Full piece here. (originally posted eight years ago now….perhaps worth re-considering as to who’s got accurate intellectual maps)
Neo-cons, humanists, human-rights advocates…religious and secular idealists, missionaries of all stripes who want to see more freedom and democracy cast in our image…it’s good to get other points of view:
‘The place to avert tragedy is in Ukraine. Russia will not permit Ukraine to drift to the West. Whether a country that never had an independent national existence prior to the collapse of communism should become the poster-child for national self-determination is a different question. The West has two choices: draw a line in the sand around Ukraine, or trade it to the Russians for something more important.
My proposal is simple: Russia’s help in containing nuclear proliferation and terrorism in the Middle East is of infinitely greater import to the West than the dubious self-determination of Ukraine. The West should do its best to pretend that the “Orange” revolution of 2004 and 2005 never happened, and secure Russia’s assistance in the Iranian nuclear issue as well as energy security in return for an understanding of Russia’s existential requirements in the near abroad. Anyone who thinks this sounds cynical should spend a week in Kiev.’
The argument is pretty clear: Putin is looking at demographic decline, and he’s an ex-KGB ethno-nationalist looking to keep the empire together:
‘Russia is not an ethnicity but an empire, the outcome of hundreds of years of Russification. That Russification has been brutal is an understatement, but it is what created Russia out of the ethnic morass around the Volga river basin. One of the best accounts of Russia’s character comes from Eugene Rosenstock-Huessey (Franz Rosenzweig’s cousin and sometime collaborator) in his 1938 book Out of Revolution. Russia’s territory tripled between the 16th and 18th centuries, he observes, and the agency of its expansion was a unique Russian type.’
-On that note, a reader links to Paul Kingsnorth (former environmentalist looking for deeper meaning) regarding the vaccines and the current state of many institutions (related to the search for deeper meaning)
‘Across all cultures, raising a child is considered one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Yet a chorus of campaigners, scientists, and journalists suggest that everyone should think twice before procreating.’
“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”
Jordan Peterson & former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia John Anderson have a debate on COVID:
What’s with the Australian tendency to go full-lockdown? From an American perspective, why did so many choose the idea of security over freedom (relative to risk and medical/political authority?).
What are some better ways to think about costs/benefits and COVID risks than the ones being discussed now in Britain, Canada, America and Australia?
Choose your external threat: Increasingly authoritarian, post-ish Communist Chinese party leadership, and the China/Russia axis are shaping up to pose many threats to the Anglosphere. Perhaps your favored external threat is Islamic terrorism, or increasing migratory pressure on your borders as a citizen. These threats are quite real. Maybe it’s the ideologues now within many American institutions, seeking to disrupt the bedrocks of freedom of speech and rule of law. Very real, indeed.
As John Anderson points out, what about during the Blitz in London?
Another possibilityof threat-ranking: We have a likely lab-created and enhanced corona virus, now on track to become another human free-rider, killing a few million of us every season. This is a very real threat. We have an ongoing problem that could end-up anywhere between same level of risk as a virulent strain of flu or higher. We have very real front lines to this disease. A fairly shitty, but unavoidable outcome?
What about people who refuse, claiming health or other reasons?
Your deeper principles often mirror evaluations of threat across dimensions (conservatives focused on the common defense against outside invaders, the political Left focused more on external threats (within the West) against health care/education and collectivist conceptions of the moral good)
COVID-19 in King County, Washington (Seattle Area). Well, here we go.
Progressive thinking, to me, gets human nature fundamentally wrong (recognizing human potential generally through the oppressed/oppressor lens as well as through collective and group identity). A lot of progressivism needs an oppressor (evil) for its existence and such evil is usually found within the West (the religious, the traditional, those with ‘power’ etc.) Radical and nihilistic thinking (including a lot of anarchism) is nothing if not ruthlessly cynical about power.
As I see things: The vaccine mandate expresses the counter-cultural, anti-establishment logic which was there all along: A two-tiered society based on vaccine status looks a lot like the vaguely aristocratic, two-tiered society increasingly shaping up in Seattle/Portland/San Francisco. ‘Authority is bad. Oh, look, I”m the authority now‘ doesn’t exactly inspire institutional trust.
Are all the homeless, now frozen out of businesses, for lack of a vaccine passport, better off than they were before the vaccine passport?
What about conscientious objectors or health objectors to the vaccine? What about many small businesses being asked to enforce the new rules?
The utopia on the horizon fades for ever and forever as they move.
