Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Irritating Infatuations with Strauss and Schmitt: Mark Lilla New Republic


Mark Lilla has an amazing piece in the most recent ed. of The New Republic here (gated - I can e-mail to interested friends) that seizes on a tide of neoconservative thought among China's students/intellectuals. (This despite the magazine's own hawkish foreign policy turns in the last few years, under Peretz. Ugh, anyway. Lilla points to an excellent article by Evan Osnos two years ago. A key moment is probably his meeting Strauss disciple Harvey Mansfield on tour, baffled by why he is a big deal in China, but nevertheless wearing a "honey colored panama" and loving it.) 

There was a running joke when I was in Cambridge about working on Karl Schmidt, an obscure medievalist, as Carl Schmitt has also become mindlessly vogue among trend-driven, chain-smoking intellectual historians. (Or as Lilla says,"the short, elusive books by this once Nazi collaborator have attracted Western radicals too soft-minded for Marxian empiricism and charmed by the notion that tout commence en mystique et tout finit en politique.") So at first the title was funny for seeming somewhat obscure, then it wasdepressing.

Choice quotes:
Strauss and Schmitt are at the center of intellectual debate, but they are being read by everyone, whatever their partisan leanings; as a liberal journalist in Shanghai told me as we took a stroll one day, “no one will take you seriously if you have nothing to say about these two men and their ideas.”
"Students of a more conservative bent actually agree with much of the left’s critique of the new state capitalism and the social dislocations it has caused, though they are mainly concerned with maintaining “harmony” and have no fantasies (only nightmares) about China going through yet another revolutionary transformation. Their reading of history convinces them that China’s enduring challenges have always been to maintain territorial unity, keep social peace, and defend national interests against other states—challenges heightened today by global market forces and a liberal ideology that idealizes individual rights, social pluralism, and international law."
"...for the young Chinese I met, the distinction between sages and statesmen and the idea of an elite class educated to serve the public good make perfect sense because they are already rooted in the Chinese political tradition. What makes Strauss additionally appealing to them, apart from the grand tapestry of Western political theory he lays before them, is that he makes this ideal philosophically respectable without reference to Confucius or religion or Chinese history. He provides a bridge between their ancient tradition and our own..."
The core of it - how educated young intellectuals are, distressed with China's progress, whipping away from liberal ideas and seizing upon soveriegnty and "cultural nationalism" as an alternative- I see as intimately connected with two other debates. First, this background gives far more context to the "universal values" debate that was in the background of LXB's Nobel Prize, so I think its quite timely given the recent ceremony. What are the consequences of an rising Chinese intelligentsia that firmly holds political liberalization in opposition to sovereignty, and begins to situate that within the narrative of modern Western philosophy? Second is the public philosophy debate. I have been thinking (not alot but some) about Daniel Bell's work, which by some accounts has tried, in reaction precisely to this first question, to sketch out a sort of softer "neopaternal NeoConfucianism" as a public philosophy for China's 21c.  The last para from Lilla implies that that this little dance of proto paternalism isn't far off from proto fascism, whichever way you spin it.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Pattern Representing The Pattern of the Chinese Past

Economist's View via Daniel Little reviewed a new volume on visualizing economic data - Famous Figures and Diagrams in Economics  (Mark Blaug and Peter Lloyd) - and pulled out the following chart, presented by Mark Elvin "to represent his theory of a high-level equilibrium trap in agricultural development in The Pattern of the Chinese Past." The question - why was there no Industrial Revolution in China, given relative stability, prosperity, and advanced scientific methods? Elvin's answer, circa 1972 - there was enough cheap labor producing good enough yields, and there wasn't an impetus to pursue new technologies (and a bit of bad luck in the progress made generally not being disruptive technology.)

