“Politics will be crisis management”


This is the original English version of the interview


Eva Illouz, Israeli professor of sociology, about the new value of life, the face mask as idologlical weapon and Israel’s bizarre alliances in the EU.


Eva Illouz teaches at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences EHESS in Paris and holds the Rose Isaac Chair in sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Born in Fez, Morocco, Illouz today divides her time between Jerusalem and Paris. In 2009, the German newspaper Die Zeit chose her as one of the 12 thinkers most likely to "change the thought of tomorrow". In 2013, she received the Annaliese Meier International Award for Excellence in Research from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Her book Why Love Hurts. A Sociological Explanation (2013) won the best book award of the Alpine Philosophy Society in France. She also received the 2014 Sociology of Emotions Outstanding Recent Contribution Award and in 2018 the E.M.E.T award, the highest scientific distinction in Israel. Illouz is the author of numerous books and articles that have been translated into eightheen languages.


Falter: In your book “The end of love” you described the ways in which capitalism and the modern world have transformed our emotional and romantic life. As capitalism has been put into question now, is love back?

Eva Illouz: Capitalism has many powerful structures which will not be easily put into question. In any case, the transformation of love I describe has as much to do with political ideologies of freedom as they do with capitalism. I think for the first time, we have faced a value greater than freedom. This is what we have experienced.


Falter: Comparing neo-liberal states like the United States and the more social democratic European model of strong public health care systems suggests that although the crisis tests every system deeply and might damage all states severly the European model will gain support simply because the impact is better cushioned?


Illouz: It is quite strange that the countries that have done by far worse are those that have neo-liberal leaders: They denied the danger of the virus as long as they could until they could not anymore. So the damage to health and to economy was the largest one. We are talking about Boris Johnson and Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. The industrialists in the North of Italy who demanded that the workers needed to come to work were equally responsible for the initial spread of the crisis. You can add probably Emmanuel Macron to that list. These leaders denied and fudged and ended up with an enormous crisis. I should however add that China, in my opinion, acted criminally by waiting for so long to reveal and expose the magnitude of the problem. Because time was crucial, its repression of the truth had unfathomable impact on the rest of the world. This is a new category of crime in my opinion.


Falter: So is it rather the strong state who will win over the strongman?


Illouz: Politics will become more frequently the management of natural desasters and catastrophies, that is, total disruptions of the life world and ordinary life. Politics viewed itself mostly as a way to promote progress, economic and social but it will now have to face the question of how to preserve conditions of life. We won’t be able to do that without the state which represents all social classes.


Falter: This will be expecially hard in the US, which came already weakened into the Coronacrisis?


Illouz: There are 40 million unemployed people already today. Some critics from the left say we cannot lose our freedom and critics on the right say we cannot make the economic sacrifice. In the USA the Coronacrisis has highlighted the division between two ideological camps. Those who twisted the idea behind the First amendment to claim their right to work and shop, at the risk of contaminating others. These are the same by the way who evoke the Second amendment, or the right to walk around with weapons. It is now the mask that is mobilized for this ideological war. It became almost a political statement to wear a mask or not. But  100.000 lives have been already lost in the course of this war. The mass protests against the racist murder of George Floyd comes in the background a deep socio-economic inequality which found its expression in the fact that disproportionate numbers of African Americans are infected with and die from the virus. The American race wars are being played out through the virus.    

Falter: We all have no crystal ball for the future after Corona, but it sit seems that strong men like to use the world wide pandemic to bolster their power. Judging from where you currently sit in Jerusalem: Benjamin Netanyahu even managed to move his corruption trial for two months form under the pretext of the Coronavirus emergency and managed to form a government during this time.


Illouz: It strikes me that more and more leaders are governing not despite but through crisis, whether manufactured or imposed from outside. Netanjahu governs too through crises. He is far from being the only one. Authoritarian leaders feed on crisis. Sometimes they even engineer their own crisis. When a crisis erupts they know it's the easiest way to put forward legislation for a change in constitutional limits and to strengthen executive powers. Some leaders openly exploit the Coronacrisis for a Reichtag-on-fire-Moment to suspend civil liberties. Xi Jinping is currently asserting the grip on Hongkong with a new Hongkong security law. Orban has practically suspended parliament. And what is presumably the strongest democracy, America in the world is now sometimes teetering on authoritarianism - Donald Trump in the United States. So yes, I would say crisis are bad for citizens and good for authoritarian leaders because they can do what they want, all in the name of health and security.


Falter: Netanyahu even plans to annex the Westbank hoping noone will notice because the world leaders are busy battling corona. Will it work?