‘Ours does not promise to go down in literary history as a great age of religious poetry. Yet if contemporary poetry is not often religious, it is still intensely, covertly metaphysical.‘
For Heidegger, more than any other philosopher, looked to poetry as a model of what thinking should be. He used individual poems, especially the hymns of Hölderlin, to help explicate his own ideas about nature, technology, art, and history.‘
‘This is the dead end of Modernist culture, which sought to break down traditional values and rules but was unable to replace them with anything better. It left us in a cultural void where, as the New York Times piece puts it, everyone is afraid that “serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst.” In the second half of the 20th century, this corrosive Modernist skepticism brought us the ruling concept of contemporary popular culture: the “cool.” Remember the original meaning of the term. To be “cool” is to be emotionally cool, to refuse to be caught up in enthusiasm. Early on, this could be taken to mean a kind of manly reserve, the ability to be calm, cool, and collected in the face of strife, or to refuse to be carried away by momentary or trivial emotions. This is the sense in which James Bond was “cool.” But by the end of the 20th century, the culture of cool increasingly came to mean a studied lack of response to values. It meant refusing to be carried away by enthusiasm about anything.’
You’ve seen the game some people start playing when they don’t have other things in which to believe. They play the everyone-is-Hitler-game. They share ‘literature’, torch courthouses and deploy violent individuals within mob anonymity. They don’t believe in legitimate authority.
Liberal leadership doesn’t seem to have a strategic response, other than keep pushing the ‘liberation’ narratives while accruing more authority.
Zhou’s response was that of a hedgehog. He had just one issue: Taiwan. “If this crucial question is not solved,” he told Kissinger at the outset, “then the whole question [of U.S.-China relations] will be difficult to resolve.‘
Some interesting takeaways from the interview above (Kissinger was a young man whose family fled the Nazis and who not long after served in the American military, helping to free a concentration camp).
-According to Ferguson, this still tends to make Kissinger an idealist on the idealist/realist foreign policy axis, but it also likely means he’s breaking with the doctrines which animate many on the political Left, hence his often heretical status.
***I’d add that unlike many thinkers in the German philosophical and political traditions, the Anglosphere has economic idealists and various systematists battling other systematists, yes, but there are looser networks of free, civic association and more avoidance of top-down organization and fewer internalized habits of order.
Perhaps such looser civic associations, broad geography and rougher, cruder practices of freedom help keep power and authority dispersed. Kissinger came closer to being ‘America’s Metternich‘ than have all but a few other actors, and Kant was quite serious in the scope of his metaphysics.
‘The most original and interesting aspect of the biography is Ferguson’s ability to engage with and analyze Kissinger’s ideas as set forth in the voluminous letters, papers, articles, and books written by Kissinger as a student, academic, and policy adviser. According to Ferguson, Kissinger the political philosopher was closer to Kant than Machiavelli. While he admired the brilliance of Metternich and Bismarck, his ideal statesmen (e.g., Castlereagh) sought to construct international orders that did not depend upon a guiding genius for their stability.
He was not, however, a Wilsonian idealist—idealism based on abstraction instead of experience, he believed, was a “prescription for inaction.” “The insistence on pure morality,” Kissinger once told a colleague, “is in itself the most immoral of postures.” Statesmen must act under a cloud of uncertainty and often their decisions reflect a choice among evils.’
I imagine maintaining legitimate authority over a civilization with a Han Chinese core, new wealth and a lot of poorer, more traditional, family based ‘units’ (collectivism dies hard) isn’t easy. Add in a vast, geographical area containing various religious and ethnic groups spread over the boundaries of ancient empires.
Whoever’s in charge will have to deal with a declining birth rate, while still promising rapid economic growth and a lavish lifestyle; a piece of the pie distributed through a lot of top-down private and public control, all led by an currently authoritarian, strong-man Communist apparatus that never really went away.
I could easily see how party messaging enhances Nationalist identity against enemies foreign (Korea, Japan, Russia, the U.S.) and domestic (traitors, the insufficiently loyal).
Belt and road politics is global, and the way many in China view their role in the world is not necessarily how we in the West view the world.
This is a clear potential source of conflict:
Having a lot of people unifying around the ideals of racism (the ‘-Isms) and equality, often with a kind of religious fervor, is pretty common these days, but what if you disagree? What about violence? How do these ideals work in the practice of creating or maintaining legitimate authority?
Alas, it’s Seattle.
The price of ‘integrating’ radicals who believe very little in any legitimate authority usually means buying off those radicals (playing the politics game very well) with public monies and shiny new programs.
It’s better to think of radicals as cult members, really. True-beliving, intolerant, crazed cult members, unable to live a world with different experiences from their own, nor differences of thought, opinion and behavior.
Cult model: BITE. Behavior control. Information control. Thought control. Emotional control. https://t.co/Qfnlke86ng
— James Lindsay, seems to be dangerous (@ConceptualJames) July 8, 2020
Robert Hughes makes the case for older forms of visual expression at min 45:08:
‘Painting is, you might say, exactly what mass media are not, a way of specific engagement, not of general seduction. That is its continuing relevance to us: Everywhere and at all times, there is a world to be reformed by the darting subtlety and persistent slowness of the painter’s eye.’
The idea that a painter, through long experience and expert practice, can give you an experience you might not have otherwise had; returning some basic part of yourself to you, or reorienting you to experience the world anew, is an interesting one.
As to what I think the humanities can do when less frequently co-opted by the causes and movements of the moment.
