1) CONCEPTUAL REFRAIN
Giorgio Agamben has expressed himself on the State reactions to the Covid-19 epidemic one more time. His own reaction is scientifically uninformed, morally and religiously untenable, and politically dangerous. He is unable to correct the scope of his concepts by including them in a wider paradigm.
2) SURPLUS MORTALITY
His reaction is scientifically uninformed because he continues to conflate, implicitly here in this new article but explicitly in his earlier pieces, mortality and surplus mortality. The death rate from Covid-19 infection is significantly higher than that for a simple flu, but the surplus mortality from overflowing the hospitals with cases whose lives could have been saved if they arrived piecemeal is much much higher.
It is morally untenable for reasons tied to this first point concerning Agamben’s scientific illiteracy: he cites the example of Saint Francis embracing the lepers. The dis-analogy is flagrant: one cannot get leprosy from casual social contact or propinquity with someone affected by the disease. However, with Covid-19 you can become infected from casual contact with a surface that has been in casual contact with someone bearing the virus, even without symptoms.
4) THE LOGIC OF SAINTHOOD
It is religiously untenable for the same reason: if by kissing a few Covid « lepers » Francis had decimated not only his own town but ultimately his whole country he would not be considered a « saint ». The virtue of charity is no blind sentimental effusion.
5) LOGICAL TYPES
Covid-19 is a disease requiring a response of a higher logical type than for leprosy, hence Agamben’s confusions and conflations – he is incapable of, or perhaps unwilling to, make the logical leap that we are all required to make in this new situation.
6) POLITICS IS IN THE DETAILS
Agamben’s article is politically dangerous. He talks of « a risk that it was not possible to specify », ignoring that the « risk » has in fact constantly been specified and quantified, but in statistical terms that seem to surpass his numerical imagination and understanding. Millions of unnecessary deaths is specific enough.
7) ETHICALITY OF COLLECTIVE GRACE
Agamben will be 78 years old next week. People all over Italy are staying isolated so that he and people like him (the elderly and those with illnesses that render them particularly fragile in the face of the virus) can remain alive and in good health. Yet he sees no ethical value in that, he feels and expresses no gratitude.
8) LEAP OF LOGIC VS LEAP OF FAITH
The good old time of the divide between the Two Cultures (between the sciences and the humanities) is long gone. Science without humanity (ethics) is barbarism, but humanity without science is criminal. For all his conceptual power, Agamben does not help us take the (logical) leap.