Security State 4.0
by Joachim Hirsch
[This article published on May 26, 2020, is translated from the German on the Internet, http://wp.links-netz.de/?p=444.]
In 1980 my book "The Security State - The "Model Germany, its Crisis and the New Social Movements" was published by the Athenäum-Verlag, which still existed. The occasion for this was the expansion of state control and surveillance powers in the course of the fight against the RAF in the "German Autumn." This was a matter of great concern to the critical public at the time. My investigation showed that the state apparatus's security-related upgrading was a reaction to far-reaching social changes and more than just a current and situational measure. The political and social stability that had characterized the post-war years and secured the existing power relations seemed threatened. This was a consequence of the crisis of the corporatist, post-war Fordist capitalism, which had been described as the "Model Germany" and was regulated by corporatism. The crisis had not only economic but also considerable social and political dimensions. These included social disintegration processes - somewhat euphemistically referred to as "individualization" - the dissolution of traditional social milieus, systems of norms and value orientations, and the associated emergence of the so-called new social movements. The unity of the political-ideological camps began to crumble, and the functioning of the integration mechanisms that had been effective up to that point, especially the party system's stability, seemed threatened. The foundation of the Greens was only the beginning of a long-term development. In critical discussions, there was talk of "citizens as a security risk". This argument was supported by the fact that security laws were not repealed even when the RAF no longer played a role. Instead, they became more and more complete over the course of time.
A new economic order based on neoliberal principles was imposed due to the increasingly obvious crisis of the Fordist formation and the resulting threat to capital profit. This was characterized above all by extensive deregulation of the goods and financial markets - also called "globalization." The national economies, still relatively isolated from each other, were transformed into a system of "competition states", whose policies were largely determined by the interests of internationally operating capital. The corresponding transformation of the political system was characterized by greater isolation of the political apparatus from social interests. As a result of the economic crisis in the 1970s, mass unemployment once again became a structural problem. The social security systems were dismantled. Formal democratic processes threatened to run dry under the pressure of apparent constraints. The resulting "disenchantment with politics" that spread among large sectors became a security risk as did an ever-increasing social uprising. This was what drove the development towards an authoritarian security state. The fight against terrorism provided a suitable occasion for this.
The theme of the book met with a broad response. A new edition was published in 1986. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the development, which had initially only been hinted at, took on increasingly more explicit features. Security legislation, which included a substantial restriction of civil liberties and constitutional norms, was further tightened - this time in connection with the fight against "Islamic terrorism" after the attack on the New York World Trade Center in 2001. If we add to this the emergency laws of the late 1960s, we are witnessing the fourth phase of the security state in post-war German history: Security State 4.0.
The "Corona Crisis" and how it is dealt with marks not only a further stage but also a very drastic stage in this development. It has some salient features that distinguish it from earlier developments in the security state. These include a new approach to the constitution and rule of law principles and the use of entirely new information and surveillance technologies. I will limit myself here to developments in Germany. In other comparable countries, the situation is, to some extent, different. This is due, among other things, to the respective party structure, the state of the health systems, and the population's living conditions. The last two factors, in particular, are a major reason why the pandemic in Italy, Spain. Great Britain and in the USA took a much more severe course than in this country.
However, the political and social developments and trends are similar.
What is new is that, in contrast to the past - for example, in the highly contested amendments to the Basic Law when the emergency laws were enacted - the constitution was simply no longer observed. Essential fundamental rights were effectively repealed by government decree with the exclusion of parliament. This was done with recourse to an epidemic law that defines executive powers only very vaguely. The Infection Protection Act, which was revised in March 2020, contains a general clause without any specification and offers the executive branch almost unlimited leeway. This is actually inadmissible under the prevailing constitutional principles. Freedom and property rights were suspended and the right to demonstrate and thus a central element of political participation. There was no examination of the proportionality of these measures, which is necessary when fundamental rights are restricted. A body consisting of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister*, which was not provided for by the Basic Law at all, became the legislator. The result was an authoritarian state while retaining an institutional-democratic element.
The restriction of the right of demonstration and assembly became clear in the case of the demonstration of the "Seebrücke" in Frankfurt, which was ended by the police, although all conditions were kept. However, this was only a case that had become publicly known. I quote from the information of the Committee for Fundamental Rights and Democracy No.2, 2020: The police "dissolved all political expression accumulations in many federal states. Even people who were on the road in the groups of two allowed by the contact ban and showed posters or painted on the floor with chalk were banned. Banners and posters were removed from public space by the police because they were misleading passers-by to stop. Not only were fines imposed on those involved, but they were also even partly taken into custody or criminal proceedings were initiated... For example, in Berlin, a motorcade was stopped in which individuals had attached political messages in their cars. In Lüchow in the Wendland, individuals were even arrested who "put on T-shirts with political imprints for shopping." Even though the police may have "overreacted" in these cases - as the saying goes - it shows where it leads when the executive authorities can feel free from legal restrictions in an emergency.
