Strauss & Schmitt in China
I'm glad Steve brought to our attention Mark Lilla's short TNR article on what the important and consequential reading matter is in China. Only a Western post-modernist type would be surprised that Strauss is necessary reading in a tyranny (I'll get to Schmitt in a minute).
I was in Hungary in October of 1989, during the beginning of the end of the old regime. I was there for over a week, and talked with interesting people about fifteen hours a day. The most interesting conversation, most of it in English, went something like this (I should add that all eight or so interlocutors were in their late 20's and all took part in the first elected government, and most are still active): We have been reading Strauss and re-discovered the tradition--the dark times demanded intellectual aggression on our part--and the search for the best regime. My God, how we have been living in a kindergarten! We have read both the ancients and the liberals. We have read Locke and Rousseau, and Jefferson and Madison. (One guy was fluent in The Federalist.) They were all excited at their discovery, and much of the conversation was over what the new regime should do, and how it should talk about itself, about liberty and consent. (That they got confused on the question on natural right and natural rights, leaning--like good Europeans--toward Rousseau rather than Locke, I just mention in passing for now. Now the conversation on that--including the possible invasion of Romania, vide Rousseau's understanding the social contract and the general will and rights--was very interesting and consequential! Here, I must say, I was persuasive.)
In other words, to quote Lilla regarding China, "everything, politically and intellectually, is now up for grabs." The crisis is here, in other words. The Hungarians and, as Lilla points out, the Poles also, knew this. As do the Chinese.
But, of course, the crux, and the shame, of the matter, as Lilla shows, is why his Chinese conversationalists lean toward Schmitt in their crisis: They all agree than China needs a stronger state, not a weaker one. In other words there are no liberals in China. They are more interested in war than in peace. The days of Tinanmen, of the potential of 1989, are over and done with. Yet, it must be pointed out that Lilla reveals some optimism by saying that some in China want a "good society, not just a strong one." It will be up to these Chinese gentlemen to think this one through. I have no doubt Strauss will help.
9:20 AM / December 19, 2010