Thursday, December 11, 2008

National Security vs. Personal Liberty

Before talking about the tension between security and liberty, I think we need to clarify it is national security against personal liberty. National security is different from personal sense of security. America is supposed to be the most secured country with its most advanced weapons, but since 911 its national security is facing great challenge. When I came to America, however, I still feel more secured than I was in China; at least there aren’t that many thieves! Personal liberty more refers to the rights individuals have, and Americans are supposed to have the most rights of liberty.

I have read a series of books written by a Chinese couple who came to America for many years. Their books about American politics, laws and history are very popular in China, just like a window for Chinese to know what America is. Using tons of examples in American history, the books continually talk about the tension between national security and personal liberty, which is not an issue just started but definitely outshined since 911. I’m very much influenced by their books, which shape most of my view of America. As I said before, US is a human experiment, including the test on how many rights individuals should have while not interfering national security, and how to prevent government from using the name of national security to steal rights from its people.

I and my friend ever talked about the Internet censorship between China and America. China might be the most severe Internet censored country. I personally experienced a lot, such as we couldn’t check Wikipedia, my blogs being deleted the second day after publishing, and very interestingly, my friends in China couldn’t see what I wrote on this Blogspot. But my friend also mentioned that you know there’s Internet censorship in China, while you don’t know there’s also censorship in America. You don’t feel it, but “the big brother is looking at you” anonymously. In this sense, who has more liberty? I don’t know.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

V for Vendetta

The script for the film is so well written that makes me want to quote on and on. The most famous anti-authoritarian saying is “people should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Ironically, it’s in huge contrast to what happened in reality. At the end, V sacrifices his personal life, as he believes “beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea… And ideas are bulletproof.” Thus it doesn’t matter whether he would die or not, since his idea has already spread to everyone.

However, no matter how inspiring those sentences sound to be, I still keep my suspicion for such character like V. I would rather think revolution is just a temporary illusion, and I never agree with the means to use violence to anti-violence in the name of revolution. In the introduction of V himself, he explains “the only verdict is vengeance, a vendetta...held as a votive not in vain, for the value and veracity of such...shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.” But is revenge the only thing we could do? Should we sacrifice some people’s lives in order to exchange for “the happiness of majority,” or could we?

Evey actually has her doubts for V. In their conversation, she raises the question.
E-You really think blowing up Parliament's going to make this country a better place?
V-There's no certainty, only opportunity.
Well, there are so many opportunities come and go. Every time the revolution is supposed to liberate all human beings, but at the end, it’s just a switch to another dictatorship. V criticizes the dictator as “he promised you order, he promised you peace and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.” But who knows after the revolution there won’t be another dictator just like that?

At least, that’s the cycle happened in Chinese history over thousands of years, and we still haven’t get out of it. I’d like to quote from someone said in the documentary of “Tiananmen”: “In the past century or so, the Chinese people have shed blood time and again, without losing the courage to fight for their ideals. Each battle, however, has ended in a new tragedy, another shattered dream. I believe that what the Chinese lack are not ideals, but the means through which to realize them; not courage, but the wisdom necessary to achieve their goal. What the Chinese lack is not a heart, but a mind.”

“The strength comes from united, and the united comes from belief.” V usually likes to draw a huge V on this government slogan, so as to show he’s against it. But if think again, V actually practices the same idea as the government, when we see thousands of people march to the government building under V’s masks.

Again back to what happened in 1989, China. During that time, some people shouted, “down with Li Peng.” Such a slogan was exactly what people used in the Cultural Revolution. It is still the same tactic the Party used when they tried to accuse a person. Students tried to oppose the government’s misbehavior, but they ended up just like them, because they were educated by the same ideology from the government.

So the real question is what would happen after the revolution? The explosion could be seen as a carnival, but it doesn’t bring anything. People have to back to their normal life. Then who should bring back the order, and what kind of order? The film ends there, but the real life has to go on.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Brave New World vs. 1984

When I knew Huxley was a student of George Orwell, I began to have more interested in the book of “Brave New World,” but I found Huxley and Orwell actually described two very different worlds, though they were both anti-authoritarian. Since I read “1984” during last summer, the comparison between these two books is more attractive to me.