Illouz: This plan was forged before the Corona crisis started. Netanyahu is trying to use the fact there is an extraordinarily careless and incompetent administration in the US to do a move that goes against international law. For the Israeli Prime minister the annexation plans is his attempt to bring more settlers inside his Likud party and to reposition the Likud even more right on the map. So far the settlers have their own party to voice their opinion and Netanyahu would like them to come to the Likud. He probably understood that he has more to lose from the center. He wants the Likud party not to look for the centre but to take the voices of the extreme right in. And don’t forget that some radical messianists who have been in power for a while are deeply convinced of the righteousness of the move and who did not need Corona to push for this. I think the decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was equally dramatic and important and this was in 2017.


Falter: Netanyahu has forged close relations to the governments of Hungary and Austria. Both countries did not support an EU declaration of protest against Netanyahu’s plans to annex parts of the Westbank.


Illouz: We have seen a few very bizarre coalitions with Israel and countries who are partly on the extreme right and quite antisemitic like Hungary. Hungary for example demonized the Jew George Soros and probably started the fact that he has become a meme in world and global antisemitism. Why did Netanyahu invest in close relations with Victor Orban…


Falter: …or with Austria’s Sebastian Kurz while he was in coaliton with the far-right FPÖ?


Illouz: There are two ways to view this: Either it is a purely strategic move that is, he is trying to find an alliance with small and medium countries which are not great in their human rights record and which can help Israel in strategic voting in the EU commission. Sometimes you need either majority or consensus decisions and having small countries votes counts. Falter: To weaken European unity?

The other way to look at this alliance is even more disturbing. There is in fact a deep ideological affinity between Israeli nationalists and all the anti-European nationalists. Netanyahu’s son Yair recently tweeted that he supported “the return of a Christian Europe”. That is the platform of The Law and Order Party PIS in Poland in Poland, of Orban in Hungary, but also of the People’s Party in Austria and to a certain extent Putin as well (Putin wants God in the constitution)


Falter: Yair’s tweet was so bizarre because he was then hailed by the AfD as their new hero…


Illouz: Yes, but in fact he only said in his clumsy ways what his father has politically done for a while now: He pitted the Christian Europe against the liberale Europe. Why is he doing this? If you have the right to be state based on religious beliefs – Christian in Germany for example - then we can do this here in Israel, too. So Netanyahu’s alliance with regimes like Orban’s started maybe as a strategy, but it ends up with deep ideologicial affinity. It raises distrubing and ironic possibilities. What the affinity says is this: if you are racist/anti-Semitic/ nationalist/ Christian then we can also be racist/nationalist/ Jewish. The parties that are the most likely to be antisemitic – even be nostalgic of a racist past - are now the ones most likely forging an ideological alliance with Israel. I can hardly think of a more cynical and ironic twist of history.

Falter: Sebastian Kurz likes to point out that it is not only about the Christian values, but the Judeo-Christian heritage. This leaves an option for an alliance against the third monotheistic believe…


Illouz: Yes, of course. The alliance between the Christian and Jewish strongmen is also about being anti-immigration and about stopping the muslim invader at the gates. For very very different reasons, Bibi and the anti-Europeanists are creating a coalition against slam. By the way, I am not saying that Arabs and Islam are the weak and innocent victims of this alliance. The majority of the Arab world ( as well as Iran) is still deeply anti-liberal.



Falter: We might see changes for big corporations, but also for the conditions of essential workers on the bottom of the income scale. The German sociologist Gabriele Winkler suggests in an interview with Der Falter “revolutionary changes”:  Shorter working hours, stronger welfare state, stronger democratic structures to reach everyone and communal care projects like Polyclinics.


Illouz: Sure, this now is a moment where these revolutionary thoughts must be prought forward. But we are living in a plutocracy. The rich control the political system in so many ways. This is why I am unsure this will happen, or how much of it will happen. I would be very happy if indeed we revised the value of work. We have witnessed a complete inversion of the value of work. Workers whose work was normally devalued and invisible were suddenly center stage, they took a lot of risk to maintain the kind of minimal strucutre of life. Minorities in England and ethnic minorities in the US were the hardest hit and died in much greater numbers than the rest, among other reasons because they worked at the jobs that were vital to maintain us. People who load trucks, people working in supermarkets, in the food supply chains, in hospitals, who cleaned the streets, all these people maintained us. Something of the memory of the role they played I hope will stay. We must remember That these devalued jobs were in fact invaluable.


Falter: Society pressure could be big enough after we emerge from this crisis?


