One of the immediate consequences of the coronavirus crisis in Spain is the fact that the State has taken on a much more central role in the sense that more people than ever are dependant on it financially. In the coming months we are likely to witness the State getting even bigger, once we begin to suffer the consequences of a meagre holiday season following shifting expectations: while the lockdown was in place, it was said that the holiday season would be a complete failure, but once the measures were lifted, there was much talk of a positive outlook. As I said, eventually it looks as if the results will be meagre, considering what we have seen so far.
Either way, the number of people who will be relying on government handouts to make ends meet (how do I pay for my groceries and meet my basic expenses?) will be greater than ever: civil servants, public workers, OAPs, people on the dole and other benefits, furloughed workers and companies that receive subsidies (such as in the hospitality and automotive sectors), regardless of whether this is a good idea or not.
The government that has got to handle such a situation is obviously faced with an extremely serious problem, but is also being tempted by populism, paternalism and a certain softcore, even banal, form of authoritarianism: that is, the sort of authoritarianism that may be accepted by most people whilst not being perceived as such. While Spain was on lockdown and in a state of emergency, this paradox revealed itself in all its crudeness: on the one hand, obedience was necessary for everyone’s sake, to protect everybody’s health; on the other hand, it was disconcerting —even discouraging— to see how willingly we came to accept our basic freedoms being curbed just because we were told to relinquish them. As it turned out, the dichotomy between freedom and safety was not an all-or-nothing debate that you could resolve by going all in on black or red. The pandemic and its effects, whose scope is yet to be determined, primarily call for the notion of endurance, of withstanding the kingdom’s misfortunes, as advised by the Tao Te Ching.
With its handouts, the State will curb our collective liberties. It is up to each and everyone of us to protect individual freedom by creating our own personal space to safeguard it. All of this becomes even more complicated in a country like Spain, where corruption is systemic to the point where the head of state —a king from a corrupt royal house— has to speak out in favour of the Constitutional Court and claim it is the guarantor par excellence of democracy, even though only a fool would believe that. Spain is a country where a former president of the Catalan government believes it is absolutely fine to be on the payroll of a large corporation while retaining all the privileges associated with his former office. A state like that is the source of such uncertainty that it is ever more dangerous for the general public to depend on it so directly and on such a massive scale.