30 March 2012

Pointless video post – ‘Bleed’ by Angel Dust

I really don’t know what it is about the northern Rhineland, but for some reason the greatest power metal bands seem to come either from Sweden (Falconer, Tad Morose) or from there. Rage started in Nordrhein-Westpfalz. As did Accept, Blind Guardian and Grave Digger. As did the incomparable Angel Dust. Starting out as yet another slightly-better-than-average German speed metal band (similar to Blind Guardian, Grave Digger, Running Wild, Scanner and so forth), they actually ended up pioneering an alternative, heavier path for progressive and power metal with four earth-shattering records between 1998 and 2002: Border of Reality, Bleed, Enlighten the Darkness and Of Human Bondage. This particular song is one of their best: ‘Bleed’ features deep, crunchy guitar and bass lines with an aesthetic (even if not a tempo) borrowed from the greats of Teutonic thrash, but they carry on the torch of melodic, Euro-style heavy metal through atmospheric and moving keyboard work (and, of course, through Dirk Thurisch’s inspired screaming). It is a formula they would stick to (with still greater success) on their antifascist concept album Enlighten the Darkness, which explores the experiences and shattered psychology of the common German soldiery during WWII and the pain and alienation they suffered in the aftermath, knowing that they were complicit in the evils of the Third Reich.

29 March 2012

Lessons and warnings for the Chinese Left from the ouster of Bo Xilai

Bo Xilai showing his ‘red spirit’

Bo Xilai’s loss of his post in Chongqing two weeks ago is an event to be sorely lamented, particularly for those of us who care about greater social equality and political reform in China. Beneath all of the ‘70’s camp and the Maoist kitsch of the ‘Sing Red Songs’ campaign and the often dirty politics of what was a very messy business in cleaning up organised crime in Chongqing (the draconian networks of informants, agents and assassins of said gangsters reaching even as far as Edinburgh; I think commentators do a vast disservice to Mr Bo when they understate the massive problem his administration faced), Bo was undertaking some well-needed political stands from his perch in Chongqing in favour of public ownership, in favour of welfare and in favour of the transparency of information (even if his way of going about it was also somewhat cartoonish).

Mr Bo was a self-promoter, there is absolutely no doubt about that. But he also enlisted and greatly relied on the advice and policy prescriptions of the noted economist Dr Cui Zhiyuan in constructing the experimental ‘Chongqing Model’ of governance – a man whose political and economic leanings are emphatically not in a Maoist direction, but rather share more in common with Baron Keynes, his pupil James Meade and the democratic instincts of political philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger. And in turning over secret CCP archives to the media for perusal, Mr Bo managed to shake up the habitual secrecy and institutional opacity which has become the CCP’s stock-in-trade – a Maoist Bo was not, and a truer friend the Chinese political reformer never had, if only they had come to realise it. And Bo’s replacement in Chongqing at the behest of the central government, Zhang Dejiang, looks to be a downright nasty piece of work (if one’s standard is how politically repressive and deaf to the welfare of his constituencies his administrations have been in the past).

But Mr Bo was hated mostly for the challenge he posed to the right-liberals (much the same way the EU hates Lukashenko’s Belarus not because it is Soviet, but rather because it has eschewed Soviet ideology whilst retaining a certain commitment to public ownership and to a peaceable foreign policy – and these it wishes to classify as Soviet), and instead of allowing his critics to tar him with the brush of the Cultural Revolution, he gleefully tarred himself with it. Limited largely by his own devotion to his father and to his Party, he was forced to explain his policies using the only convenient political reference, that of Mao Zedong. I have commented earlier that I think this is a dangerous route to take – Chairman Mao is a fickle ally at best of the political programmes that will best suit China now. New Leftists would be better advised from now on not to romanticise the Cultural Revolution but to harness their nationalist instincts in more productive directions – toward the massive stock of traditional Chinese thought that holds endless potential for various sorts of self-reflective radicalism.

This is not only because the ruling elites of the CCP will, from now on, gaily stamp out any semblance of leftism under the guise of retaining stability. It is also because the Cultural Revolution was a fickle friend to start with: rather than enforcing the egalitarian ideals that Mao Zedong wished to promote, it served only to undermine them. Pitting students against teachers and children against parents, rooting out ‘reactionary’ elements amongst one’s friends and acquaintances, all served to destroy the fabrics of trust and goodwill which are ever needed to maintain a moral economy. It should come as little surprise that a powerful, amoral state and gangster capitalism (politically personified in Deng Xiaoping) would step in to fill the vacuum. This is not an era a leftist of any sort should embrace uncritically, since integral to the programme of leftism should be a preservation of the familial and social bonds of affection which must necessarily underpin any kind of sympathy for the poor or for the excluded. And it is only in the spirit of critique of the Cultural Revolution that one should pay praise of any sort to Chairman Mao or to his policies, which did kick-start the engines of growth which had lain constructed but idle since the Qing Dynasty, and which did substantially deliver on the promises of human dignity and material well-being for women and for tenant farmers throughout China.

All is not lost for the political left in China. This is a stunning setback, to be sure, and those Chinese who advocate greater levels of social welfare, more transparency in government and the virtues of public ownership will undoubtedly need to mind their step in the coming months and years. But they also may be wise to take greater stock of the Confucian-inspired communitarianism that lies at the root of the project they advocate, and imagine a new means of politically articulating their project which doesn’t necessarily rely so much on Cultural Revolution-era throwbacks.

EDIT: Though he spoke in terms of ‘cooperation’, Bo Xilai had apparently issued a strong challenge to CCP single-party rule in his final days in office. Very interesting, though it is me saying so.

25 March 2012

Wallerstein, the Kangxi recession and radical conservatism in Qing China

Left to right: Immanuel Wallerstein, Gu Yanwu 顧炎武 and Tang Zhen 唐甄

World-systems theory, like most revisions of Marxism away from its Manichaean, messianic materialist cosmology, is an improvement on the original but still bears some slight flaws. It is to be lauded, however, for the way it has opened up the study of history to the material interconnectedness of the world for a much longer time than ‘globalisation’ has been underway (this latter phenomenon coming to mean only a popularised, ersatz-democratic version of what has been happening arguably since the 1200’s). Some of the readings for my Late Imperial China course have been incredibly interesting and enlightening, if thought about through a Wallersteinian lens. One of the articles we were to read for the class, ‘The Kangxi Depression and Early Qing Local Markets’ by Kishimoto Mio, offered a very intriguing picture of the Qing economy, the ways in which it tied itself into a global, proto-colonialist economy, and some tantalising strands of radical-conservative resistance to official policy, particularly from the independent Confucian scholar Gu Yanwu 顧炎武 and the neo-Confucian scholars Tang Zhen 唐甄 and Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 which, if properly implemented, may have had some profound impacts on the direction of economic history as a whole.

Dr Kishimoto’s description of the Qing economy reads as a familiar one. Qing villages were not self-sufficient for their own needs; many peasant households required a monetary income to provide themselves with basic services and to pay taxes. Though the transition in China between a traditional, ‘feudal’ economy and a capitalist one was much rockier than that in Europe, it is very easy to see the parallels. The enclosures movement which set off the Song Dynasty resulted in a massive jump in inequality; though mercantile families prospered, there was a marked rise in the incidence of social banditry (such as that of Song Jiang of Water Margin fame). This movement was somewhat reversed in the Yuan Dynasty, but came back in the Ming Dynasty, along with factional politics and widespread corruption in a system which had become dysfunctionally dependent upon eunuch-officials. The Qing Dynasty’s governance reforms and their creation of a Manchu-Han dyarchy lessened political corruption, but economically they remained a ‘commercialised peasant economy’ thanks to the abortive Song enclosures movement.

