitable about the new Cold War between the United States and China, whereas Hughes is more critical of the mainstream conceptualisation of the American national interest. Cynthia Miller-Idriss (American University) addresses the peculiar set of problems facing states in the global south and offers a thoughtful analysis of what she defines as populist nationalism. By celebrating the purity of the people, and putting into question the credentials of elites, populist nationalism creates serious problems in the fight against COVID. Apart from politicians, scientists and other experts are also systematically questioned  and undermined by populist nationalism which, for Idriss, is the dominant form of nationalism today. Those issues do not have only academic value, since the failure of the United States, Brazil, and the United Kingdom, to keep infection rates low has very much to do with the actions and omissions of populist nationalist leaders, such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. Finally, Eric Taylor Woods (University of East London) and Robert Schertzer (University of Toronto) point out that COVID-19 could give rise to forms of neo-imperialism which favour the strong and undermine weak states. One could conclude that in the same way that COVID-19 deepens social inequalities it exacerbates international inequalities as well.

The economic and other consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are analysed in the LSE COVID-19 blog. Luke Cooper talks about a crisis of neoliberalism different to those of 1989, 2001 and 2008. Pawel Bukowski and Wojciech Paczos emphasize the need for progressive taxation, and Mohammad Nurunnabi calls for changes in corporate governance in developing countries. Minouche Shafik (LSE Director) concludes that a global pandemic cannot be solved with national policies alone and multilateral organisations should play an important role in promoting economic recovery. Both Nations and Nationalism and the LSE blog show that there are winners and losers in the world because of COVID. As regards nationalism, COVID-19 demonstrates the ways in which the nationalism of the strong differs from the nationalism of the weak. Ultimately, however, COVID reveals the fundamental difference between nationalism as a political and cultural reality and nationalism as a credible political and social programme. Although there are ways in which nationalism in the first sense is strengthened by the COVID crisis, it is very doubtful whether it can address the health question and the equally important social question left to its own devices. States have a point in trying to secure basic resources for their population, but there is no way to achieve health in one country when dealing with COVID-19. Under the circumstances created by the pandemic, neoliberal globalism and nationalism should give way to medical and other forms of internationalism.

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