The Outbreak and Outcome of the Modern Plague

Excerpt from AFTER THE VIRUS: THE REBIRTH OF A MULTIPOLAR WORLD, by Boris Nad, forthcoming from PRAV Publishing:

The Outbreak and Outcome of the Modern Plague

Today’s situation of a viral pandemic, the French philosopher Alain Badiou wrote in late March 2020, is “not particularly exceptional”:  

Besides the fact that the current pandemic situation is having a huge impact on the rather comfortable so-called Western worlda fact in itself devoid of any novel significance, eliciting instead dubious laments and revolting idiocies on social mediaI didn’t see why, beyond the obvious protective measures and the time that the virus would take to disappear in the absence of new targets, it was necessary to climb on one’s high horse. [1]

“No one had predicted, or even imagined, the emergence in France of a pandemic of this type, except perhaps for a few isolated scientists,” Badiou wrote, as “many probably thought that this kind of thing was good for dark Africa or totalitarian China, but not for democratic Europe.” The message behind such impressions is clear: the current epidemic would not have any noteworthy consequences in a country like France. Was this philosopher mistaken in his predictions?

In the months that followed Badiou’s article, the pandemic incited a real earthquake, throwing society and individuals, especially in the West, into a state of shock. The habitual way of life was abruptly interrupted. Many “individual freedoms”, or at least the illusions of such, were abolished. Mass gatherings were forbidden, and not only: even going out to a restaurant, cafe, pub, or cinema became either impossible or a socially incriminating act subject to sanctions. Societal functioning was reduced to a minimum. The habitual social contacts were interrupted. Travel, whether for business or tourism, became impossible. The individual now found themself confined within four walls—a situation that proved unbearable for many, inciting rebellion, frustration, and perhaps justified anger. But not for everyone: in these new circumstances, such in fact signified a kind of privilege. Very little was said about those who, even under the threat of being infected, had to continue going to their jobs. This includes not only health workers employed in hospitals, but all those who had to continue to work without a choice, and who were thus directly exposed to infection, i.e., those who produced and delivered the necessities for life, preventing the complete collapse of society.

As early as August 2020, an anthropologist could thus conclude: “Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon.” “In a single season”, Wade Davis stated on the pages of Rolling Stone, “civilization has been brought low by a microscopic parasite 10,000 times smaller than a grain of salt. COVID-19 attacks our physical bodies, but also the cultural foundations of our lives, the toolbox of community and connectivity that is for the human what claws and teeth represent to the tiger.” [2]

The End of the Western Era, the Beginning of the Asian Epoch

Has civilization really been brought to its knees? Or has it been stopped just for a while by the frantic and savage flailing of “turbo-capitalism”? Is this state temporary, a short-term break, and will everything soon go back to the old ways? What has actually happened? Truth be told, a pandemic (as well as quarantine) is nothing new, not a new invention, and even less so “unprecedented” in human history. In fact, as Davis writes:

Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history, and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed close to half of Europe’s population. A scarcity of labor led to increased wages. Rising expectations culminated in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, an inflection point that marked the beginning of the end of the feudal order that had dominated medieval Europe for a thousand years. The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.

Are the latter words mere exaggeration, purely rhetorical embellishment, imbalanced words uttered in exaltation, or fear growing into panic?

Barely half a year was enough for us to observe the entire international order disintegrating, to watch as what was until just recently unquestionable and undoubtable now be “brought down”, and to see that no past rules apply anymore. This was not done by the “modern plague”, nor is it due to the number of deaths, the mortality of infection, as mortality is only a statistic until we ourselves are affected by the disease. The pandemic only accelerated events and made visible what could be felt in the air for a long time already. What surely “stands out as a turning point in history”, Davis writes, “is the absolutely devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America.” This is not just a matter of the collapse of one empire, of one “collapse from within”, as we are indeed witnessing today, but concerns everything that necessarily accompanies such a world superpower and represents the “modern super-empire’s” undoubted prestige: a binding model which, until yesterday, every modern society emulated, and the paradigm of modernity itself. This all came crashing down overnight. Davis cites:

For more than two centuries, reported the Irish Times, “the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the U.S. until now: pity.” As American doctors and nurses eagerly awaited emergency airlifts of basic supplies from China, the hinge of history opened to the Asian century.

The New World of Multipolarity

Let us hear Wade Davis’ words again: “COVID-19 didn’t lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken. As the crisis unfolded, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease.” The nation that had “led the world for generations”, defeated smallpox, polio, as well as “notorious Communism” and the “evil empire”, was now “reduced to a laughing stock.” Indeed:

As a number of countries moved expeditiously to contain the virus, the United States stumbled along in denial, as if willfully blind. With less than four percent of the global population, the U.S. soon accounted for more than a fifth of COVID deaths. The percentage of American victims of the disease who died was six times the global average. Achieving the world’s highest rate of morbidity and mortality provoked not shame, but only further lies, scapegoating, and boasts of miracle cures as dubious as the claims of a carnival barker, a grifter on the make.