“Social critic Neil Postman contrasts the worlds of 1984 and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He writes:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”

For me, “1984” is not only a fiction, but an ironic version of the reality. Many things in the book are not only imagination, but truly happened and still happening in the world, which is the point why I was kind of terrified by the book, because I could relate to my real life. Books being banned, information against authority being deleted, truth being covered or revised, fear dominated in any invisible ways… As long as authoritarian society exists, all these characters are real, no matter in 1984 or 2084.

Comparatively, “Brave New World” seems more out of reach, at least it still sounds like a fiction, and many things in the book are still beyond imagination. But the interesting thing is, when thinking about the overwhelming information we have today, the preference of popular entertainment rather than reading or thinking, our desires more and more getting out of control of traditional morality, I’m not sure the world Huxley described would never happen in the future.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Racism, Fascism, Skinheads USA

When thinking about fascism today, we usually have the impression that everyone is very alert of fascism or anti-fascism, but we tend to ignore the fact that it still exists today. Especially in America, as the video showed, fascism is actually related to one of the most severe social problems: racism. In Moser’s article, he found “with whites already a minority in some parts of the U.S., it’s a pitch that has become very popular among extremist groups.” If we assume fascism is no longer popular, it’s hard to explain why racial discrimination still exists, and why resegregation of schools is even more obvious than in 60s.

Listening to what Bill and those young kids in the Skinhead group said, it sounded like fascists are still alive, and they truly are. Such as their 14 words: “we must secure the existence of our people and our future for white people,” which was repeated more than once in the video. And someone also said “my only nation is my race.” Making parallel between nation and race is not uncommon is Hitler’s theory.

In both the video and Moser’s article, they focus on young extremists. Statistically, Moser showed that “the number of hate crimes by kids has risen sharply.” I believe it does not only happen in America, but becomes a world phenomenon, but reason varies in different places. Moser explained that “these kids aren’t prepared for people who are different,” and “they want to know why the world seems so messy, so complicated, so out-of-control.” There is no easy answer to the question, but young people might simplify the problem, which results in violence, or be attracted by extreme groups like Skinhead. In the video, the tacit to recruit young people is pretty simple: “We’ll feed you. You have a home now.” The sense of belonging and the need to be taken care of are what these young people lack, but unfortunately, it’s extreme group like Skinhead who fills the gap. In the video, a kid was asked “where is Hitler,” he answered, “in my heart.” I couldn’t imagine what kind of future the boy would have.

At the end of the video, Bill was arrested, because the police claimed “though fiery rhetoric is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, he organizes and mobilizes disenchanted young white males to acts of violence makes him dangerous.” I was actually more amazed by the constitution, which allows fascist groups like Skinhead to exist, and have their voice heard, though most people don’t agree with them.

I always think of America as a place for human experiment to let all different races of people try to live together, which might be the future of the whole world. Whether it would be successful remains a question, as long as racism or fascism or groups like Skinhead exists.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf

Hitler started with exploration about principles of Nature, as he believed, “the inner segregation of the species of all living beings on this earth.” Honestly, I did feel the invisible line between different races when I first time came to America. I doubted whether it’s kind of human nature to search for “people like us,” but after getting to know more friends in different racial backgrounds, the gap seemed not that hard to jump as before, but I still wasn’t sure it didn’t exist anymore. In saying so, I’m by no means trying to agree with Hitler, but to understand why he felt the Nature in this way, and how he developed his theory.

Hitler’s theory, in today’s term, is more like social Darwinism, such as “in the struggle for daily bread all those who are weak and sickly or less determined succumb, while the struggle of the males for the female grants the right or opportunity to propagate only to the healthiest.” I’m wondering when Darwin discovered the rule of the nature, whether he thought of someone in years later applied his theory into human society, which caused probably the most horrible catastrophe in human history. According to Hitler, the relationship between people is fighting, a matter related to life or death, as he wrote, “those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live.” It implies those who don’t deserve to live should be killed, which was the actual case in later history.

In order to get uniform character, Hitler made up his racial purity theory, which specified social Darwinism into particular race. He argued “the stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness.” I couldn’t believe how arrogant and narrow-minded this sounds to be. Hitler even assumed “everything we admire on this earth today is only the creative product of a few peoples and originally perhaps of one race,” which was Aryan.

Hitler’s understanding of the state was also in consecutive with his theory of race. He defined state is “the organization of a community of physically and psychologically similar living beings for the better facilitation of the maintenance of their species and the achievement of the aim.” I would rather say he’s setting his personal ideal on a state stage, which surprisingly but very unfortunately succeed. He switched the purpose of a state normally should have, as he said “the urge to preserve the species is the first cause for the formation of human communities; thus the state is a national organism and not an economic organization.”

The relationship between individual and state in fascism is a little bit similar to socialism, both demanding “the ability and will of the individual to sacrifice himself for the totality.” But their reasons are different: in socialism, individuals sacrifice their property so as to live in a community; in fascism, “the sacrifice of personal existence is necessary to secure the preservation of the species.” Again, it’s back up to the whole theory of race.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This Is What Democracy Looks Like?

I found I’ve been thinking about the function of protests or rallies for a long time since I came to America. On the one hand, it’s kind of normal and very often to see different kinds of rallies going on in America every day, and I’m jealous that Americans have the right of rally to make their voices heard, which is almost impossible in China. On the other hand, I truly doubt whether such kind of protests could contribute to any actual social change, or just causing social turmoil.

The documentary “This Is What Democracy Looks Like” reminds me another documentary “Tiananmen” about the world shocking student protest happened in China in 1989. Western people know it mainly through a picture of the “tank man.” In both events, we could see students or young people are the majority of the protest, who are active, idealistic and somewhat irrational. We could also see the confrontation between protesters and the police, which might last a long time but it’s always the police who own the power and control at the end.

There are many controversies I couldn’t deal with. First, why anarchists supported the protest against WTO? Globalization is the ideal WTO aims at, which also helps anarchism to decentralize states, as I said in last blog. Then were anarchists targeting at the institution of WTO, or the trend of globalization? I understand those NGOs concerning labor issues, the environment or the consumer protection, but I still cannot get it from the point of anarchists.

Then, even if they protested, did they win? At the end of the film, I heard “we win.” In Wikipedia, there’s an entry of “WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 protest activity” and I found that “to many in North American anarchist and radical circles, the Seattle WTO riots, protests, and demonstrations were a success and are thought of as the most recent victories in the U.S. Prior to the ‘Battle of Seattle,’ there was almost no mention of ‘anti-globalization’ in the US media, while the protests are seen as having forced the media to report on why anybody would oppose the WTO.” But did they really win if we look at it today? At least I couldn’t find any possible stop of globalization.

On the side of the police, were they violent and acted as the “bad” people? Police are supposed to protect people, not using violence against people. But was the protest really peaceful? In the film, it looked like so. Was that biased? In Wikipedia, I saw “The situation was complicated around noon, when black-clad anarchists began smashing windows and vandalizing storefronts, beginning with Fox's Gem Shop. …This set off a chain-reaction of sorts, with additional protesters pushing dumpsters into the middle of intersections and lighting them on fire, deflating the tires of police vehicles, non-black bloc demonstrators joining in the property destruction, and a general disruption of all commercial activity in downtown Seattle.” Then should we let the violence keep going out of control? What’s appropriate for the police to do?

The title of the film is very interesting: this is what democracy looks like. Really? They mean the protest, the confrontation? Ironically, that’s exactly the reason why Chinese government doesn’t want “democracy,” because they think we need social stability, not chaos. Why the student protest in 1989 was brutally stopped? Because we cannot tolerate turmoil any more; we need control. Since then, it’s almost hard to find any political reform in China.

I especially remember in the film when they talked about Chinese labors, they described them as cheap labors, in poor working conditions, not allowed to talk during working or would be fined… but one thing they didn’t mention is Chinese labors are not allowed to make unions to fight for their rights or protests like them. That’s why labors’ situation doesn’t change too much up till now.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cindy Milstein: Anarchism’s Promise for Anti-Capitalist Resistance

Milstein had some great comparison between anarchism and socialism. They both share the idea of anti-capitalism, but “anarchism evolved out of socialism to indicate an opposition not just to capitalism but also states and other compulsory, interlinked institutions.” Capitalism is just a part of what anarchism focuses on, but it’s the whole thing socialism against. Thus, “all anarchists are socialists, but not all socialists are anarchists.” Anarchism is inherently anti-authoritarian, but socialism in practical could be extreme authoritarian. From Milstein’s view, anarchism even seems more practical than socialism, because “anarchists maintained that people could attempt to build the new world in the shell of the old through self-organization rather than passively waiting until some post-revolutionary period.” Socialism kind of collapsed before the real revolution of capitalism to come, while anarchism blossoms in tons of NGOs.

