Books

Education in Mao’s China

by on March 28, 2015 at 3:02 am in Books, Education, History | Permalink

Advancement in China’s school system was highly competitive, and the odds of reaching the top of the educational ladder were very steep.  Of the 32.9 million children who entered primary school in 1965, only 9 percent could expect to enter junior high school.  Only 15 percent of junior high school entrants, in turn, could expect to graduate and enter high school.  Among the highly selected groups that graduated from academic high schools, only 36 percent could expect to enroll in a university.  Of those who entered primary school in 1965, only 1.3 percent could expect to attend an academic high school, and only one-half of 1 percent could expect to attend university.

Of course the Caplanian point is that China managed a lot of post-1979 economic growth with what was fundamentally a not very educated generation.

That excerpt is from Andrew G. Walder’s China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed, my previous post on this excellent book is here.

Here is one excerpt from his very interesting post:

I get and very much like the skeptical, anti-theoretical thrust of Strauss. I like his deep wariness of ideal theorizing, his exhortations to pay attention to the political life we are always already living. He’s right to see reasoning with others about about how to live as an inherently political activity. He’s right to insist on honoring the distinctive excellences of those sensitive to the texture of real political life and expert in its ceaseless negotations. He’s right that social scientific theories about politics are less politically valuable then good political judgment, and that people who think they’re going to govern “scientifically” are dangerously stupid. (Paraphrasing, here.) And, yes, when philosophy is merely a handmaiden to the dogmas of our age, pursued under the “ecumenical supervision” of the universities, it is profoundly compromised. To be a philosopher is not to have a job you clock in and out of. To be a philosopher is simply to be, philosophically, always. Right! But the Socratic life is the one very best life? The naturally right, life? Nope. Nope. I’ve read and read and never quite follow how we end up there. I mean, I think this is a great life, beyond wonderful. But nope.

Anyway, Strausseans are strangely obsessed with this idea that the philosophical life, so construed, is the best human life, full stop, and are therefore obsessed with the tension between the best life, which is in the business of exposing bullshit, and the political life, which is built on it.

I am very happy to order this book in advance, I hope Will lets me know when that is possible.

China under Mao

by on March 26, 2015 at 2:37 am in Books, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

That is the new and excellent book by Andrew G. Walder.  Here is one excerpt:

The Communists’ contribution to the war effort was extremely modest.  According to a December 1944 Soviet Comintern report, a total of more than 1 million Nationalist troops had been killed in battle, compared to 103,186 in the CCP’s Eighth Route Army and another several thousand in the New Fourth Army.  The Communists suffered only 10 percent of total Chinese military casualties.  One author has called Mao’s famous doctrine of people’s war one of the “great myths” about the period: “people’s war was hardly used in the conflict against the Japanese.”

Definitely recommended.

1. I enjoyed my page browse through Becoming Steve Jobs, which seems fun, readable, and informative, but it’s not what I feel like reading right now.  But if you think you might want to read it, you probably should.

2. Charles C.W. Cooke’s The Conservatarian Manifesto: Libertarians, Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right’s Future is all the rage right now.  Books which attempt to redefine or carve up the political spectrum aren’t exactly my thing, but this one is well-written and vital.  Here is a Reason interview with Cooke.  Here is a NYT interview with Cooke.

3. The new edition of David Boaz’s The Libertarian Mind is out.

4. The best piece so far on Lee Kwan Yew; how much and how rapidly will it matter that the focal point has passed away?

5. Hopes grow for climate-proof beans.

6. John Nash shares the Abel Prize in mathematics.

The grand confluence of Protestantism has dwindled to a trickle over the past thirty years, and the Great Church of America has come to an end.

…The death of Mainline Protestantism is, as we’ve noted, the central historical fact of our time: the event that distinguishes the past several decades from every other period in American history.  Almost every one of our current political and cultural oddities, our contradictions and obscurities, derives from this fact: Mainline Protestantism has lost the capacity to set, or even significantly influence, the national vocabulary or the national self-understanding.

That is from Joseph Bottum, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.

The Tea Party, the great stagnation, etc., maybe you can find it all right here.

Don’t worry people, just joking on that one…

That is the new Ian Bremmer book, with the subtitle Three Choices for America’s Role in the World.  It can be Indispensable America (our postwar role), Moneyball America (pick priorities and accomplish them), or Independent America (limited foreign policy aspirations but lots of nation-building at home and trade abroad), and Ian prefers the latter — “I believe it’s time for Americans to redefine our value to the world.”  Most of all he thinks we have to choose, and articulate the reasons for our choice; right now we are left with Question Mark America, arguably the worst of all worlds.

As you would expect from a focus on foreign policy, he builds a good case for TPP, starting on p.114, from a broadly social democratic point of view, very much worth the read.

The most notable feature of this book is that Bremmer constructs the very best case for each of the foreign policy approaches, not just his favorite, and in this sense he makes the maximum effort to instruct the reader.  We could use a lot more of this approach.  He is also one of the very best people to follow on Twitter.

This is from his Polemics book:

43. In point of truth, the headscarf law expresses only one thing: fear.  Westerners in general, and the French in particular, are no more than a bunch of shivering cowards.  What are they afraid of?  Barbarians, as usual.  Barbarians both at home, the ‘suburban youths’, and abroad the ‘Islamic terrorists’.  Why are they afraid?  Because they are guilty, but claim to be innocent.  Guilty from the 1980s onward of having renounced and tried to dismantle every politics of emancipation, every revolutionary form of reason, every true assertion of something other than what is.  Guilty of clinging to their miserable privileges.  Guilty of being no more than grown-up kids who play with their many purchases.  Yes, indeed, ‘after a long childhood, they have been made to grow up’.  They are thus afraid of whatever is a little less old than they are, such as, for example, a stubborn young lady.

44. But most of all, Westerners in general, and the French in particular, are afraid of death.  They can no longer even imagine that an idea is something worth taking risks for.  ‘Zero deaths’ is their most important desire.  Well, they see millions of people throughout the world who have no reason to be afraid of death.  And among them, many die for an idea nearly every day.  For the ‘civilized’, that is a source of intimate terror.

I’ve tried a few other Badiou books, but I find this to be the one easiest to make sense of.  Here is Wikipedia on Badiou.  Here is a Guardian article on him.

Richard Roberts and David Kynaston, The Lion Wakes: A Modern History of HSBC.  This is an important book for the historian, but it is not written for the eye of the economist.

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant: A Novel.  It has a beautiful air of mystery and profundity, but by p.120 I still didn’t care.  Some of you will like this a lot, but I put it down to pick up some other book which I will not finish.

Then it’s back to Houllebecq and The Mahabharata.

James McPherson, The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters.

Edward Mendelson, Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth Century Writers.  Trilling, Dwight Macdonald, Kazin, William Maxwell, Bellow, Mailer, Auden, and O’Hara.

There is a new version of the Mahabharata, in blank verse rather than prose, translated/created by Carole Satyamurti.  I’ve only read an initial sliver of it, but dramatically and linguistically it is very effective.  This is a beautiful edition, and deserves serious consideration as a purchase for just about every library.  I have yet to see any significant reviews of the work.

What I’ve been reading

by on March 7, 2015 at 1:03 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Michael Meyer, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China.  Adam Minter has a very good and useful review of a very good book.  The main lesson, beyond the specific and often fascinating vignettes, is that history is everywhere, and everywhere is interesting if only you know how to read the open book.

2. Eugene Rogan, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East.  An engaging look at a time and place of increasing relevance for today’s global problems.

3. Bill Gifford, Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (Or Die Trying).  An informative, entertaining, and yet non-sensationalistic account of recent (and some not so recent) attempts to conquer aging.  It avoids the temptation of exaggerating the science and also turning all of the profiled individuals into “colorful characters.”  A genuinely good book.

4. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Bewilderments: Reflections on the Book of Numbers.  Imagine taking an underdiscussed (by most people) book of the Bible and showing its connections to politics and the legitimation of authority, to spiritual yearning, to overcoming trauma, and to Freudian and other psychoanalytic theories of the ambiguity of desire.  This is all done from a theologically Jewish point of view, incorporating the midrash as well.  That may sound like a bit much, but I found this book fully captivating — virtually every paragraph is substantive and interesting — and it will definitely make my “best of the year” list.  I will buy more books by her as well.

That is the new Michael Walzer book, with the subtitle Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions.  The stated paradox is fairly simple, yet worthy of sustained attention:

Why have the leaders and militants of secular liberation not been able to consolidate their achievement and reproduce themselves in successive generations?  Over the past several decades, Indian intellectuals and academics have been debating this question in its local version: “Why is it,” one of them asks, “that the Nehruvian vision of a secular India failed to take hold?”

Other cases considered include Israel, Palestine, and Algeria, as well as the Middle East more generally.  Walzer doesn’t much try to answer his own question, but this book is very stimulating and worth the short amount of time it takes to read it.  I would modify the paradox however: I see various European nations which do consolidate and maintain largely secular nationalist movements.  How about Denmark or France?  If you find those examples troublesome, try Serbia or for that Vietnam or China.  There may be a more general issue of morphing, above and beyond the religious vs. secular issue.

The copyright on Mein Kampf is running out in 2016, so what will Germany do?  Here is the latest:

The Institut für Zeitgeschichte got the call, and apparently their critical edition should be available already shortly after the copyright runs out, in January 2016. In Die Zeit they report on some of the details — including that the two-volume edition might extend to 2000 pages, some 780 of actual text and the rest taken up largely by the up to 5000 explanatory notes.

That is from Literary Saloon.

The only version of the new Houllebecq novel I can read now is the one in German, Entwerfung., as the English edition does not come out until September.   I am about halfway through and can report it is excellent and a fun read as well, most of all when it makes fun of the vulnerabilities and vacillations of the West.

Here is an Anthony Daniels review, with lots of plot summary (and spoilers), part of the last paragraph shows he understands the work:

This novel is far from a crude anti-Islamic polemic, however, as many might have supposed it to be from its pre-publication publicity (Houellebecq has expressed himself very unfavorably on Islam elsewhere). It is rather a meditation, admittedly using all the author’s habitual tropes which fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, are susceptible to an infinite number of bitterly amusing variations, on the state of Western civilization and what makes that civilization vulnerable to attack…In other words, it is an implicit invitation to us to look inwards, to think of what is wrong with us rather than with them. Whether we or they will read it like this, I rather doubt…

This is one of the novels of the year.  Here is a good Adam Gopnik piece on Houllebecq and the book.

*The Age of the Crisis of Man*

by on March 1, 2015 at 3:01 am in Books, History, Philosophy | Permalink

That is the new book by Mark Greif, and the subtitle is Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973.  I very much enjoyed grappling with this one.  One of my more recent views is that the thinkers of the mid-twentieth century are in fact, as a whole, extremely underrated.  They are not old enough to be classic and not new enough to be trendy or on the frontier.  Their world faced problems which seemed totally strange to us in the 1990s, but which are starting to sound scarily relevant and contemporary.  Yet our world is largely ignorant of their wisdom and creativity, in part because they often sounded dumb or schlocky or maybe they even were in some ways.

This book is sprawling, and while clearly written at the sentence-to-sentence level, it assumes some fair degree of background knowledge.  Nonetheless for an intellectually-minded reader it is an excellent way to jump into the world inhabited by Karl Jaspers, Ortega y Gasset, Flannery O’Connor, and Thomas Pynchon.

Leon Wieseltier has some interesting remarks on the book.  Here is another interesting (if overlong) review, by Richard Marshall.  Here is an excellent Adam Kirsch review, the best review as review.