Arnold Toynbee, in his A Study of History, examined the rise and fall of 26 civilisations in the course of human progress and concluded that civilisations mature by responding successfully to challenges under the leadership of creative minorities composed of elite leaders. His hypothesis is called Challenge-Response Theory. He argued that for stimulating the growth of civilisation, the challenge must be of a golden mean; excessive challenge will crush civilisation, and too little challenge will cause its stagnation. The creative responses to challenges lead to the positive growth of a civilisation. Novel socio-political orders are evolved out of this process of challenge and response.
The COVID pandemic posits a challenge to humanity. It is an opportunity in disguise. If the creative minority evolves a right response to the COVID challenge, it would stimulate the present world civilisation for a great leap. Beyond mere concoction of a vaccine, the response should contain evolving of a positive and creative restructuring of political system, both at the national and international levels.
The pandemic that defied the national boarders has exposed the futility of parochial nationalism. Nationalism is an enigmatic mirage that evades a straight definition. “…the nation is an organisation of people with a mechanical purpose founded on greed, jealousy, suspicion and lust for power,” Rabindranath Tagore, fierce critic of nationalism, had observed. He further said, “When nation becomes all powerful, at the cost of the harmony of the higher social life, then it is an evil day for humanity…nationalism is a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over human world of the present age, eating into its moral vitality” (Natinalism, 1917). By the end of the 20th century, several thinkers across the world echoed Tagore’s critique of nationalism beginning with Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983). Two World Wars, that shocked humankind and human sense, were the dreadful climax of parochial and aggressive nationalism. Our times witness the re-incarnation of parochial nationalism in the garb of Authoritarian Populism.
Let us hope that COVID pandemic would act as catalyst for the transition from the Sovereign State System-based on narrow nationalism to a One-World Order founded on universal humanism. Two World Wars pushed the formation the League of Nations and the United Nations. It marked a leap towards the Rule-based International Order. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequently established human rights regime under the UN substantially gave rise to a One-World Order based on universal humanism. The International Court of Justice and the specialised agencies of the UN have materialised the global governance to a great extent. The progressive growth of regional groups like the European Union signified the evolution from nationalism to internationalism. But the second decade of 21st century is witnessing the resurgence of parochial nationalism in the garb of populism and racism takes the mask of nationalism.
But the COVID pandemic is once again exposing the vacuity of parochial nationalism. The pandemic underscores the imperative of human co-operation beyond national boundaries to combat the pandemic and global challenges like the global warming and climate change. It would be a Toynbeean creative response to the current challenge and a firm step towards One-World Order based on universal human harmony, dismantling parochial nationalism. The pandemic vs. mankind situation dilutes nation vs nation paradigm.
Ecologism, a political ideology that surfaced in the 1960s, would gain more currency and relevance in the post-pandemic politics. Ecologism is an ideological position that advocates a transformation in human–nature relations, challenges anthropocentric values, emphasises respect for natural limits, and calls for significant social and economic change. Ecologism holds that man is a part of nature; not its master. In the Ecologist perspective, the pandemic, like the climate change, may be conceived as a revenge of the blue planet against the mindless aggression and intrusion of mankind on nature.
In 2006, James Lovelock published his book The Revenge of Gaia. His central thesis is that Gaia, the interactive, living planet, could be punishing a fossil fuel-addicted, climate changing humanity by making the earth uninhabitable for people. Lovelock implied that we may soon force Gaia into red-hot mode, and that she could ultimately shake human species off. E.F. Schumacher suggested 45 years ago, “In our victory in our battle against nature we will find ourselves on the losing side.” The pandemic may be capitalised as an opportunity for a paradigm shift from anthropocentric politics to eco-centric politics.
Ecological issues have been a part of political agenda in Western world ever since 1980s. In the global arena, the Stockholm Conference (1972), Brundtland Report (1987) and Rio Summit (1992) marked the rise of Green Politics in international discourse. There around 90 green political parties, combining ecological issues with social justice in their agenda, working across the world. The Global Greens is the international confederation of green parties. The first green party was formed in New Zealand in 1972 - the Values Party. Next year, the Ecology Party was formed in the UK. Thereafter, the green parties proliferated in Europe. The Global Greens was formed in 1992 on the side-lines of Rio Earth Summit. The Global Greens Congress of 2001 at Canberra released a manifesto called GlobalGreens Charter. Participatory democracy, non-violence, social justice, sustainable development, pluralism, and ecological wisdom are the core ideals of the Global Greens Charter. It addresses poverty and climate change. Green parties have representation in most of European parliaments. Green Parties are part of ruling coalitions in Austria, Finland, Sweden and Luxemburg.
Green politics is highly relevant in India. Besides ecological issues, the ideals of green politics like participatory democracy, pluralism and socialjustice have, needless to say, high significance in India. Climate change, poverty and gender issues should be placed at the centre of politics in India. Aninfluential green party should be formed or existing parties should incorporate green political agenda in their manifesto. The left parties and the Congressshould take up green politics to their programme of action. The pandemic has exposed the inanity of traditional identity politics. Green politics and greenparties would gain more momentum in post-pandemic politics all cross the world. Let us hope that India won’t be an inglorious exception.
The Black Death or Bubonic plague that marred the world in the 14th century, changed the course of human history. The Black Death claimed 1/3 of the European population. But it ushered some positive changes in Europe - feudalism vanished, Middle Ages ended and the salience of the Church and Papacy faded. The doors of Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment wide opened. It exemplifies the positive impacts of a nasty pandemic.
Same way, the COVID pandemic may herald some positive impacts in world politics. It provides a precious opportunity to humanity to move away from parochial nationalism and to nurture cosmopolitan world view both in national and global political discourse. Ecological wisdom and green politics may gain more currency in day-to-day politics. But if the world opts to stick upon its self-destructive ways, apocalypse would be one step nearer to humanity.
(Views expressed are the writer’s own)