China sentence of the day

by on December 24, 2010 at 2:00 am in Books, Current Affairs, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

When my turn to talk about American politics came, and I tried to explain the Tea Party movement’s goal of “getting government off our backs,” I was met with blank stares and ironic smiles.

The full article is here, possibly gated (TNR), by Mark Lilla.  It concerns the high and rising popularity of Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt in China.  Another excerpt:

Schmitt was by far the most intellectually challenging anti-liberal statist of the twentieth century. His deepest objections to liberalism were anthropological. Classical liberalism assumes the autonomy of self-sufficient individuals and treats conflict as a function of faulty social and institutional arrangements; rearrange those arrangements, and peace, prosperity, learning, and refinement will follow. Schmitt assumed the priority of conflict: Man is a political creature, in the sense that his most defining characteristic is the ability to distinguish friend and adversary. Classical liberalism sees society as having multiple, semi-autonomous spheres; Schmitt asserted the priority of the social whole (his ideal was the medieval Catholic Church) and considered the autonomy of the economy, say, or culture or religion, as a dangerous fiction…Schmitt saw sovereignty as the result of an arbitrary self-founding act by a leader, a party, a class, or a nation that simply declares “thus it shall be.” Classical liberalism had little to say about war and international affairs, leaving the impression that, if only human rights were respected and markets kept free, a morally universal and pacified world order would result. For Schmitt, this was liberalism’s greatest and most revealing intellectual abdication: If you have nothing to say about war, you have nothing to say about politics. There is, he wrote, “absolutely no liberal politics, only a liberal critique of politics.”

Seth Roberts offers a Chinese economics joke.

1 Anton Tykhyy December 23, 2010 at 11:25 pm

NB: it is possible to read the full article in the Google cache by searching for the title and sub-title.

2 Andrew December 24, 2010 at 1:11 am

Sounds like confirmation bias to me. So, maybe we should refrain from reminding China that in the recent past they've been a total cluster$#@!.

For Schmitt, I could say "Okay. And?" But isn't war what happens when there is no politics? What we say about war is "trade." Is there any point in saying anything else? Because once you are in it there is only "win it." Maybe statists just fetishize violence…like we said.

This particular classical liberal has a closet full of points he could make in war.

3 Eric Auld December 24, 2010 at 7:32 am

I must admit I do not understand what the other commenters are talking about. But here's a cool quote about Carl Schmitt from Huizinga: "I know of no sadder or deeper fall from human reason than Schmitt's barbarous and pathetic delusion about the friend-foe principle. His inhuman cerebrations do not even hold water as a piece of formal logic. For it is not war that is serious but peace."

4 TGGP December 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm

“absolutely no liberal politics, only a liberal critique of politics.”
And indeed Anthony de Jasay, who I believe likes to be referred to as liberal (he is more specifically an anarcho-capitalist) wrote a book titled "Against Politics".

Woofcat, my guess is that european wars are less salient in the minds of Chinese. For America the war has achieved near mythic status as justification for our global hegemony (despite the larger role played by the Soviet Union in defeating Germany).

5 dirk December 25, 2010 at 12:23 am

Woofcat, doesn't it make sense he would be popular in China? Do you think China has a problem with state-directed genocide?

6 Anon. December 25, 2010 at 6:34 am

"if only human rights were respected and markets kept free, a morally universal and pacified world order would result"

This statement is easily testable empirically, and trivially revealed to be absolutely true. The causes are not moral (and the respect of human rights is not a prerequisite, it's a result), they are economic. Rich people do not gain by warring against each other.

7 DPT December 25, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Anon. – you assume war is a function and outcome of purely rational human behavior – obviously it is not.

The Chinese are absolutely correct to think classical liberalism does not speak to their situation, because industrializing and even liberalizing powers have rarely historically thought so.

Germany's national and military buildup occurred as Prussia and later a united Germany underwent economic liberalization and expansion of franchise. Meiji Japan's military buildups began as it modernized, and its campaigns of Asian conquest and occupation during the 1900s were under the auspices of an increasingly liberal government, and only in the late '30s did Japan definitively turn away from constitutional rule. (And WWI occurred at the height of free trade).

China is more like Germany and Japan then than a fully fledged state of rational, rich people. It is not surprising they see Schmitt as more relevant than the classical liberals, regardless of their broader empirical insight.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: