The COVID-19 Vaccine, Biopolitical Choices and the Geopolitical Imaginary

© Frauke Richter

by Mykhailo Minakov
December 3, 2020

The article was originally published in the online magazine Koine.Community. The article can be viewed here.

The political as a sphere of human creativity is inseparably linked to the will, to the imagination, and—as a result of their interaction—to the political imaginary. The will leads a person to an action, while the imagination allows the combination of experience and intellect in their individual and collective forms of goal-setting and goal-achievement. In the political sphere, this leads to the specific imaginary as a creative space where sets of ideologems are at the service of individuals and communities in order to add meaning and to bring order to the chaos of their lives, as well as to ascribe the status of reality to the imagined. In this way, the epistemological capacity of the imagination predetermines the ontological act of projection by Dasein, forcing an individual human being to fill out with his/her life the projects shaped in the interest of ideology.

In the political imaginary, the epistemological and the ontological, the subjective and the intersubjective, the ideal and the real coincide due to the efforts of power. This power defines and directs the life-course of individuals and of the community. It also defines what-is-and-what-should be a human, and what-are-and-what-should-be truth and the supreme common good.

The political imaginary also defines a human vision—where something in reality becomes central and where other fragments of reality become invisible. However, this invisibility can be partially revealed through acts of ideological critique. Thus, for example, the antinomy of government—the situation when, on the one hand, the state is the guardian of life; and, on the other, it is a systemic executioner—is opaque and occluded. The need to fulfill both of these contradictory functions is an often-overseen characteristic of the state in times of Covid-19.

The everlasting antinomy between the biopolitical (first noticed by Michel Foucault) and necropolitical (concept introduced by Achile Mbembe) dimensions of the state is inscribed into modern government: some ministries allocate resources to support the life and health of the human population in a controlled territory (for example, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Ministry of Social Policy). At the same moment, the work of another part of the Cabinet is to restrict living space and to legitimize murder (the Ministry of Defense, security services, the Ministry of Interior). Simultaneously, the political imaginary focuses our vision on the care of authorities—they „protect health“ and „enlighten people“—while it hides the ugly face of power under the charming pseudonyms of „defense“, „internal affairs“ and „security“.

In contemporary political philosophy, biopolitics is usually considered with examples of domestic politics. Thus, the system of medical care for reproductive health or retirement support are the most frequently considered aspects of modern biopolitics. Necropolitics is most often studied through examples of cemetery services prices and the definition of legitimate killing in laws and in social practices.

Bio-necro-politics is mainly present in the domestic, national political domain. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, bio- and necropolitics have also become part of international relations since the power elites of national and transnationals entities have appropriated the power to consider which „national“ vaccines would be used for their populations of Homo sapiens. 

This political appropriation of medicines was initially pushed by the sovereigntists like Putin and Erdogan. But it was immediately accepted by the Western leaders—e.g. Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, or Emmanuel Macron—as a part of a political competition, global and local.

So what will the rulers grant for the survival of their subjects: the „Russian“ SputnikV and EpiVacCorona vaccines? The „American“ Moderna vaccine? The „German-American“ Pfizer vaccine? The „Swedish-British“ AstraZeneka vaccine? Or the yet-not-named „Turkish“ vaccine? 

What a question! For a „politically correct“ and „truly patriotic“ answer, it is necessary to use the entire totality of the geopolitical imaginary based on the conflict of the right and left hemispheres—both of our brain and of our planet. Within such imaginary context, a vaccine from the means to save human life turns into a bioweapon in the field of information warfare and geopolitical struggle.

In this, as in any other politically imagined choices, the main thing to do is to choose the side of the dominant discourse, even if this choice may somewhat reduce the lifetime of some Dasein. After all, what is the death of one individual (or several thousand ones) compared to the interests of the collective owner of the House of Being/das Haus des Seyns— collective essence of „language“, „people/Volk“, and „tradition“?

(I am grateful to Christopher Donahue for editing and proof-reading of this text.)

Mikhail (Mykhailo) Minakov is the Kennan Institute’s Senior Advisor on Ukraine and Editor-in-Chief of Focus Ukraine, Kennan Institute’s Ukraine-focused blog. He is also editor-in-chief of the Ideology and Politics Journal as well as of Koine.Community, and an associated fellow of the IFES. He earned his Master of Arts degree in Philosophy from the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and defended his Doctoral Dissertation at the Kyiv Institute of Philosophy in 2007. For 18 years he taught at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Ukraine). Mikhail’s main interest is dedicated to political modernization in Eastern Europe, theories and practices of revolutions, political imagination and ideologies.

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