COVID-19 & Capitalism, Pt. II: The ‘China’ Virus & Ethno-nationalism

Alasdair Cannon
6 min readMar 30, 2020
Tony Abbott with onion, 2015

In our speech, we often reveal our psychological reality by way of our small gratuities. Our flourishes, our solecisms, our little peccadillos — these can reveal more of our heart than our most impassioned monologues. If this is true, then what are we to make of the violence done to ‘COVID-19’ by politicians like Donald Trump and Tony Abbott? Conservatives have tacitly agreed: words like ‘coronavirus’ are meaningless; acronyms are hideous; the people want something real for their fear, a label with a certain je ne sais quoi. Thus, with their genius for style, they have rechristened it the ‘China virus’. Simple, effective, and technically correct. Yet, of all the words they could use, they unsurprisingly chose one with ethno-nationalistic connotations. Though the Chinese were not responsible for COVID-19, conservatives have attached their group identity label to this deadly threat. There is no reason for this, and perhaps it ultimately means nothing: to paraphrase Freud, sometimes, an onion is just an onion. But at other times, our meaningless words are the apogee of psychopathology. Though the renaming of ‘coronavirus’ seems superfluous, to us it is a direct sign of their veiled political position. In their language, we see the dark murmurings of their hearts: once more, in the souls of our leaders, we see the stirrings of fascism.

Tony Abbott first employed this mutation of language in the Weekend Australian (March 21st). In his article, Abbott made a bold proclamation: in his eyes Australia is mortally wounded, as the ‘real China virus killed our self-sufficiency years ago’. As a nation we are sick, according to him. We are too dependent on others for our necessities: thus we are economically impotent. We have no control over our supply chain: thus we have no national security. We lack the ability to manufacture our essentials in a time of crisis: thus we lack self-respect. Accordingly, Abbott decries the décadence of Australia, the moral decline of a nation that lacks integrity and strength in its

dealings. For him, we have slumped into ‘complacency’ and we have ‘given up deep things for shallow ones’ in our reckless pursuit of ‘short-term economic gains’. And why has this happened? Because of the exploitative acts of nations who ‘see trade as a strategic weapon’, and our own naivety for letting them use it. For Abbott, our powerlessness in the wake of COVID-19 comes from our supposedly virulent neighbours: China, that great beast that bought our natural resources in the Howard era, and with whom the LNP established a free-trade agreement in 2015.

Both an expert diagnostician and eminent surgeon of cultural sickness, Abbott wields a scalpel over the mortified Australian flesh. He presents a precise, rational method for extirpating our disease: patriotism, national sovereignty, and economic independence. He calls for the re- establishment of a ‘broad and deep’ manufacturing sector, the building of ‘baseload power stations and new dams’, and he suggests that, unlike our European friends, we should become ‘strong and capable countries’ by improving our control over our borders. His call for strength and self-reliance is an apparently logical, powerful solution for a country in desperate need of convalescence. Indeed, all his ideas are necessary for our economic independence, and each would help eliminate our reliance on China. In a word, his solution is entirely rational — but the careful observer can detect the irrationality that undergirds his reasoning which remains incomplete without its appeal to ethno- nationalism.

For the German fascist, the calls for nationalism and patriotism, the support of heavy industry in a time of crisis, the preservation of capitalism against communism — all of this could be justified with economic rationalism at the time. German décadence and decline had also been apparent for decades: Nietzsche identified the stultification of Germanic culture in the 1880s, and the ruin of the country during WWI and the years after confirmed its death. Thus the Nazi case was supported by an abundance of evidence, and they made their case while secured by a substantial, sociopolitical reasoning. However, their rational thought was ultimately secured by an irrational lynchpin, a fact that reveals their rationalism as the product of pathology. In their rationalistic framework, they sought to identify a cause for German decline. It could not be capitalism, as they relied on industry support for their political power. Thus, they turned their persecutory gaze upon the Jew. A single ethnic group was responsible for the decline of Germany: the Jew was corrupt, but they occupied positions of power in finance and law. For the Nazi, the Jew was at once base and dominating: thus, the Nazi pursed economic rationalism subsumed by a hatred of the Jew, who was blamed, imprisoned and murdered in their pursuit of politics.

In Hitler’s Germany, fascism moved beneath the guise of rationality — but it inevitably betrayed itself by its excesses. Fascism is a subtle but radical disease that secures its power by harnessing the pathological emotions of the masses. It seeks to contaminate every drop of blood in our bodies, but it fears its opposition. So, it moves by disguise, subterfuge, and furtiveness. Fascism adopts the mask of reason to bypass those checkpoints and inspections of logic that our better nature demands. Yet, it cannot help revealing itself through its moments of irrationality, those eruptions of the pathological emotion which fuels its sustained efforts. The fascist cannot obscure his hatred for long, for they cannot think without it.

Tony Abbott holds a mask of rationality close to his face, but his argument becomes pathological in its singular moment of excess. Abbott commits the necessary gratuity to angle his economic rationality towards the fascistic by evoking ethnicity and nationality. By calling COVID-19 the ‘China virus’, he binds his otherwise rational points together in an irrational assembly. He did not need to do this: yet, he clearly thought his reasoning was incomplete without this unnecessary gesture. For Abbott, the Chinese are both the source of our disease and domination: much like the Nazi’s Jew, his foe is both powerful and pestilent. By characterising the Chinese in this way, he hoists the flag of fascism upward, another inch toward to its terrible height. His economic solutions suggest that this flag was already secured upon the pole: his appeal to ethno-nationalism, though, signals its ascent to a more complete fascist ideology. Most of the ideas necessary to fascism are woven into Abbott’s short article, yet the Australian has allowed it to flutter proudly in the winds of our national discourse. We must commit this flag to the flames, though, for it contains nothing but the possibility of stupidity, violence and barbarism.

Sartre once implored his readers: ‘Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words.’ Abbott studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. No doubt, he is acutely aware of everything written here, yet he has ignored it in favour of pursuing his agenda. Abbott wants to play in bad faith, and he proposes a terrible game. Here, we have tried to use our words responsibly, but we must realise that we do not play the same game: ours is rational, his is pathological.

Tony Abbott’s article in the Australian, March 21st



Alasdair Cannon

Writer / Author. Debut book, Holding Patterns, out now via Bonfire Books.