During the recession under the Kangxi Emperor, a number of different officials began prescribing economic remedies, including: the importation of more silver (ultimately dug up from Potosí in the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru); the redistribution of existing currency and the stimulation of consumption by the wealthy; and the partial replacement of silver as the dominant form of currency, either by copper or by paper money. Tang Zhen, Gu Yanwu and Huang Zongxi all belonged to the last group. Even though Tang Zhen’s and Huang Zongxi’s idealist neo-Confucianism (derived from their teachers, both of whom belonged to the Wang Yangming 王陽明 school) was philosophically directly at odds with the more conservative Gu Yanwu’s textual-criticism approach, they found broad agreement on the issue of economic and political reform. All three thinkers were critics of the dependence of China on foreign (Spanish Peruvian) silver, and of the pro-silver Qing policies which were wreaking havoc on the welfare of upstream Chinese peasantry. All three wanted to support local, inland markets in a scale-free economy by repealing the silver standard and thus stalling the flow of wealth outwards toward the port cities… but they stopped just short of the proto-Keynesian projects of Wei Shixiao 魏世傚. All three were likewise critics of political concentration of power, just as they were critics of the concentration of wealth (Gu Yanwu, in his youth, was also a radical anti-Qing agitator and organiser of the peasantry – and throughout his life he never served in an official post under the Qing). In this they were contemporaries of Cavalier localism and critiques of enclosures and of parliamentary power (which would soon become dictatorship) in England, and were early anticipators of distributism.

On the other hand, those who supported the importation of silver and the resumption of trade with Taiwan and the Philippines (and thus with Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Japan) were established Qing officials or governors of downstream and coastal provinces which stood to gain by relaxation of the Qing bans on foreign trade. They vehemently criticised and ostracised the anti-silverists, though for a long time the Qing government did not listen to either party. Ultimately, the Kangxi Emperor acquiesced and reëstablished foreign trade and mining on a limited level; the silver which would have been imported and the gold and other goods which emerged from China would go on to spur political competition and strengthen the economies of the colonial powers, to fund further projects in the Americas and in Asia – such as the East India Company, established in 1707. I’m sure I needn’t go into detail about which trade goods would replace silver as the basis of ‘free trade’ between China and the European powers; suffice it to say that wealth was not only sucked out of China’s interior, it was literally smoked away. But given that much of Europe’s wealth was by now coming from the New World (and the exchange of New World silver for goods from early Qing China through the Spanish Philippines), it leaves one to wonder what would have become of the world economy if the Qing leadership had listened to Tang Zhen, Huang Zongxi or Gu Yanwu.

There are also some intriguing parallels between these anti-silver Confucian thinkers and the New Left; as well between the Qing administrators who opposed them and the ‘reformist’ party. The New Left wishes to retain some state ownership, yes, but they are also generally in favour of using state ownership to protect local, interior economies and are likewise sceptical of the uses of foreign trade. As the example of the politically-erstwhile Bo Xilai demonstrated, they may tolerate heavy-handed policy at the local level, but are suspicious of concentrations of power at higher levels (and thus are the most effective voices of political reform). The New Right, on the other hand, are generally uncritically supportive of free trade policy and attack anything that smacks of populism or redistribution of capital, but will support political centralisation when it suits them. And of course the PRC, just like the Qing government before it, ultimately decided in favour of the New Right’s course of economic ‘reform’ (though at the notable expense of political reform). We shall see where this course takes China; I do not believe that many Chinese people, particularly those living in the Chinese interior, will much enjoy where the government ends up taking them.

20 March 2012

Наурыз құтты болсын! نوروز مبارک Happy Nauryz!

A happy Iranian New Year 1391, Nauryz and vernal equinox to all; particularly to my Iranian, Kazakhstani and Kyrgyzstani friends!

