All epidemics in human history have led to tremendous changes in public policy and social order. How will the coronavirus turn out?

Where epidemics lead
Cholera as an image of death coughing up Europe. Cover of a French magazine of the early XX century. Today's states are derived from epidemics. The Church could not cope with disasters, and strict measures to combat the spread of the disease stimulated the development of state institutions.

"What if we have already been infected? A strict mechanical voice on the radio constantly repeats that in this case we should not go to the hospital. Hospitals are overcrowded. Many doctors and nurses have been infected. There are not enough intensive care units, there are not enough beds, there are not even masks. Every evening, at exactly eight o'clock, everyone - the whole country - come to the windows and applaud the doctors loudly. We want to support them and show what we know: they risk their lives for us.

This piercing passage is taken from an essay by a Spanish writer from Madrid who has become one of the epicenters of the Coronavirus epidemic. Without knowing the time or place of its writing, this essay could well be attributed to the tragic twentieth century, but not to our twenty-first century - stable, fat and, as it seemed, so safe. But deserted streets and avenues of megacities, lists of new infected and dead growing every day, stock indices falling with dizzying speed - all of this is likely to change the life of humanity forever.

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The four horsemen of the Apocalypse - Plague, War, Hunger and Death - is one of the most popular scenes of painting from the Middle Ages to Art Nouveau. This capacious biblical image contains everything that man feared all his civilized history from the first major settlements in the Neolithic Age to the present day. But it would seem that in the last half-century of the emerging global world, we have learned to live without strategic wars - the largest massacre in history reminds us only of memorable dates, signs in educational institutions with the names of dead graduates, and sad monuments in villages. Of course, every year tens of thousands of people die in local conflicts around the planet, but world leaders still had to learn to negotiate. Yes, the effective system of collective security is still far away, but the third world is even further away. Verden, Brusilovsky breakthrough, Ypres, Stalingrad, genocide and war crimes of the Second World War - all this seems to be in the past.


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