The “carnival barker, grifter on the make” in this case refers to no less than the President in the White House.

And a scapegoat was found: China. A disinformation campaign about the “Chinese plague” and “Wuhan virus” was soon launched. Such nonsense attributing a nationality to the virus became a leitmotif in the statements of White House officials. This ruse would be exposed a little later. As Finian Cunningham writes, it soon became obvious that “the months-long campaign by the Trump administration to blame China for the pandemic has been a cynical pile of lies”—“lies which amount to reckless aggression risking a war with China.” [3] But this is not about the American President, his incompetence or personal guilt. This is about the very nature of a society devoted not to the common good and public health—the health of people—but to a single value: profit. Everything circled around a decision to, in Trump’s words, “play it down”, words which Cunningham translates and deciphers thusly: “to avoid ‘panic’, meaning disruption to American capitalist profits.” This is the very core of American society, which denies the idea of a common social good, as Davis writes:

The American cult of the individual denies not just community but the very idea of society. No one owes anything to anyone. All must be prepared to fight for everything: education, shelter, food, medical care. What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights—universal health care, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly, and infirmed—America dismisses as socialist indulgences, as if so many signs of weakness.

In a word: the US is no longer a role model that anyone would want to follow. What is more, what crashed in the pandemic was Modernity itself, as well as its logical extension, Postmodernity—i.e., everything on which was based our belief and trust in “only one possible future”, as well as the notions that we sometimes inadvertently built around such an illusion.

The geopolitical consequences are already clearly visible: the world is rapidly being divided along lines that mark the borders of “civilization-states.” The world is no longer “one”; it has ceased to be “Modern” and “Liberal”, singular and “total.” Instead, it is and is becoming multipolar, a tendency which has been developing for some time and which has called into question the false universalism of “privileged Western Civilization.” This is why the Coronavirus pandemic, as the Russian thinker Alexander Dugin suggests, represents a “real turning point in world history”:

It is not only stock indexes and oil prices that are falling sharply, but the whole world order itself is collapsing. We live in a time marked by the end of liberalism and its “self-obviousness” as a global meta-narrative, the end of its precepts and standards. Human societies will soon be free: no more dogmas, no more dollar imperialism, no more free market spells, no more Fed dictatorships or global stocks, no more slavery to the global media elite. Each pole will build its future on its own civilizational foundation. It is obviously impossible to say what this will look like or what it will lead to. However, it is clear enough already that the old world order is becoming a thing of the past, and the different contours of the new reality are appearing before us. 

There is no longer a universal (Liberal) recipe for all that is obligatory and desirable. It will take some time to grasp this. Pandemics change the course of history, but not always and not necessarily in ways that are obvious to contemporaries.

Reverse Conspiracy Theology

The fear that has already spread and continues to spread across the planet is largely based in fear of the “new reality”—i.e., fear of change and the future, of what the future holds. It seems that, first and foremost, this future holds uncertainty. What could be worse than that? It looks as if already today we have entered a state of “great discontinuity”, as the future will not look the way we imagined it, and the past is also in question. It is therefore not surprising that the mood in the West often takes on apocalyptic tones and sometimes, or even very often, is associated with the “end of the world.” But everyone in the West who is anticipating the “end of the world” today is actually foreboding what is really, as the French thinker René Guénon warned back in the 1920s, an end of something whose nature and scope they cannot determine, whose approach they take to mean the “end of the world” because they see nothing beyond their single civilization and their single, quite limited historical cycle. This mistaken idea, with all the deviations it can lead to, Guénon added, is undoubtedly a sign of our age’s fundamental spiritual confusion. [4]

The same can be said of all the so-called “conspiracy theories” now abounding. Explaining everything, including the outbreak of the pandemic, in terms of a conspiracy is certainly appealing, because conspiracy offers a cheap explanation for what we do not quite know or of which we know nothing. It is as if the answers are there, offering themselves to us. Instead of “racking our brains”, we need only to reach out for them. The scenario of a “planetary globalist conspiracy” is a profane, banal version of the “end of the world”, the “apocalypse”, and “doomsday.” In question is a kind of reversed, negative theology, one in which the place of God is taken by the Devil himself, embodied in “globalist Satanic elites” conspiring against humanity. Nothing happens except what these “elites” themselves cause or had a decisive influence on. Everything goes according to their “plan”—terrorist attacks, world wars and cataclysms, the collapse of the dollar, the stock market, America, fires and earthquakes, the rise of China and 5G technology, vaccines, artificial intelligence, religious fundamentalism, revolutions and coups, asteroid strikes and the outbreak of the plague. Everything is at once fatal, deadly, and, at the same time, unreal — deception, tricks, staged scenes. It is as if puppets, instead of living people of flesh and blood, are the real subjects. There is no room or possibility for divine intervention, since the whole world is ruled by the same “pedophile servants of Satan.” The Devil’s “plan” is being realized step by step to such an extent that we can only ask ourselves: where is God in this “negative theology”? Why has his place been left vacant? Globalist elite networks have finally “networked” and suffocated the whole planet, and we are completely powerless against them. We no longer need to do anything but wait for the final end, the death of humanity in the throes of agony, the arrival of the Antichrist armed with a chip in the form of Bill Gates, or something else of the sort, even some mysterious “great awakening.” There remains only the infantile hope and nearly religious faith in a “Liberator” waging an invisible war to “free humanity”—on our behalf and instead of us—after which the enslavement will be dismantled in an instant. In any case, in such a scenario of “planetary globalist conspiracy”, nothing depends on us anymore.