Quotations which have stuck with me:
“Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality.”
Meanwhile, politics and geo-politics go on, and if you think you might know which direction (H)istory is moving, you might want to think again.
This way, at least, we all might learn more along the way.
U.S.-China rivalry is not carbon copy of the Cold War. But revisiting debates over what caused the Cold War can help us determine what is driving today’s U.S.-China rivalry. And that is critical to figuring out where to go:@CharlesEdel@ForeignPolicyhttps://t.co/enltd0wSRB
Two types of people desire to impose politically correct locutions on the rest of us: those who possess unlimited power and fear to lose it and those who aspire to unlimited power and need a means to attain it.’
‘The Belt and Road is really the expansion of a specific part of China’s domestic political economy to the rest of the world. That is the nexus between state-owned contractors and state-owned banks, which formed in the domestic infrastructure building spree construction that began after the 2008 global financial crisis (and has not yet ended).’
From AEI, on the regime in Cuba and regime in Venezuela’s connections. They’re certainly not helping most people who want food and electricity, aside from political and economic liberty:
‘When Chavez succumbed to cancer under Cuban care, they micromanaged Maduro’s rise to power. Cuban advisors engineered his unlawful presidential campaign and unlikely victory in 2013.’
If you live in a society which hasn’t developed a profound and enduring concept of the individual in relation to the group, moral philosophies dedicated to the defense of individual liberty, laws emerging from the free association of individuals entering and leaving contracts with authority and with each other, well…,you might be living under a post-ish Communist centralized party apparatus laid atop a few-thousand year-old hierarchy laid atop a rapidly changing chaotic civilization.
‘I want to make perfectly clear that any complaints I wrote about in any forum are reflective only of my concerns about the illiberal, authoritarian communist government of China and not the Chinese people. Most professor colleagues, even those I would consider pro-Party, were good colleagues whom I enjoyed talking, debating(yes, it happens behind closed doors and I learned a lot from them)…’
From a George F Kennan article written in 1948 on China.
My how times have changed!:
‘From the analysis in this paper of demographic and economic factors it is concluded that for years to come China will probably be plagued by (1) an implacable population pressure, which is likely to result in (2) a general standard of living around and below the subsistence level, which in turn will tend to cause (3) popular unrest (4) economic backwardness, (5) cultural lag, and (6) an uncontrolled crude birth rate.
The political alternatives which this vicious cycle will permit for China’s future are chaos or authoritarianism. Democracy cannot take root in so harsh an environment.
Authoritarianism may be able to break the cycle by drastic means, such as forcible “socialization”. At best, such measures could be put into effect only at heavy and long protracted cost to the whole social structure; at worst they could provoke such rebellion as to recreate a state of chaos.’
Our author reviews Evan Osnos’ book about his 8 years spent living on the ground in China:
‘For its part, the government seems to be making efforts to get a grasp on public opinion, though they stem more from its need to buttress its own chances of survival than from any democratic instinct. Attempts at opinion polling have not gone well, mainly because most Chinese are wary about voicing criticism of the government to a stranger on the phone. Nevertheless, there is the sense that the leaders are aware that the ground is shifting. They just don’t know where it is shifting to—and no one else does, either. There is an obsession with establishing the “central melody” of the current culture, but the tune keeps slipping away.’
What’s life like in Beijing for an American editing an English-language Business Magazine?
Interesting quote on author Eveline Chao’s censor:
‘I understood then the mundane nature of all that kept her in place. A job she didn’t like, but worked hard to keep. A system that would never reward her for good work, only punish her for mistakes. And in exchange: Tutors. Traffic. Expensive drumming lessons. They were the same things that kept anyone, anywhere, in place — and it was the very ordinariness of these things that made them intractable.’
Walter Russell Mead At the WSJ (behind a paywall) on European politics and Brexit (British exit from the European Union) below:
Storm clouds over Salzburg? The EU just got tough with the UK over Brexit. That might just push Trump into a fight with the EU. VW, BMW, Daimler stockholders beware? My latest @WSJ. https://t.co/IiuWIVUdRf
One angle: Most technology reduces distances, but not necessarily ignorance, and increases communication, but not necessarily understanding.
The EU started out as a trade union, but also, in seeking to protect its members and advance its interests, has been levying serious fines on American tech companies. Controlling flows of information upwards towards mercantilism is an obvious result (Eurocrats and big players make and approve the rules, supposedly in favor of ‘the little guy’ but only so far as the moral lights and sentiments of the Eurocrats and big players can envision, if they spend much time envisioning).
These laws tend to be more restrictive than many American laws, but not nearly so restrictive as nearly all Chinese laws, where, apparently, Google has had to make concessions in order to create a search engine alongside the Chinese government.
‘Yesterday, we showed how speech codes are consistently struck down by courts. Today, we look at two ongoing cases that threaten to curb that trend by expanding the doctrine of mootness while narrowing what qualifies to establish standing.’