on the Emerging Totalitarianism of the New Biopolitics
Giorgio Agamben likes to shock. His 2021 book, Where Are We Now? The Epidemic as Politics, makes the boldest of claims. Fear of catching a virus—and fear of death, for that matter—is irrational and has caused us to elevate "bare life," or what Agamben terms zōē, above any consideration of the particularities of our life, what he calls bios. (As an aside, Saint John's Gospel has a much richer use of the term zōē, using it to designate "eternal life.")
The current elevation of "bare life," reinforced by the coronavirus panic, offers political opportunity: world rulers use it to pursue their own, totalitarian ends. Conspiracy theories—particularly those involving Bill Gates—should be taken seriously. Science (or medicine) has become a religion, replacing Christianity and capitalism as top religious contender. Biopolitics is transforming the right to health into an obligation to be healthy. Mask mandates purge our common life of its political dimension. Social distancing—witnessed most notably in online learning and in the evacuation of physical, public sites of political and cultural discourse—is here to stay. The traditional division of powers (legislative, executive, and judiciary power) is collapsing through extended states of emergency as executive powers establish a "Security State."
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Hans Boersma is the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Professor in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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