Today, suitably, I happened to finish (for my Governance and Civil Society course this term) the book All the Shah’s Men by New York Times veteran Cold War journalist Stephen Kinzer, a gripping, colourful account of the overthrow of Iran’s first (and, to date, only) wholly democratic government by the CIA in Operation Ajax, and the history which had brought the country to that point. Though Mr Kinzer does paint with a rather broad brush and draws conclusions which are slight stretches from the main theme of his book (particularly the extrapolation that Operation Ajax was responsible for the naissance of Middle Eastern terrorism), he is a talented journalist who can truly spin an enthralling (and, indeed, edifying) yarn – and in this case, he does so around three figures: Mohammed Mosaddegh, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi and Kermit Roosevelt. The histories of three nations – Iran, the United Kingdom and the United States – are set as the backdrop of the entire story.

It should be noted that Mr Kinzer does come to the table with a definite editorial slant – an anti-imperialist one, mainly, which leads him and the reader to instantly sympathise with the idealistic, semi-secular nationalism of Mr Mosaddegh and take immediate umbrage against the heavy-handed imperiousness and blatant injustices of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. (Though he does remark that AIOC’s operations were controversial even at home, and that Clement Attlee wasn’t necessarily implacable in his support of AIOC, oftentimes the narrative comes off almost as much anti-British as it does anti-imperialist.)

However, if there is one thing Mr Kinzer is good at, it is providing a brief and compelling account of Iranian history, going all the way back to Zoroaster. I found intriguing his assertion that Shi’a Islam was largely an organic answer to the latent promises of social justice (through the principle of farr فر or ‘glory’ accruing to moral or just rulership, akin to the Chinese principle of 天命 the mandate of heaven) which Sassanid Zoroastrianism had left unfulfilled. It mirrors to a certain extent Jalal al-e Ahmad’s description in Occidentosis of Islam more generally as ‘an answer to the call of Mani and Mazdak [for justice] three centuries earlier’. Kinzer does wax quite romantic with regard to the populist potential, the ecstatic, self-sacrificing ethos of martyrdom in the tradition of Ali and his son Hussein, the penchant for preserving the pre-Islamic traditions that characterise Shi’a Islam – and the reason for his romanticism becomes clear in the following chapters. For Kinzer, Mohammed Mosaddegh is meant to fill the role of the Shi’ite paragon and martyr: idealistic and self-sacrificing to a fault, stubborn, theatrical, keenly passionate and humanitarian to the point of saintliness even with regard to those he had every reason to mistrust. And indeed, his political behaviour would seem to indicate that he held a similar view of himself – perhaps one not completely unjustified.

The narrative of Operation Ajax, as related by Mr Kinzer, is an acutely painful one to read now, particularly because everyone involved felt they were doing exactly the right thing. Mosaddegh, even as he became increasingly isolated and vulnerable, held firm in his belief in the rule of law and held back the counter-protestors who marched in his favour when he felt they were liable to harm Americans in Iran. Kermit Roosevelt genuinely thought that bringing down Mosaddegh (even with such stealth) was the right thing to do in the fight against the Soviets and their puppets in Tudeh. Ayatollah Kashani thought he was doing the right thing in cooperating with the Americans to take down Mosaddegh, whom he and his intellectual heirs (the people behind the 1979 revolution) saw as a secular traitor to Islam. It is heartening to hear that the majority of Iranians have such a high view of the American people, but I can only hope that, in light of the irresponsible behaviour of our own elected government, we can someday prove ourselves worthy of that trust – by treating the political and social goals of the Iranian people as equal to our own. We can start by doing as the Iranians ask and not going to war with their country, and thereby showing that we have begun to learn the lessons of 1953. And we as private citizens can stand in solidarity with the Iranian people in their fight for basic human dignity and political reform – provided that we first demand transparency, fair dealing and realistic foreign policy goals from our own government.

EDIT: Obama’s yearly Nauryz address can be found here. Some recommended related reading may also be found here.

