What do Esposito’s biopolitical concepts offer, however, when we face non-metaphorical viral contagion, literal immunizations, and a country that closes its borders as an immunological response? I think two things. First, in a more specific theoretical contribution, Esposito moves Foucauldian biopolitics beyond Agamben’s kneejerk suspicion of public health. Esposito accepts that immunity defines every community, even if it is the antithesis of community. This acceptance allows him to see the Italian response to coronavirus not as a disciplinary apparatus clamping down, but rather as an actual community struggling to control a chaotic situation for the sake of preserving life.
More broadly, Esposito dispels the specter of totalitarianism for non-Foucauldians as well. Esposito offers us an interpretive framework that refuses to see COVID-19 within a master narrative of historical drifts away from freedom (or the origins of the political) towards totalitarianism. “What occurs when an ‘outside’—namely, life—bursts into the sphere of politics,” Esposito asks, “causing its supposed autonomy to explode and shifting the discourse to a terrain that is irreducible to the traditional terms (such as democracy, power, and ideology) of modern political philosophy?” Many of us wonder the same thing now, when all of a sudden the only political concern is the preservation of life, and not only biological life, but also the return to a richer, freer, life that we only have in community with others. The danger is not totalitarianism, if Esposito’s historical lessons hold true, but that an immunitarian democracy will identify human vectors of contagion. Conspiracy theories about bioweapons that escaped containment in Wuhan, and blame games in China and the United States alike, suggest ripe conditions for the immunological response to become violent.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor