Pretty exciting stuff
What bloody man is that? NOT MACBETH
What bloody man is that? NOT MACBETH
While the peddlers of free markets, democracy, the end of history, neo-imperialism and the flat earth were getting high on their own supply, China emerged as the most formidable exponent of concerted state power so far seen. Just as American wages began to stagnate in the 1970s, the living conditions of a large percentage of the Chinese population began to improve dramatically: the biggest transformation of this kind in history. This extraordinary economic expansion has been accompanied by unparalleled damage to the environment and cruel limitations on individual liberty, especially in Hong Kong and the minority regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. China also needs to confront mounting national debt and the problems associated with an ageing population. Still, scepticism about its material progress, insistence that regime change and American-style democracy are inevitable, or that the coronavirus emerged from a Chinese lab, do nothing to improve the prospects of citizens in the countries that are so proud of being democracies.
Their sanctimony can’t disguise the fact that China, single-mindedly pursuing modernisation under a technocratic elite, has verified Hamilton’s belief that only a strong, proactive state can protect its citizens from the maelstrom of violent and unavoidable change: ‘Nothing but a well-proportioned exertion of the resources of the whole, under the direction of a Common Council, with power sufficient to give efficacy to their resolutions, can preserve us from being a conquered people now, or can make us a happy people hereafter.’ China has been more coldly pragmatic, too, than its Western critics. After all, a ruling party that calls itself ‘communist’ chose to abandon its foundational ideology and adapt itself to a market economy, just as the US, seeking to build a new world order, was failing to implant democracy by persuasion or military force in Russia, Eastern Europe and the Arab world, succeeding only in facilitating brutal anarchy or despotism in almost every country it sought to remake in its image. More recently, and damagingly, a feckless global experiment in economic hyper-liberalism led by Anglo-America’s political class and mainstream intelligentsia has helped empower neo-fascist movements and personalities in both countries.
China may or may not address its democratic deficit, as South Korea and Taiwan have both done. Its chillingly resourceful suppression of dissent in Hong Kong and Xinjiang renews the warning from the histories of Germany and Japan: that the modern state’s biopower can enable monstrous crimes. But there’s no getting around the desolate position that the great paragons of democracy find themselves in today. Neither Britain nor America seems capable of dealing with the critical challenges to collective security and welfare thrown up by the coronavirus. No less crushing is the exposure, as Rhodes finally falls, of the fact that the power and prestige of Anglo-America originated in grotesque atrocities and, as William James wrote in 1897, that ‘a land of freedom, boastfully so called, with human slavery enthroned at the heart of it’ was always ‘a thing of falsehood and horrible self-contradiction’.
The moralising history of the modern world written by its early winners – the many Plato-to-Nato accounts of the global flowering of democracy, liberal capitalism and human rights – has long been in need of drastic revision. At the very least, it must incorporate the experiences of late-developing nations: their fraught and often tragic quests for meaningful sovereignty, their contemptuously thwarted ideas for an egalitarian world order, and the redemptive visions of social movements, from the Greens in Germany to Dalits in India. The recent explosion of political demagoguery, after years of endless and futile wars, should have been an occasion to interrogate the narratives of British and American narcissism. Trump and Brexit offered an opportunity to ‘break democracy’s spell’ on the Anglo-American mind – something the political theorist John Dunn has been arguing for since the late 1970s, long before Anglo-American triumphalism assumed inflexible forms. Those hypnotised by the word, Dunn argued, had become oblivious to the fact that the political and economic arrangements they preferred, and which they described as ‘democracy’, could neither continue indefinitely nor handle ‘the immediate challenges of collective life within and between individual countries effectively even in the present’.
Instead, the elevation of tub-thumpers to high office in London and Washington led to a proliferation of self-pitying and self-flattering accounts, describing the way the long march of ‘liberal democracy’ had been disrupted by uncouth ‘populists’, ‘identity liberals’, ‘social-justice warriors’ and even, as Anne Applebaum claimed in a cover article in the Atlantic, by senior Republicans, who had abandoned their ‘ideals’ and ‘principles’. Mark Lilla’s preposterous argument, first aired in the New York Times, that the ‘Mau-Mau tactics’ of Black Lives Matter and Hillary Clinton’s radical ‘rhetoric of diversity’ helped elect Trump, was reverently amplified in the Financial Times and the Guardian. Mainstream periodicals on both sides of the Atlantic quickly mobilised against a resurgent left by promoting intellectual grifters and stentorian culture warriors while doubling down on their default pro-establishment positions. ‘The New York Times is in favour of capitalism,’ James Bennet, the newspaper’s editorial page director, told his colleagues, because it is the ‘greatest anti-poverty programme and engine of progress that we’ve seen’. Bennet, who had given space to articles that denied climate change, promoted eugenics and recommended apartheid and ethnic cleansing in Palestine, was forced to resign last month over an op-ed calling for military force to be used against anti-racist protesters. Nevertheless, Samantha Power’s recent claims in the NYT that ‘the United States leads no matter what it does’ and ‘nations still look to us in times of crisis’ confirm that the factotums and publicists of the ancien régime remain persistent, yearning for a Restoration under a Biden administration.
However, after the most radical upheaval of our times, even the bleakest account of the German-invented social state seems a more useful guide to the world to come than moist-eyed histories of Anglo-America’s engines of universal progress. Screeching ideological U-turns have recently taken place in both countries. Adopting a German-style wage-subsidy scheme, and channelling FDR rather than Churchill, Boris Johnson now claims that ‘there is such a thing as society’ and promises a ‘New Deal’ for Britain. Biden, abandoning his Obama-lite centrism, has rushed to plagiarise Bernie Sanders’s manifesto. In anticipation of his victory in November, the Democratic Party belatedly plans to forge a minimal social state in the US through robust worker-protection laws, expanded government-backed health insurance, if not single-payer healthcare, and colossal investment in public-health jobs and childcare programmes. Businesses pledge greater representation for minorities; and book and magazine publishers seek out testimonies of minorities’ suffering while purging unreconstructed colleagues.
Such tardy wokeness, unaccompanied by major economic and cultural shifts, invites scepticism – black lives, after all, have increasingly mattered to corporate balance sheets. The removal of memorials to slave-traders is likely only to deepen the culture wars if it is not accompanied by an extensive rewriting of the Anglo-American history and economics curriculum. Certainly, the new-fangled welfarism of Britain and the US will remain precarious without a full reckoning with the slavery, imperialism and racial capitalism that made some people in Britain and America uniquely wealthy and powerful, and plunged the great majority of the world’s population into a brutal struggle against scarcity and indignity.
In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin outlined the necessity of such a moral and intellectual revolution in the starkest terms, arguing that ‘in order to survive as a human, moving, moral weight in the world, America and all the Western nations will be forced to re-examine themselves,’ to ‘discard nearly all the assumptions’ used to ‘justify’ their ‘crimes’. The fire Baldwin imagined in 1962 is now raging across the US, and is being met with frantic appeals to white survivalism. ‘You must dominate,’ Trump told state governors on 1 June, threatening to unleash ‘vicious dogs’ and ‘ominous weapons’ on his political enemies. Understandably, people exalted for so long by the luck of birth, class and nation will find it difficult, even impossible, to discard their assumptions about themselves and the world. But success in this harsh self-education is imperative if the prime movers of modern civilisation are to prevent themselves from sliding helplessly into the abyss of history.
Last edited by uziq (2020-07-19 05:43:13)
Last edited by uziq (2020-07-31 04:52:28)
Last edited by Dilbert_X (2020-08-01 21:51:41)