In the eighteenth century, during the most prosperous period of the Qing dynasty’s rule, mass hysteria broke out in the empire’s commercial capital over rumours that a band of sorcerers were roaming the countryside chanting incantations and stealing their souls. There are instructive parallels between China’s sorcery crisis of 1768 and the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump’s insistence that a martial response is required reflects an inability to think about collective action outside the realm of war and the nation state.
The danger lies in seeing Trump or Brexit as an aberration, rather than a reaction to and by-product of liberalism. The received wisdom is that liberalism is somehow virtuous and inherently good. But this formulation makes it impossible to understand why politicians saying openly fascistic things are garnering wide support in supposedly principled liberal democracies.