Though Milstein wrote “anarchists had been able to structure the demonstration along libertarian principles,” and anarchism as well as liberalism both ask for liberty and equality, I think they’re fundamentally different in terms of state and central power. No matter how liberals are anti-authoritarian, they’re trying to give reasons for the existence and legitimacy of a state (such as Locke’s social contract theory), or provide a better structure of the state. They never think of a nation without government, but how to make the government perfect. However, anarchism has doubts for any kinds of centralization, no matter how great it is. Just like Milstein observed the phenomenon after WWII, “it appeared the two political choices were ‘democracy’ (free market capitalism) or ‘communism’ (state capitalism). Lost in the equation was the questioning of authority and concurrent assertion of utopia posed by anarchism.” Both choices were developed based on the state, while there’s still no actual example of anarchist state, and maybe it never will.

But in some way, globalization is helping anarchism to actualize its dream. As Milstein said, “globalization is structurally undermining of the centrality of states,” which is exactly the goal anarchists want to reach, and “anarchists have long dreamed of the world without borders made potentially feasible by the transformations now underway.” The voice of anti-globalization is more and more impossible, which is definitely to the pleasure of anarchists.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Anarchism is not far away

For most people, anarchism at first seems impractical, as the world shown to us is composed of different kinds of nation-states, societies, institutions, unions, etc. It’s hard to imagine a place without an actual power or order; if there is, it must be in chaos or war. Though we doubt all kinds of centralized power, to simply throw over the power with no substitution, as what anarchists pursue, is not a good option.

However, if changing the word anarchism to something else, people might agree: “decentralization, voluntary association, mutual aid, the network model, and above all, the rejection of any idea that the end justifies the means.” Graeber described these as the core principles of anarchism. Maybe inherently, we all have some sense of anarchism, such as anti-authoritarianism, but it’s hard to put thoughts into actions, as we already live in a society with laws or other social values to follow.

I wonder whether the founders of Freeskool think themselves as anarchist, as they said, “The Freeskool is inherently against compulsory education.” If Ithaca Freeskool’s example could be seen as an example of anarchism, then the definition of anarchism should be much broader than I originally thought to be, and anarchism seems more practical in subtle ways.

But I also noticed “the project seems uniquely at home in Ithaca, a city with two universities and a multitude of progressively minded intellectuals.” In other words, anarchism might only attract to certain groups of people, and can run well only within those groups. Beyond that, the space for anarchism is still limited.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Robin Hahnel: Fighting for Reforms without Becoming Reformist

What’s the future of socialism? In retrospect of history, there’s almost no positive answer. Just as Hahnel wrote, “we saw socialist ideals of egalitarianism, cooperation and liberty perverted through authoritarian, violent, wholly anti-democratic and anti-socialist arrangements.” How could those ideals lead to their opposites? What happened between ideas and practice? Socialism cannot answer these questions based on its performance in history.

Socialists have always been criticizing capitalism, and actually capitalism knows its own drawbacks. But up till now, it hasn’t come out a successful alternative to capitalism. Socialists failed to accomplish this goal, and they didn’t expect capitalism could be such stable and resilient. Marx seemed really make a mistake that “unfortunately for those of us working for progressive economic change, capitalism does not dig its own grave. Instead it charges us dearly for the shovels it sells us to dig our own graves.” I could feel how ironic history happened to be.

Then, does socialism have future? Step back from being too idealistic, “social democrats pledged themselves only to pursue reforms geared toward making a system based on competition and greed.” It means, to some extent, socialists adopt the idea of competition, free market or private property, but at the same time, they won’t give up the idea of equality in terms of result, or saying communism. What they want to do it “testing the principles of equitable cooperation and proving that they do work in living experiments in equitable cooperation.”

