Liberalism and Corona?
Is the Coronavirus Crisis a Crisis of Liberalism?

Is the Coronavirus Crisis a Crisis of Liberalism?

For years, Claus Dierksmeier, Professor for Globalization Ethics at the University of Tübingen and former director of the Global Ethic Institute (2012-18), has defended his idea of freedom as the guiding value of globality.

Individual freedom always includes responsibility for its socially and ecologically sustainable use. In each case, he has said, which and whose freedoms should be given priority must be weighed up. According to Dierksmeier, it is the quality - and not the quantity - of our freedoms that matters most. After all, freedom does not mean maximising the options of the few, but optimising the opportunities of all global citizens.

In 2016, he published “Qualitative Freiheit - Selbstbestimmung in weltbürgerlicher Verantwortung,” a brilliant foundational work for contemporary liberalism, which has been available in English translation since 2019.

In this article, Dierksmeier vividly demonstrates the practicality of his qualitative approach, using the Corona crisis as an example. In the synthesis of freedom and responsibility, he posits, temporary and well-justified restrictions on individual freedoms are not to be understood simply as ‘unavoidable’ or an ‘alternativeness’ constraint, but as bonds inherent in the very idea of freedom.

How so? Is Dierksmeier blind to the dangers of the overturning of free orders into authoritarianism, to the manifold efforts and the measures using this pandemic as a pretext for the far-reaching restriction of fundamental rights? Not at all! According to Dierksmeier, we must be on our guard here.

Nonetheless, a proportionate quarantine can certainly be conducive to freedom: if the freedom to shop in boutiques and eat in restaurants is curtailed, while on the other hand the freedom not to fall ill, or even lose one’s own life, is strengthened, then class takes precedence over mass.

In the case of freedom, he says, qualitative evaluation must precede quantitative measurements. The central question is which freedoms and whose freedoms are at stake: “For if we are entitled to freedom simply as persons, then all persons are. Thus, where we limit individual freedom to its compatibility with the freedom of all, the universal idea of freedom is not reduced but realised. In short, temporarily giving up options that threaten the freedom of others to survive may be uncomfortable; but it is not an attack on our liberal order.”