11 March 2012

Pointless video post – ‘Dismantle the Dictator’ by Revocation

A bit of local flavour for a change of pace; I use that term somewhat loosely, given that, being Bostonian, Revocation are to be considered local from the vantage point of my home state of Rhode Island. Some fierce, lightning-fast, fine musicianship and intensely catchy riffs from the tech-death-thrash power trio on this piece, from their album Existence is Futile. (Star Trek-inspired metal? The nerd in me finds this more awesome even than Anchorhead!) And in spite of the only slightly off-putting metalcoreish vox, the lyrics are, shall we say, a bit pointed. And pointed in the right direction, at that:

A military nation
Upon the eve of war
Inflicts retaliation
On enemies in distant shores
Gripped by an iron hand
Military industrial
Exterminating the dissident voice
The fog of propaganda
Instilled across generations
Inhibits independent thought
Sapping vital motivations

This song is intensely catchy; I can all but guarantee that ‘Overlord! Overthrown!’ will be in your head for hours after you hear this song. These guys may have a modern-bending sound, but at least their attitude is pure, classic thrash. Enjoy!

09 March 2012

Lindsay’s Confesssions

I recently finished David Lindsay’s new book, Confessions of an Old Labour High Tory. It is an insightful and incisive read on modern British and American politics: providing a credible account of three streams in Anglo-American discourse which cause more harm than the problems which they ostensibly set out to fix – to wit, Marxism (including American neoconservatism), the old Hard Right (the Chicago Boys and the defenders of apartheid and nationalist dictatorships in Latin America and Africa) and the left-libertarian strains which uncritically promote globalism and social libertinism at the expense of the actual working classes. His critical insight is that these three groups are more often in agreement with each other than even with people who ‘ought to be’ their allies – trade unionists, traditional Christian socialists and the anti-war party have all received immensely short shrift from all three groups. What Mr Lindsay supports, broadly, is a counter-alliance between anti-war conservatives and the traditional Fabian and protectionist roots of the British Labour party, rooted in the fertile soil of economic patriotism and Catholic social teaching in its entirety.

A tall order, certainly – but Mr Lindsay is very deft at providing hope (and none of it false) throughout his book that support could exist for such a political constellation. He is very well-rooted in British political history; my primary area of interest is generally the long 19th century, so David’s accounts of 20th century phenomena required me to do some rather far-reaching supplemental reading. The book is actually a breezy read, though nonetheless highly intellectually provocative – he rates Thatcher, Blair and Churchill as completely overrated figures both by the admirers prone to worshipping their every action as bold and visionary, and by their detractors who are (at least in Thatcher’s and Blair’s cases) wont to describe them in terms of the monstrous.

Mr Lindsay’s brilliant analysis shines brightest where he engages with history – where we can learn from Enoch Powell (both where he was correct and where he was mistaken), from Benjamin Disraeli, from the broader Jacobite tradition – and where he tackles political settlements (regarding NATO, regarding Ireland, regarding public ownership, regarding Islam) from a viewpoint not normally associated with the position he advocates. We should seek not only peaceful, but co-operative relationships with Russia and China not because they are our traditional enemies as communist states, but precisely because they have renounced communism and remain more traditionalist, more economically interventionist and more sceptical of globalism than we are (which is precisely why the neoconservatives cannot stand them). All Ireland should be part and parcel of the United Kingdom – for the sake of the Catholics who live there and of the Catholics in the other kingdoms; we should regard the triumph of the secularising, linguistic-nationalist Irish Republic as a tragedy for Catholics and particularly for Irish Catholics. Islam ought to be seen as a concern, but because of the ideological and theological remedies it presents to the ailments of modernity rather than because of trumped-up terrorist threats. We should insist upon asserting our own remedies to those ills rather than importing them (again) from the Islamic world, and we should be careful to tout the virtues of a Trinitarian (ergo social) God and a realistic account of human nature over-against both the militant Unitarianism of Islam and the Judaism-derived ‘denial of original sin’ and the ‘unfulfilled Messianic hope and expectation’ which underpin the secular West. Mr Lindsay’s breadth and depth of knowledge, both political and theological, is remarkable – and the easy, accessible, unpretentious and clever way in which he presents it makes the book all the more profound a pleasure to read.