Illouz: I hope so. Intellectuals and artists and academics are calling for something new. But do the conditions exist to make this moment special and to translate these calls for action into actual change? In the uSA, Trump and Micthell are trying to strengthen the power of their plutocracy and giving tax cuts now to the rich. This is bad. Very bad. And even incomprehensible. In Europe there is a new plan for a 750 bn Euro recovery fund proposed by the EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen. This could be a decisive moment for the EU to manage a crisis together and act as a central authority. We have the experimental conditions to study how seemingly opposite ways of fighting the crisis will end. Two different economic policies and political visions are now in place. We will see which one will bear fruits.


In the USA The Coronacrisis has highlighted the division between two ideological camps. Those who twisted the idea behind the First amendment to claim their right to work and shop, at the risk of contaminating others. These are the same by the way who evoke the Second amendment, or the right to walk around with weapons. It is now the mask that is mobilized for this ideological war. It became almost a political statement to wear a mask or not. But this political war has already cost 100.000 lives. The New York Times had an opinion poll saying that only 17 percent of Americans believe that the administration can handle the crisis. But along with that, the base of Trump is still with him. He can recommend people to inject chlore in their veins and people are still with him. We will have to revise our assumptions about capitalism but also about what we thought we knew about democracy. Over and over again, we see that even strong democracies are very very fragile.

Falter: People understood after the first shock that some leaders are just incapable of doing their job to protect them. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are on top of this list. Maybe this will put an end to populism as we knew it?


Illouz: Yes and no. Corona has led to an almost overwhelming crisis of confidence in leaders. Which is the opposite of what happens usually in war time. There is a strong rally around the flag effect in a war time. But this happened mostly in Europe. In the USA 80 to 90 % of Republican voters are still behind Trump.


Falter: Have women been thrown back to the 50ties, to kids & kitchen? Or is this period of isolation in home, sweet, home not more of a wakeup call that this is precisely not what women want?


Illouz: We don't know if the crisis has a lasting impact, it could be that by November or December there is a vaccine available or a very efficient medicine against Covid-19. The likelyhood of this having a lasting impact on family structure is doubtful. The impact will be more on the economy. With the unemployment rate, families will need the work of women and this is not compatible with patriarchal family structures.

Falter: Maybe more a feminist ones because even young women who tought feminism was passé now realise that old habits are harder to beat than they thought?


Illouz: Yes, I would think we will see more of a feminist movement emerging. More women will file for divorce. Domestic violence has increased. The lockdown experience was as if we had a big experiment about whether home is “Home, Sweet, Home”. The result was the realization that the home is not a safe place for many women. It is only safe, when there is contact to the outside world, when women have access to outside resources. The home is not a safe place for many. Because many live in small and crowded homes and are likely to contaminate each other. And the home is not a safe place for women because they are cut off from public support.


Falter: Will governments learn the lesson and increase support for safe houses for women?


Illouz: Probably not in Hungary where the family has a huge comeback and Oraban gives lots of incentives fortraditional families.


Falter: To me the Coronacrisis showed also a new trend: the structures of families has changed so much in recent years - divorced fathers for example have learned how to cook for the kids who live with them part-time, these men don’t wait with beer in hand infront of the TV for their dinner. Maybe I am just an incurable optimist, but did Corona not teach us also that men are not as bad as their reputation?


Illouz: It was a new experience that both men and women had: Help which many middle class households purchase was suddenly not available. In our middle and upper middle class society men and women have cleaning people and care for their chidlren after 4 pm. The level of intense domesticity was very high for everyone. The situation was also unusual for women as well. Those who work and buy ready-made food and eat in restaurants and have their households cleaned and their kids in schools – found themselves without all those helpful structures. It has been a process both for men and women. Women are more assigned to traditional roles in heterosexual families andhad to this more during the crisis. Men in those families got more to do now and we will see if this was a collective learning session. And we will see which parts will not change at all. We might go back to something that is similar to what we had before.


What we will learn we will have a discussion about how much risk we take with the debt at the price of sacrificing the economic survival of many. There as been a lot of countries with same policies and positions that imitated their responses to the Corona crisis: Everything will come to a standstill in order not to overwhelm the hospitals. In 1968-9 Hongkong epidemics which killed one to four million people. It killed much more than the current epidemic and nobody even thought remotely of stopping the economy. Now the question is raised: Some raise it on the left and they say we cannot lose our freedom and on the right they say we cannot make the economic sacrifice. This is the most striking experience: There was now reall yonly one single model to manage the crisis. And the level of convergence to a single model of handling of the crisis. And secondly the presumption to close down the economy to save the lives. In a way, it is possible we have sacrificed the economic prospects of many young people and small businesses to save the lives of vulnerable people. It is a very difficult choice. How we come out of it will generate the responses of the future.