When thinking about the example of China, I’m not really optimistic. Since 1978, Chinese opened the door as well as our minds towards the world. The government leaders changed their ideas that no matter whether it’s socialism or capitalism, as long as it’s good for people’s lives, we should adopt it. That’s what Deng Xiaoping called, “a cat is good as long as it catches mice, and no matter the cat is black or white.” Undoubtedly, it’s a huge forward from the Culture Revolution. However, the political reform is intentionally ignored, resulted in an unchanged political system plus a “capitalist” economy. China is obviously not a capitalist country, nor is a traditional socialist country any more. China combines the worst things in two systems: political authoritarian and social inequality.

Through all sacrifices been made in history, it’s not uncommon to be skeptical about any socialist trials. And what Hahnel told us is just to “keep hope alive.” But do we still have the confidence to keep hope alive?

Thursday, October 30, 2008


When seeing those Soviet Union posters, I felt they are very similar to what Chinese did in history. Besides language, there's almost nothing else different. Modern China is basically a Chinese version of Soviet Union’s revolution, thus they were both anti-capitalism, and they had the same kind of propaganda: using red color to represent revolution, leaders at the center surrounded by farmers, workers and students. When looking at these posters now, I feel kind of ridiculous, but most people at that time truly believed it, or nobody dared to doubt it.

Propaganda in English is usually a negative word. If people are aware of propaganda, they know it’s biased or not true. But in Chinese, it’s a neutral word, and most people simply accept it. Hence the most dangerous thing is not to be affected by or agree with propaganda, but to believe in propaganda without knowing it is actually propaganda. Especially many years later, when people find those posters in huge contrast with the real history, they tend to lost in self-negation. For example, between 1958 and 1961, China experienced a land reform “the Great Leap Forward,” in propaganda and statistics, everywhere seemed to harvest, but it actually resulted in famines and thirty million people perished.

Fortunately, propaganda doesn’t work as well as decades before. Thanks to various media, people could receive every kind of information from everywhere, which makes propaganda more dubious than ever before. Comparatively, we live in a much freer and more open time, but as always, there’s still censorship around, looking for things not in accordance with official propaganda.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bernstein vs. Luxemburg

Between Bernstein and Luxemburg, it’s hard to say who’s right or wrong. In history, some modern social democratic countries followed Bernstein’s ideas, while some Communist countries, such as Soviet Union and China, went on to revolution, which resulted in the death of Communism in Russia and dramatic reform within Communism in China. If given another chance, I wish China could adopt Bernstein’s way, not criticizing him as Revisionist. Bernstein himself said that “which concerns me… is, by opposing what is left of the utopian mode of thought in the socialist theory, to strengthen equally the realistic and the idealistic element in the socialist movement.” His balance between extreme ideals and pragmatic approach to society might be a better solution.

Bernstein was not a traditional or stereotyped Marxist; his ideas were rather practical than revolutionary. He argued that “social democracy would flourish far better by lawful than unlawful means and by violent revolution,” which makes him look like a conservatism. Maybe that’s why other Marxist like Luxemburg criticized him as Revisionist. But no matter how we label a thinker, she or he should think how an idea could function in a society first, not only in accordance with certain ideologies. Suppose if Marx and Engels could make a choice: who is more Marxist, Bernstein or Luxemburg?

Just as Luxemburg pointed out, Bernstein thought his ideas “to be in agreement with certain declarations of Marx and Engels.” In his article, he even quoted from Marx and Engels, such as “the working classes cannot simply take possession of the ready-made State machine and set it in motion for their own aims” when analyzing the Paris Commune, and he also used Engels to say “the next task of the party should be ‘to work for an uninterrupted increase of its votes.’”

On the other hand, Bernstein also provided some critique to Marxism, apart from his overall agreement. He wrote “the evolution of modern society was correct as far as it characterized the general tendencies of that evolution. But it was mistaken in several special deductions, above all in the estimate of the time the evolution would take.” The book is written in 1899, but if he waited till the October Revolution in the Soviet Union, he would change it to the time and space the evolution would take, as Soviet Union was by no means an advanced capitalist nation. What’s more, Luxemburg thought “what Bernstein questions is not the rapidity of the development of capitalist society, but the march of the development itself and, consequently, the very possibility of a change to socialism.” This evaluation sounded more severe, like he's attacking socialism.

