Calls for freedom are common among those protesting against coronavirus rules. Freedom for what, and why? The concept of freedom is being abused and reinterpreted. The democratic idea of pulling together as a society in a crisis, with individuals taking their share of responsibility for the entire fabric of society, is viewed instead as compulsion and restriction.
It seems as though people have to free themselves from this limitation and responsibility. This is cowardly. The calls for freedom are a mere fig leaf for an egotistical outlook. in which a person is wholly unwilling to sacrifice anything of their own individual needs for society as a whole amid this pandemic. The realization that I as a person, as part of society, share in the responsibility for what takes place or should take place is a worrisome one.
Concern shades all to quickly into fear, and fear makes people susceptible to simple answers. Answers in which there is no such thing as individual responsibility. Answers that let people believe they are free. Free of responsibility for what is happening all around them. So free that they can say, I didn’t know anything. We know all too well from history where that kind of thinking can lead.
I was at a gas station in the town of Themar when I heard someone complain, “I just can’t stand it here anymore. It’s worse than it was under the Nazis!” I was amazed to hear someone say the current pandemic was worse than one of the most brutal dictatorships in modern history. After this encounter, I’ve been wondering more and more just what this person is looking for, that person and the many others who supposedly feel they are not free.
But what is the right response? How do we bring people back on board in a social system they feel is problematic or perhaps reject altogether? How do we reach people when the line between democracy and dictatorship is blurred in their minds?
There’s only one way. We need to look back and identify the situations where we forgot to explain the term “freedom” in a way that everyone could understand, to really bring it home so people feel it.
Thomas Jakob is involved in the Bündnis für Demokratie und Weltoffenheit in Themar, an organization dedicated to democracy and cosmopolitanism. Themar has attracted attention from across Germany various times in recent years, initially due to right-wing rock concerts with thousands of attendees and later due to strategies of preventing these concerts.