At the same time, entirely new IT-based surveillance techniques have been developed. The tracing app, which is supposed to indicate contact with infected persons, was initially very controversial, at least among professional data protectionists. The idea is now to do away with the central storage of data, which would have enabled security authorities to access movement profiles directly. However, according to all experience, this is no guarantee that this can take place. Especially since the data is of course stored by Google and Apple. There are similar problems with the electronic health card, also favored by Health Minister Spahn, which is intended to identify non-infected persons and would thus continue to allow considerable restrictions on freedom. The SPD had also initially agreed to this procedure. After protests, Spahn withdrew this plan for the time being. He is nevertheless continuing to pursue his project (cf. SZ of 11.5.2020). And this even though, according to the available scientific evidence, there is no guarantee that healthy persons cannot continue to be contagious. In the meantime, a whole series of relevant companies are working on further electronic monitoring instruments, which they hope to sell to the government authorities, probably not without any prospect of success. It would be entirely illusory for assume that developed surveillance techniques would be abolished once the pandemic had ended.
In effect, a kind of emergency or exceptional state has been introduced based on the pandemic's health threat. There was no precise and empirically supported examination of the appropriateness and expediency, as well as the legal admissibility of the measures taken. And no consideration was given to leaving the observance of protective measures to the people, which would have made perfect sense because of the generally widespread understanding of their necessity. This is another aspect of the authoritarian state.
The question is, what interests were behind this development. This is not easy to answer, especially since it cannot be assumed that there is an actor operating according to the plan behind the development. Instead, it is a complex of interests that form a single dynamic or entity in their interplay.
First of all, the authorities were utterly unprepared for a pandemic. Protective clothing and corresponding organizational preparations were lacking. Another critical factor is the lack of information, which has determined developments from the outset. The virus is new, and neither its origin, nor its real danger, nor its means of dissemination were and are known to date. This was quite a challenge for politicians and made them dependent on virologists' expertise, who were, however, very often in disagreement. Their statements were usually based on data whose basis is highly questionable. One example is the data on the number of infected people and their increase, which was inaccurate if only because it did not take into account those affected by the virus who had not been tested or had not noticed anything at all. Another is the number of deaths. Both those who died "with" and those who died "from" the virus should be distinguished. However, this difference was not been taken into account in the public presentation. The Johns Hopkins University and the German Robert Koch Institute played a special role in the collection of data on the spread and (fatal) effects, one of which is primarily financed by the Gates Foundation and the pharmaceutical industry, and the other is a government authority and thus subject to directives. The virologists were given the opportunity to present themselves to the public as "systemically relevant", which is not only prestigious but also helpful in raising research funds.
A very central role was played by Chancellor Merkel, who pushed for rigid protective measures early on. It can be assumed that she was also concerned not to repeat the mistakes that had characterized the refugee crisis policy 2015. For the policy as a whole, it was probably important, in any case, not to do or refrain from doing anything for which one should have borne responsibility. The horror figures from China and Italy, which were adopted largely unchecked and hardly evaluated in their respective contexts, gave some cause for this.
The rigid interventions in the constitution and fundamental rights, with their serious social and political consequences that are as yet barely foreseeable in the longer term, had to be legitimized. In the "heute-show" of the ZDF of 24.4.2020, a strategy paper of the Federal Ministry of the Interior declared it was essential to arouse fears in the population to increase their willingness to accept the restrictions. This information was only occasionally taken up in the media, but was not denied either. This points to a circumstance that has been apparent for some time: nowadays, the best way to obtain crucial political information is still from cabaret shows. But regardless of whether the ZDF presentation is correct, it beautifully illuminates the government's actual actions, and this in extensive cooperation with practically all media. The permanent extra programs of ARD and ZDF are an example of this. There was no real panic, but the uncertainty was high. Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez had still tried to prevent critical reports and comments in the press. Such censorship was excessive in this country.
This kind of reporting developed its dynamic, which consisted in the fact that the politicians* had to show determination and drive in the face of the imagined threat scenarios, which was reflected in considerations and measures for ever-more restrictions. It is claimed that these measures have led to a decrease in infections. However, the extent to which this is the case and what has had an effect remains an assumption due to the lack of more detailed analyses. When some restrictions were relaxed, particularly under pressure from industry and because of falling infection rates, this was accompanied by the obligation to wear protective masks, although their effect and possible danger were somewhat controversial even among virologists. This is no longer the case today. And the possibility of a second major wave of infection was painted on the wall without empirical evidence, with the consequence that the state of emergency could be declared permanent.
