The deadly coronavirus spread across societies already riddled with political ills: rampant xenophobia and corruption, privatisation run amok, Brexiteer vainglory of “a global Britain,” a Euroland dominated by self-proclaimed nasty parties, and in America, the unspeakable Trump. As the acclaimed historian Donald Sassoon observes in this blistering polemic, there were morbid symptoms galore.
Sassoon paints an unforgettable picture of our galloping descent into political barbarism, mixing blunt exposé and classical references with an astonishing array of data. Why does the United States proportionately have more civilians owning guns than Yemen, where there is a war on? Why did the UK enter the pandemic with fewer doctors than any EU country except Poland and Romania?
In Morbid Symptoms he refuses to abandon what Antonio Gramsci termed the optimism of the will, instead recalling a line from Machiavelli’s Istorie fiorentine: “do not impute past disorders to the nature of the men, but to the times, which, being changed, give reasonable ground to hope that, with better government, our city will have better fortune in the future.”