There are points where I think his analysis runs a bit thin, or where I think he could do with some further explanation. Though I absolutely and unqualifiedly agree that climate change must not be used as an excuse to adopt policies that would depress employment and living standards for the world’s poorest, I nevertheless acknowledge that climate change (like all too many other environmental problems involving air and water) is a transnational problem which requires concerted, co-operative regional action at the very least. Another point of contention regards American history: the war of independence founded two nations rather than just one; and the nation which has been more amenable to the radical-orthodox, Jacobite critique of capitalism has traditionally been the same one which has preserved (even under Hanoverian sway) the last remnants of France as the ‘eldest daughter of Holy Mother Church’ in Quebec. This was, anyway, the contention of George Grant, and has been the conceit of the entire progressive-conservative movement in British North America which has traditionally looked to Disraeli for inspiration. As an American, I very greatly appreciate what Mr Lindsay is trying to accomplish by providing a distinctly American ideological space for critiquing the excesses of capitalism, but at the same time I think caution is warranted here lest we start to romanticise a revolution which allowed itself so easily to be subsumed by slave power, Jeffersonian deism and the denials of original sin from the likes of Thomas Paine – just as I think it will be necessary for China’s leftists not to romanticise Mao and the Cultural Revolution in spite of all of the economic and human-capital successes that he brought to his own nation.

All in all, however, this is a brilliant book – Mr Lindsay makes a point of interrogating British history in its popular conceptions with questions that need to be asked, in ways which mirror the work of Wang Hui (for Chinese history) and John Milbank (for the history of the Church more broadly). And he never loses sight of what he endorses, drawing upon old-school conservative and upon old-school leftist thought alike – a peaceable order which respects not only the economic and not only the political, but also the spiritual welfare of all of the people under it. Would it were distributed more broadly amongst Democrats here, and among Labour supporters on his side!

You can find the book here (or here if you’re more of an e-bookish sort); I highly recommend it.

‘The Ayatollah is right’

Daniel Nichols over at Caelum et Terra has the following thought:

The thoughts of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, were summarized recently:

“We do not see any glory, pride or power in the nuclear weapons—quite the opposite. The production, possession, use or threat of use of nuclear weapons are illegitimate, futile, harmful, dangerous and prohibited as a great sin.”

Read about it here.

I am unaware of any American Christian cleric speaking so clearly. Of course propagandists for intervention say this is all subterfuge, but if it is wouldn’t he be left with absolutely no credibility if Iran was indeed producing a nuclear weapon?

Of course, as I have said before, I am not a great fan of the Islamic Republic or its leadership. But I also find it telling that there are very few, if any, American clerics of any public prominence who decry with such vigour the very creation and presence of nuclear weapons. I think it may be a testament to the depth of Iranian culture’s long-standing, pre-Islamic (though certainly monotheistic) commitment to the principles of religious humanism and the pursuit of transcendental truth and justice. What else could drive a religiously extreme man such as Mr Ali Khamenei (the Grand Ayatollah and Supreme Leader of Iran) to make such a sweeping statement which, in the unlikely event that Iran were eventually to possess a nuclear weapon, would be highly embarrassing to say the least?

The original article on truthdig is well worth a read, as well. Thank you, Mr Nichols, for the link!