Then the question focused on what’s the correct march of capitalism and socialism, and whether there would be a catastrophic crisis before capitalism transformed into socialism. According to Bernstein, in capitalist countries, “the more the political organizations of modern nations are democratized the more the needs and opportunities of great political catastrophes are diminished.” This tendency and prediction scared other Marxists, as Luxemburg worried that “capitalist development does not move in the direction of its own ruin, then socialism ceases to be objectively necessary.” Ironically, history first favored revolutionaries in some countries yet ended in Communist catastrophes, so history ultimately happened in the way Luxemburg didn’t want to be, in which capitalism “maintain itself by suppressing its own contradictions.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Marx and Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party

As a student coming from a nation ruling by a Communist Party, I read the Manifesto with respect and sincere. It’s by no means saying I agree with most of what the Chinese government did according to their understanding of Marxism, but I’m trying to discover how much the Manifesto impacted modern China, both positively and negatively. I still remember in my Chinese university, there was a philosophy course using the whole semester to talk about the Manifesto, but now I only have one night and one class to focus on it.

The idea of class becomes very complicated today. Everyone might have a class, but she may not be conscious about it, or not willing to identify herself within the class. But in the Manifesto, they believed “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat.” And in modern Chinese history, the government did categorize everyone into different classes, which could totally determine one’s destiny. Based on class, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” and “every class struggle is a political struggle.” That’s what I’ve learned the perspective of history in Chinese history textbook, but now I become more and more doubt it. I would rather put it simply as one of many different explanations of history, not the only one.

When analyzing the development of the bourgeoisie, I found Marx and Engels had some great predictions for today’s world. At first, they thought “the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. … The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.” If they still live today, I don’t know what they would say about globalization or the question why everything is made in China. They also assumed that “the necessary consequence of this was political centralization,” which European Union provides an excellent example. What’s more, “the commercial crises that, by their periodical return, put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly.” Who knows whether the economic crisis we’re experiencing now is the most threatening one; it’s not the beginning, nor the end.

Marx and Engels gave all their trust and credit to the proletariat. They praised “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.” However in practice, it could be a small group of people arouse the proletarian movement for their own purpose but in the name of for the interest of the immense majority. Comparing to bourgeoisie “has played a most revolutionary part,” they claimed “the proletariat alone is a genuinely revolutionary class.” Then who's the more genuine revolutionary class? Just like the French Revolution, only the most revolutionary class could exist till the end, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be ignored that they’re also the most horrible class. And Marx and Engels's most famous prediction or warning is that “what the bourgeoisie therefore produce, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” But the reality is we still haven’t seen the fall of bourgeoisie or the victory of the proletariat, but capitalism and socialism are already kind of mingled into different societies.

I’m not criticizing Marx and Engels was wrong. They were just trying to describe the world they lived in, and how the world should be. They had many insights into the bourgeoisie, and they provided an alternate vision for the proletariat. They couldn’t expect what could happen in the world after their lives, no matter how greatly related to their Manifesto.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Heywood: Socialism

This article couldn’t be more familiar to me. My high school politics textbooks are pretty much the same with it, though in Chinese. Those principles are exactly how I’m educated: always skeptical about industrial capitalism, always believe community and co-operation are better than individuals. But we don’t stress on class conflict or social commitment to egalitarianism as much as before, because these ideas caused horrible chaos in social practice. We are still struggling with the problem of national property privatization today.

Marx is the most important contributor to socialism, who is like a ghost I could never get away from. I wish I wouldn’t need to learn Marx any more when I got out of China, but now I’m still reading and writing about him, as he’s also very influential in Western countries. He warned that “capitalism was unstable, doomed because of conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat.” Though history didn’t follow the way Marx predicted, I believe it’s not because Marx made a mistake, but capitalism changed itself because of Marx. That’s how those modern social democratic countries come from. To the opposite, China has adopted economical capitalism since 30 years ago. Hence, there’s an ironic saying in China today that “if you want to see socialism, go to north Europe; if you want to see capitalism, come to China.”

