Over at Equitable Growth: Attention Conservation:
- (1/4) Can any professional tell me why intellectuals find it necessary that it be 1938
- (2/4) and they be Churchill? Now I find Michael Ignatieff crying "wolf!" and calling
- (3/4) a new cold war. Contrary to Michael Ignatieff, it is not 1938, he is not Churchill,
- (4/4) and China and Russia are not "aglow with arrogant confidence" READ MOAR
Is there any professional in the house who can tell me why there are so many intellectuals for whom it is psychologically necessary that it be 1938 and they be Churchill, or 1947 and they be Orwell?
It rarely is 1938 or 1947. And even when it it does turn out to be 1938 or 1947, it is very rarely the case that you are Churchill or Orwell.
Indeed, even 1947 was not 1938.
In the days of 1947 and George Orwell the North Atlantic did not face an existential threat from rampant aggressive totalitarianism. Ingsoc--whether imposed from outside or springing up from within--was not on the possibility list. In 1938 Hitler desperately wanted war and genocide. In 1947 Stalin led an exhausted and devastated empire and, as Churchill said in Fulton, Missouri, desired:
[not] war... [but] the fruits of war
Rather, the existential threat it faced was that of overreacting and so triggering mutual assured thermonuclear destruction, rather than one of sleeping while aggressive totalitarianism conquered the world but rather.
The Soviet Union then had an economy that in the long-run delivered only 20% of the material production and 10% of the user welfare of a market economy--that paid an 80% central-planning tax. The Soviet Communist Party then was burdened by past crimes that meant that it could not allow even Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak to speak and survive. It was then weak in everything but the bravery of the soldiers of the Red Army. And it was going to stay weak in everything else except for thermonuclear reactions and rockets.
It was something that, as George Kennan knew, needed to be contained until its folly became obvious. It then needed assisted in its dissolution, and its people would then need aid. It did not need to be conquered and overthrown at the price of another world war.
Today these days it is Michael Ignatieff in the New York Review of Books who joins the Cheneyites of PNAC and company. He cries "wolf!" Or, rather, he cries:
authoritarian[s]... aglow with arrogant confidence... an alliance of authoritarian states with a combined population of 1.6 billion... from the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan frontier... a new cold war... communism... is very much alive... centralized rule with an iron fist... offer[ing] the elites of Africa and Eurasia an alternate route.... Faced with these resurgent authoritarians, America sets a dismaying example...
Here is more:
Michael Ignatieff: Are the Authoritarians Winning?: "In the 1930s travelers returned from Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Russia, and Hitler’s Germany...
...praising the[ir]... common purpose... compared to which their own democracies seemed weak, inefficient, and pusillanimous. Democracies today are in the middle of a similar period of envy and despondency. Authoritarian competitors are aglow with arrogant confidence.... The recent handshake between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping... heralded the emergence of an alliance of authoritarian states with a combined population of 1.6 billion in the vast Eurasian space that stretches from the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan frontier....
The conflict between authoritarianism and democracy is not a new cold war, we are told, because the new authoritarians lack an expansionary ideology like communism. This is not true. Communism... as a model of state domination... is very much alive in... China and in Putin’s police state. Nor does this new authoritarianism lack an economic strategy... modernization that secures the benefits of global integration without sacrificing political and ideological control... price-fixing state capitalism... rule by (often corrupt) fiat in place of the rule of law... a claim that the Chinese and Russian civilizations are self-contained moral worlds. Persecution of gays... is intrinsic to their vision of themselves as bulwarks against Western individualism....
The new authoritarians offer the elites of Africa and Eurasia an alternate route to modern development: growth without democracy and progress without freedom... [what] some African, Latin American, and Asian political elites, especially the kleptocrats, want to hear. Faced with these resurgent authoritarians, America sets a dismaying example.... Its constitutional machinery... in the hands of polarizing politicians in Washington and in the two parties... generates paralysis.... It’s difficult to defend liberal democracy with much enthusiasm abroad if it works so poorly at home...
Things, I must say, look very different from the seats of power in Wilhelmine China than Michael Ignatieff thinks they do.
Consider a country experiencing industrialization at a pace never before seen in human history, ruled by an overcast that has lost whatever legitimate social function it ever had, greatly worried about when and how the people will demand a bigger say and a bigger share, and attempted to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels and so entrench its authority under the banner of nationalism. Germany in 1914 or China in 2014, a century later? There were many roads to catastrophe for the German elite in 1914--it happened to choose one that drags rest of Western civilization down with it. There are many roads to catastrophe for the Chinese elite today.
Michael Ignatieff sees China's elite as "aglow with arrogant confidence" rather than uneasy and confused, as "centralized rule with an iron fist" rather than as sitting on top of multiple volcanoes. He sees it as "offer[ing]... an alternate route" to prosperity and wealth. I see it as mired in a trackless swap. The difference in our perceptions is remarkable. It seems to me that he knows little about China. It seems to me that he knows less about the mental universe of the Chinese elite--many of whom would find it attractive to become mid-level petroleum engineers in Houston or software engineers in San Mateo, if only they could figure out how. The task is not to play into the hands of the current Chinese leadership's shortest-run interests via helping them to busy giddy minds with war, whether hot, brushfire, or cold. The task is to help the people of China in their long-run interest of finding a path to representative government and first world-level prosperity--a long-run interest that, may I say, is as much in the interest of the grandchildren of today's princes as of anyone else in China.
Similarly, things look very different from the seats of power in Weimar Russia than Michael Ignatieff thinks they do.
Great Russia has a very strong point when it says that promises were made in 1992 that were not kept. And Great Russia has a very, very strong point when it remembers the obligations that all of us in the North Atlantic still owe to the ghosts of the partisans of the Ukraine and Belarus, the tankers of the Red Army who drove the T-34s, the peasants who scanted their own diets to feed the tankers, and the workers of Magnitogorsk who built the T-34s. The obligations the North Atlantic acquired in 1942 and failed to properly pay forward in 1992 still burden us, and remain, and should be paid forward today.
Russia is not expansionist: its borders in Europe are roughly those of Pyotr I "The Great" Alexeyevitch Romanov , if not those of the first tsar, the dreadlord Ivan IV Vasileyevitch
Romanov Rurik. It is true that Russia is trying hard to be non-contractionist. It is true that Russia is rich in resources (especially oil and gas). It is true that Russia is no longer paying the 80% tax on everything imposed by Lenin's centrally-planned economy. But it still lacks the infrastructure and the organization needed to match the prosperity of the North Atlantic. And much of its--truly excellent--human capital investments have redounded and will redound to the benefit of the United States, and of Israel.
This is, yet again, not the place where it is in our or their long-run interest for us to assist Russia's current leadership via helping them to busy giddy minds with war, whether hot, brushfire, or cold.
Yes, modern liberal social democracy has serious problems: voter representation, policy implementation, and ideological bias. But those who would gin up a new cold war--whether with China, Russia, or a non-existent distributed virtual Caliphate--are not helping to resolve these problems at all.