 Explanation below:
"This diagram represents several different kinds of historical change in one compact figure: gradual technical progress along a production curve, shift of production curves through technical innovation, and the maximum production possibility curve that lies above each of these. The axes represent "total output" and "rural population." The concave shape of each curve has a very specific economic and demographic meaning: as population grows within a given mix of techniques, output grows more slowly; so average output per capita approaches the subsistence line OS. The HLET is graphically and laconically indicated on the upper right quadrant of the graph; there is no further room for technical improvement, and population has increased to the point where there is no surplus to fund radical technological innovation. (Elvin's theory of the high-level equilibrium trap is discussed in my Microfoundations, Methods, and Causation; link.)"
 The theory has been well received by a number of economists, though many other explanations have been offered - I'm not that familiar with this but there's the "intellectual culture was hostile to rational scientific method" bucket (Joseph Needham), the more neoclassical "lack of domestic competition, property rights and all that free market love" bucket (which is closely tied to the "China was far away from everyone" bucket, Jared Diamond), the "silver drain and serial political instability" bucket, and a "Great Divergence AKA Europe got some colonies" bucket (Kenneth Pomeranz).

Hm. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Non-Profits, Civil Society, Expertise

Wanted to point to an excellent post by Guobin Yang at TheChina Beat contextualizing the career of one of China's pioneering environmental activists. Liang Congjie had founded Friends of Nature, the first recognized environmental advocacy group in the PRC, in 1994, battling against poachers and renegade loggers while mentoring a generation of younger scholars and activists.  (Photo caption for the left, aptly: ANTI POACHING SQUAD.)
Yang points to the post '89 crumbling of the Chinese academic world as the key background to this move - the turn towards NGO creation offered "a logical way of seeking meaning at a time of intellectual crisis" but simultaneously helped create a new class of public intellectuals more intimately connected with grassroots, civic movements. As Yang summarizes:
Perhaps more than anything else, the combination of the image of an active and participatory citizenry with the Confucian image of a world of human-nature harmony epitomizes Liang Congjie’s vision as a scholar-environmentalist in action.
The last three months in HK have pulled me into a number of conferences - on impact investing, social enterprise and philanthropy - all primarily revolving around the burgeoning civic sector of China. [An excellent and yet developing reference to social enterprises in the PRC here, btw.] Having somewhat settled down now, I'm trying to figure out the analytical lenses most useful for cutting into what I've been observing, and at least one rough dynamic is certainly the role that scholars play within the sector. I'd been coming from a group whose primary goal was to better integrate scholarship and policy,  so was somewhat surprised to notice that scholarly expertise was not only enlisted by every association in this tightly knit NGO community - but seemed a necessary prerequisite for any sort of legitimacy.

Also, re: the reading list, BUMP to the top Guobin Yang's The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online (Columbia University Press, 2009) - which for all my talk of loving him, I haven't actually read yet.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Hong Kong Street Art - Space Invaders

On way to lunch found this crucial 8-Bit addition to the street @ 2 Lyndhurst (look down, on the bottom of a step.) Tiled onto the concrete. Apparently put up almost 10 years ago! Ancient.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reading List

During a small break from work I collated a fat stack of papers from The China Quarterly to read and save my brain, and hammered down a must read list for myself over the next few weeks. No, months. Book club, NEbody?
  • China's New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society. Daniel A. Bell. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008. 
  • From Ah Q to Lei Feng: Freud and Revolutionary Spirit in 20th Century China. Wendy Larson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009
  •  Wandering Spirits: Chen Shuiyan's Encyclopedia of Dreams. Translated and with an introduction by Richard E. Strassberg. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2008
  • A Cultural History of Modern Science in China. Benjamin A. Elman. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2006
  •  Back Alley Banking. Kellee Tsai. . Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002
  • China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy Minxin Pei. Harvard University Press, 2008 
  • Sentimental Fabrications. Rey Chow. 
  • Neither Gods Nor Emperors:  Students and the Struggle for Democracy in China. Craig Calhoun. U of C Press. -> Craig Calhoun btw is an unstoppable BALLER. Big ups. 
 Two useful resources at Five Books, a critical cheat sheet to everything interesting:
Question: Why is Fredric Jameson the go to PoCo theorist in China?

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