ESSAY | 20.10.2020

Beyond Corona: Wilhelm Krull describes "ways and strays out of the closed society"

"Well, here we are." This is the first sentence in Jean-Paul Sartre's play "No Exit", in which the four protagonists Garcin, Inès, Estelle and an enigmatic figure, the valet, find themselves in the underworld. They do not know how they ended up there. They do not understand how to get out. Their situation seems to them as inexplicable as it is inevitable. With the play Sartre quotes Heidegger, who had coined this inevitability of existence "thrownness". In the course of the play, Garcin, Inès and Estelle try to leave this hell, but fail over and over again, and finally come to realize: Their situation will not change, they will remain a community of thrown ones. Randomly arranged, dependent on each other.

With his essay "Back to Bliss - Paths and strays out of the closed society" Wilhelm Krull refers to Sartre's play (Krull’s German title of the essay refers to the German adaptation of the play, "Geschlossene Gesellschaft"). Krull’s essay is part of a collection of scholarly contributions published by Bernd Kortmann and Günter Schulze under the title "Beyond Corona - Our World after the Pandemic" (September 2020, transcript). Krull, founding director of THE NEW INSTITUTE, explains how much this world "Beyond Corona" evades our ability to make predictions, how dense the "fog of uncertain knowledge on this novel virus" still is. And he asks the question: "Will we have to live (and die) with the virus in the long run, maybe even for years?" So, like Sartre's protagonists, have we been thrown into a situation that remains inevitable?

Krull does not think so, but seeks to describe ways out of the closed society, out of the virus world. "But instead of letting uncertainty and fear dominate (...), the Corona crisis, with its extensive suspension of the usual buzz, offers favorable conditions for fundamental rethinking and even new thinking," he writes. And, thus, he understands Covid, this collective experience of vulnerability, as an opportunity for departure - a departure that may evoke a long-forgotten feeling: For when the world slowed down in March, it was not only a radical disruption of the ordinary - but also the collective experience of political self-efficacy. We realized: The world is politically manageable, it is governable. At least we were able to stop it, from one day to the next. And we can probably set it in motion again

And that is remarkable, since we as political actors have recently experienced much regulatory impotence when faced with the climate crisis or unleashed financial markets – in particular, after the financial crisis of 2008. "Currently, there is something happening of which we always thought: This is not possible," sociologist Armin Nassehi summarized in this experience of potent governance at the beginning of the pandemic. Krull's thoughts take up where Nassehi left off: "More than ever before, it is necessary to have the courage to clearly identify challenges (...) so that sustainable, effective design strategies for the common good can be developed early on.”

"Well - let's get on with it" is the last line in Sartre's play. And it remains open whether it expresses resignation or hope. For Krull, it would probably be the latter.



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