Confinement, A Matrix for Innovation

The anxiety caused by the general confinement of the population cannot make us forget one fundamental fact: plant life, human life, and the life of civilizations are all founded on respiration, on a notion of inhalation and exhalation that we call “retreat-return.” Without confinement, creativity collapses. For plants, the dormancy of winter is a precursor to their blossoming; for great spiritual leaders, such as Saint Benedict or the Buddha, complete withdrawal precedes a return to active preaching; for civilizations, any renaissance comes after a cultural winter characterized by absolute confinement. From the fall of the Hohenstaufen dynasty in the mid-13th century to the French invasion at the end of the 15th century, Italy lived through a period of isolated retreat, protected from the tumultuous semi-barbaric feudalism of transalpine Europe.

For civilizations, any renaissance comes after a cultural winter characterized by absolute confinement.

“The great achievements of Italian genius during these two and a half centuries of immunity were intensive rather than extensive, spiritual rather than material. In architecture, painting, and literature, and in almost every other field of general and aesthetic culture, Italians produced works that withstand comparison to those of the Greeks in the 5th and 6th centuries BC.”[1]

The Italian withdrawal of the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries bears strong similarities to the Athenian confinement of the 8th, 7th, and 6th centuries.

“In both cases, political abstention was total and prolonged. In both cases, the voluntarily separated minority channeled all their energy into finding a solution to the problem shared by society as a whole. And in both cases, the creative minority returned in due course – once their mission had been accomplished – to the society that it had temporarily abandoned, leaving its mark on the entire social body.”[2]

In light of these historical evolutions, what can we expect from the quarantine to come?

From December 2020, the birth rate will rise sharply in countries that have gone into lockdown. This surge will prove advantageous for demographically weakened powers like China and Iran. The collapse of the automotive and leisure industries will be offset by a meteoric acceleration of the digital economy. Let’s not forget that Chinese cloud computing company Alibaba rose to prominence during an epidemic. Its founder, Jack Ma, can now afford the luxury of offering medical equipment to Korea and Japan: the coronavirus will hugely enhance the influence of his company. Confinement will thus prove to be an exceptional opportunity for reforming organizations.

In higher education, the gap will widen between the institutions that have the intelligence to fundamentally reform their teaching by asking students to read the classics as a priority, and the inert world that tries to compel students to work remotely on a plethora of insignificant mechanical and sterile exercises. If mediocrity is exported, it will, without doubt, be swept away by irony or entertainment. With confinement, the great force that is inertia will be defeated.

This is an exceptional opportunity for living and creative elites.

Thomas Flichy de La Neuville
Research Professor at IWP
Chair of Geopolitics at Rennes School of Business

[1] « Les hauts faits du génie italien durant ces deux siècles et demi d’immunité ne furent pas extensifs mais intensifs, non matériels mais spirituels. En architecture, peinture et littérature et dans presque tous les autres domaines de la culture générale et esthétique, les Italiens ont accompli des œuvres qui soutiennent la comparaison avec celle des Grecs durant les Ve et VIe siècles avant J-C.» A. Toynbee, L’histoire, Paris, 1954, p. 257

[2] « Dans les deux cas, l’abstention sur le plan politique fut totale et prolongée. Dans les deux cas, la minorité, volontairement séparée, mit toute son énergie à l’œuvre pour apporter une solution au problème commun à toute la société. Et dans les deux cas, la minorité créatrice retourna en temps voulu – c’est à dire quand sa mission fut accomplie – à la société qu’elle avait temporairement abandonnée et mit son empreinte sur tout le corps social.» A. Toynbee, L’histoire, Paris, 1954, p. 259