Most serious, however, is what the Corona crisis says about the state of civil society in this country (see also Christine Resch's contribution on this website). The fact that the restrictions were accepted without much resistance is understandable given the threat situation conveyed. Resistance would, in any case, hardly have been organizable. Because of the de facto ban on demonstrations and the difficulties of mobilization via the Internet,
So the trouble remained in the private sphere. This was partly because emergency measures were not necessarily visible and often highly contradictory, for example, when churches were closed, but DIY stores remained open, or when a DIY store and a nearby discount store were allowed to sell flowers, but the small flower shop in between had to close. Apart from that, the extent of voluntary participation was astonishing. For example, in the delivery of health data to the Robert Koch Institute. The scope of the denunciation of disobedient persons by the police was probably also not insignificant. This is another aspect of the real existing civil society.
Antonio Gramsci has pointed out the contradictory character of the bourgeois "società civile", which consists in the fact that it is, on the one hand, the field in which self-organization and public criticism of power relations take place. Still, on the other hand, it can also be its bulwark and guarantee of its existence. In the Corona crisis, it proved to be massively the latter. The fact that civic political commitment has practically come to a standstill should not come as a surprise because of the bans on demonstrations, contacts, and assembly. This has now been exhausted in the sewing of face masks, offers of help for members of "risk groups," the support of the local pub threatened by bankruptcy or applause for the health workers*, which, however, does not change their lousy working conditions. The real scandal was the behavior of most of the media, especially of those who call themselves "qualitative." They considered it appropriate to support the course of governments without further ado, by spreading warnings, coloring in threats, or publishing figures whose problems were not even addressed.
The various extra broadcasts of the TV stations were content to repeat them repeatedly and, incidentally, to show how people were wonderfully settling into the restrictions or even "creatively" dealing with them. Isolated critical voices printed in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, for example by Prantl, Nolte, or Papier, were practically drowned in this racket and, in any case, had no influence on the general reporting. If the flourishing of conspiracy theories is lamented, it should be noted the behavior of governments and the media provided some material on this. The realization was expressed for the first time on May 11 in a commentary by the SZ that the purpose and legitimacy of government action must be better examined and publicly discussed. This was probably the result of sharply decreased willingness to accept the restrictions on freedom, This came rather late and meant more than just "explaining" it better, as the Minister of Justice said the day before.
Of course, it is the duty of those in power to ensure that the population is appropriately protected. A great deal would have contributed to this if, for example, staff in clinics, old people's homes, and nursing homes had been provided with adequate protective clothing from the outset. This is, incidentally, still lacking in places today. This would have prevented many infections and deaths. Some people are now also beginning to realize that the austerity policy in the general health sector was not such a good idea after all. It would have been considerably cheaper to invest there than to spend trillions on rescuing companies now. The high infection rates in some meat factories, which only became known at the beginning of May, shed light on the authorities' behavior. The authorities must have been aware of this. They did not intervene, probably not only because of administrative failures, but because this would have affected the competitiveness of the industry, as their spokeswoman at any rate stressed. The restrictions on contact with the general population were maintained.
To sum up, there is no need to add to any conspiracy theory if one suspects that the pandemic is being used by some actors to expand the security and exceptional state and, if possible, to make it permanent. The impending severe economic crisis with its social consequences that are still difficult to assess should give some reason for this. Quite apart from the social distortions that the lockdown itself will cause in the longer term. There is no need for a second wave of infection from autumn 2020: the next wave of flu is sure to come.
One indication of this is again the way we deal with numbers. Given the decreasing number of infections, the so-called reproduction number, which is the ratio between those already infected and those newly infected, is now used again. This number must tend to increase the fewer infected persons there are. It is quite apart from the fact that it is not very meaningful anyway as long as the valid number of infected persons is unknown. Its size depends mostly on the extent to which testing is carried out. Now it is to be used to reverse already existing loosening.
The public is dominated by the argument that the exceptional state, although unpleasant and democratically problematic, is indispensable in a particular emergency and that the restrictions introduced will one day be lifted again. This is not precisely plausible in the light of historical experience and calls into question efforts to extend it if possible. Heribert Prantl has demonstrated this quite conclusively on the basis of his handling of the earlier security laws (SZ, 25/26.4.2020). It is unlikely that the surveillance techniques developed will simply be abolished again. It is hardly to be expected that the Infection Protection Act, with its general clause, will be amended again. It would thus also be applicable in the future if corresponding situations arise or, in the worst case, are constructed. Possibly even more severe are the changes in social consciousness that are likely to have taken place in the course of the measures taken and their justification: Getting used to the exceptional case. Then, to quote Prantl once again, the virus would have finally infected the constitutional state. Recent developments have shown how fragile democratic varnish is in this country. That is the real threat. It is therefore high time that "civil society" was reactivated as a democratic one. The question is where parliamentary or extra-parliamentary initiatives for a revision of the law on epidemics remain. This would also be a matter for the opposition, which has so far been rather silent. The political public is now at least beginning to discuss again how to deal with the constitution and fundamental rights. It remains to be seen what will become of them.