The “explanation” offered by “conspiracy theorists” can be simple or at times extravagant, opening up and revealing the infantile contents of the human psyche, but if the “theories” themselves seem frivolous or comical, then this does not apply to what inspires or causes them. And that is extremely serious: fear, despair, frustration among a huge swathe of humanity immersed in the “fundamental spiritual confusion of our time.” Here, more vividly than anywhere else, is revealed the complete crisis of authorities, whether political, scientific, cultural, etc., and the rejection of all the narratives they offer. They no longer inspire trust, but rather deep frustration among a significant part of the population. It no longer matters what is true; what many people believe becomes truth that causes very concrete consequences and facts for ourselves which we must take into account.

Thinking about Death

Even in the case of Covid (the “plague of the modern age” and not the “real plagues” that raged in antiquity or the Middle Ages), the fear of death is still more important than all others, more significant than all the sociological phenomena that accompany the pandemic, even all the changes in the geopolitical structure of the world, precisely because this fear is elementary and primordial. Indeed, in the end, as Alexander Dugin puts it in his Thoughts during the Plague: “It is not about quarantine, it is about colliding with death.” [5] There is, as Albert Camus observed in his novel The Plague, a “philosophical meaning of plague”: a plague is not only a social or medical fact, but also a way of thinking, a “summoning to think about the most important and basic things”, a call to somehow return to ourselves.

While we are immersed in everyday reality, we refrain from any thoughts about death—our own or someone else’s—and try not to think about such at all. This is part of the social conventions of our (modern) age. Talking about death is simply inappropriate (except perhaps in a close circle of friends). There are countless ways to avoid this thought, as long as life flows in its usual course. Everything in the modern way of life is based on this: avoiding the idea of our own finitude. Modernity itself is a “way of life” such that we are simply compelled to reject and refrain from such thoughts, to keep them as far away from ourselves as possible, as we are preoccupied and pressed by everyday events and worries that constantly overtake each other.

But with this our human essence slips away. As Dugin says: “It is not about whether we live or die, but the fact that a person lives only on the border with death, and when he strays from and forgets about the border, he stops living, he divorces and commits a crime against himself. The epidemic is a last call for us to return to our own dignity. This is the philosophical meaning of the plague.” Even more vividly, Dugin says: “When we live in ordinary circumstances, we do not remember our finitude, we forget about death, death remains somewhere outside of our attention, outside the zone of our existence. And then comes the pandemic, the Coronavirus, the plague, and death returns to us, and we return to it. So, we are turning to the essence of humanity, and it is no coincidence that the Greeks called people mortals, βροτοι.

Man is a mortal being, although he tries to forget or deeply suppress this elementary truth. We live only in the presence of death and with full awareness of it. Paradoxically, “life acquires meaning only when it is connected with death.” This thought gives us the opportunity to return to ourselves and to think—to think about what is really important, about ourselves and those around us, and not about the ephemeral and insignificant which constantly occupy our thoughts and distract us. The “modern plague” which, again, is not like the plagues that once ravaged the world, has given us the opportunity to isolate ourselves with ourselves, to return to our essence. Should we curse God for this, or thank him for it?

Art and culture can only benefit from this. Of course, this refers to actual art, art as such, not to the superficial art of entertainment and spectacle that has long since grown into the mainstream of (Post-)Modernity, which serves only oblivion and forgetfulness. If we are prevented from going to some pop-spectacles, some “events,” or going to the cinema, we are not prevented from reading, from meeting and talking with writers and thinkers, with the help of and through books. 

Artists and thinkers stand to benefit from this. They are spared “events” and “promotions”, tedious “social events” and the obligation to attend them, and instead can finally return to their true calling, their real “purpose”: writing, thinking, painting, composing. Is such isolation, solitude, and departure from the world not their true state? Is such not the essential need of every human being: to be (occasionally) alone, not for the sake of being distant from others, but in order to get closer to oneself? Is this not the essence not only of writing and literature, but of all art: to be in endless conversation with oneself, in that endless monologue in which one addresses not only themself, but (also) others?….


[1] Alain Badiou, “On the Epidemic Situation”, Verso (23/3/2020)[].

[2] Wade Davis, “The Unraveling of America”, Rolling Stone (6/8/2020) [].

[3] Finian Cunningham, “Trump’s Toxic Lies on ‘China Virus’ Collapse”, Strategic Culture Foundation (11/9/2020) [].

[4] René Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World (Hillsdale: Sophia Perennis, 2004).

[5] Alexander Dugin, “Thoughts during the Plague”, (2020) [].