06 March 2012

Europe’s Two Minutes Hate against Belarus

In the modern world, there are exactly four nuclear powers which have completely, entirely and voluntarily renounced their entire stock of nuclear weapons: South Africa (concurrently with its renunciation of apartheid, it should be noted), Kazakhstan, Ukraine and… Belarus. The same Belarus, under the same President, which is termed ‘Europe’s Last Dictatorship’ by the foreign policy apparatus of (nuclear powers and nuclear rights-holders) Germany and France, and which is apparently deemed enough of a threat to world peace and to the human rights situation in Europe (nothing to see in Greece, Romania, Italy or the Baltic States anymore; move along, folks) to warrant sanctions. Note well that these sanctions are said to be uniting Europe; nothing like a bit of thoroughly retro (though laughably misguided; these days Lukashenko is no more a Soviet than Nazarbaev or Kuchma or De Klerk) Cold War paranoia to distract people from the slow-motion economic implosion of that very same union. And nothing more convenient to the powers and global agenda-setters which would like to see an American or Israeli attack on Iranian soil against a nuclear weapons programme every bit as illusory as Iraq’s was. Because Belarus’ relationship with Iran – not its human rights record, not its president’s attitude toward homosexuality or toward the (detestable for very many good reasons quite apart from his sexual proclivities) German foreign minister – is the true issue here.

That having been said, should we not be listening to a country and a political figure who has been very active in actually pursuing the goals of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons by dismantling or deporting his country’s entire stock of nukes when it comes to issues of nuclear non-proliferation, rather than the likes of our current friends, like France, and our traditional friends, like Germany? (Okay, my apologies, in the spirit of Cold War nostalgia I simply can’t resist this one anymore:)

In all seriousness, though, the entire concept of a nuclear Iran is a.) a fiction which has been peddled about for well over a decade now with nothing to show for it by the very same vultures who brought you the Endless Global War on a Noun and the War to Destroy Weapons of Mass Destruction in to Get the Very Bad Man in to Make a Safe Haven for Liberalism, Democracy and the American Way in Iraq, and b.) even if true would be pretty much an irrelevance next to the 100-bomb-strong arsenal on the border to the east and the 400-bomb-strong nuclear arsenal sitting three countries away to the west. But the consequences of our actions based on these fictions are very real. The Belarusian regime stands for a set of pre-Soviet values of which, in first the social and then the economic madness of the Cold War, the West has apparently taken leave – a thoroughgoing critique not only of Soviet-style communism (exemplified by its own nuclear policy), but also of Western-style capitalism and neoliberalism. Allies for such a vision are very few and far between, but we should not be surprised that it found some small approximation of that vision in Iran (one of the three countries in the Middle East, along with Syria and Lebanon, which actually provides constitutional guarantees protecting the political and social rights of religious minorities, including Jews and Christians – a remnant of a proud tradition of Iranian religious humanism and social moderation going all the way back to the Achaemenid kings, which not even the ayatollahs dared to destroy in their ascent to power).

But more importantly, Lukashenko’s Belarus is one of the very few governments which has put its money (and its weapons) where its mouth was regarding nuclear disarmament. If they do not regard Iran as enough of a nuclear threat to warrant these broad-spectrum sanctions, why should we?

03 March 2012

Understanding Chinese politics (in pictures)

Highly interesting and edifying graphic on Chinese politics over at Tea Leaf Nation, courtesy of CNPolitics (and a helpful glossary of political terminology in popular use on Weibo as well)! Browsing through Tea Leaf Nation, there are quite a number of such resources for those interested in modern China and the way more and more of its (net-literate, urban) youth are expressing themselves. Here is the graphic in its entirety:

One thing I had noticed prior to reading this is that the political instincts of the Chinese left are almost entirely derived from Rousseau (particularly with regard to how they construe the right meaning of ‘democracy’ and, therefore, the rights of the people) where as those of the Chinese right are almost entirely derived from Locke. French revolutionaries versus American revolutionaries once more, but with a hitch: as Tea Leaf Nation rightly notes, not all Chinese people on Weibo identify entirely with one side or the other. This may be encouraging, as it opens people up to thinking about politics in another, possibly more radical (and at the same time more conservative) way. I myself do not identify wholly with the Chinese left, even though my economic and cultural instincts are quite firmly on that side, and I am an avowed fan of certain thinkers on that side. At the same time, what is needed is not a return to Mao and to ‘left-wing’ nationalism, but a return to Meng and the humanistic and cosmopolitan (if at the same time organic, traditionalist, pro-family, agrarian and distributist) discourse of traditional Confucianism.