Marxism is said to be too idealistic and utopia, which is very attempted while “dangerous,” because “he said little about how this goal could be achieved in practice.” That’s where things become very problematic. In both Soviet Union and China’s practices, I wouldn’t say they’re completely failed, but they did cause huge sacrifice and social turmoil.

There’s an interesting observation at the beginning of the article, that socialism established “itself as a major political force in virtually every part of the globe, with the exception of North America.” I remember there’s a German named Wemer Sombart wrote a book about this topic: “why there is no socialism in America?” How could America be an exception? Is that saying liberalism and conservatism here are strong enough to resist any other kind of ideology? I couldn’t really figure it out.

Phyllis Schlafly: The Power of the Positive Woman

Before looking at Schlafly’s critique, we should recognize huge achievements of women liberation movement since the last century. Within a comparatively short period of time, women have earned tremendous rights and equality than ever before. When reading “the good wife’s guide” in 1955 and thinking how ridiculous it sounds today, we should aware that how greatly women have changed since then thanks to feminism.

However, as long as there is difference, there is inequality. In this sense, Schlafly reminded us feminism is fundamentally trying to achieve an unachievable equality between men and women, because they are inherently different. I like the point Schlafly mentioned that “the differences are not a woman’s weakness but her strength.” If women could empower themselves based on their differences, it might produce more strong women than other feminists supposed to.

There are two things in related to feminism I want to note. One is the doubt that I always have: do we need to think in a feminist way all the time, no matter stressing women’s weak position or women’s difference from men? Suppose a male professor discusses an academic issue with a female professor, does she or he always think their different opinions are because of their different genders? In other words, to what extent does gender difference affect people’s thoughts?

The other is a statistic showed that in recent years, female students graduated from Ivy Leagues would rather become housewives taking care of kids than being “powerful” women, and the number is still on the rise. When the first time I saw the news, it’s really shocked. It seems like no matter how well women have been educated, no matter how liberal and open the society is, traditional roles of men and women are still working in everyone’s mind.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Russell Kirk: Ten Conservative Principles

After reading Kirk’s article, for the first time, I felt conservatism is not that bad idea. It’s a necessary balance to liberalism, and without either of them, the society is imperfect. Conservatism is mostly based on observation and reflection of human history, just as what they believe that “A people’s historic continuity of experience offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers.” It’s an ironic saying to those liberal thinkers, but a practical perspective in real life.

History is proved to happen in a cycle way. Though people are always trying to get out the cycle and set up a new world, they end up just starting a new cycle. As Kirk said, “that power which the revolutionaries had thought oppressive in the hands of the old regime became many times as tyrannical in the hands of the radical new masters of the state.” For this reason, conservative doesn’t abolish but restrain power so as to avoid anarchy or tyranny.

Liberalism has good intention for a better society, but its idealistic ideas always cause terrible human experiments. Kirk used modern history as an example that “the ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.” There’s nothing wrong with the idea, while the problem is how to practice the idea, or whether the idea is practical. The conservative doesn’t want to take risks of human life, so “they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know.”

It’s not to say the conservative rejects any kind of change, but Kirk claimed “necessary change ought to be gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.” Rome was not built in a day, though people tend to forget it and wish change could happen overnight. But it’s never the case in history. As a more practical approach, “the conservative favors reasoned and temperate progress,” which might take a long time, but it also minimizes harm and chaos to society.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mania for Revolution

Some person’s mania is easily identified as heresy and he is either a real madman or a real genius who is hard to live in harmony with the society. However, the collective mania in the certain historical time is regarded as a natural thing. They all have noble ideals, which they spare no effort to realize and for which they are even willing to do inhuman deeds. As for the tremendous disasters that may come as a result, they do not care and even they do not know. One day mania will die down and by then people will find what they have done is so absurd. But history is made, which can not be rewritten.

The best representation of collective mania is revolution. Revolution is a word that sounds exciting and agitating, to say nothing of the revolution launched by the public. Nevertheless, sometimes revolution is the most deadly killer and the bloodiest conspiracy. In the name of revolution, rational thinking is shackled and just revolt is hanged. Only by the maniacal pursuit of the so-called ideal can people save their lives.

What can arouse collective mania must be those faramita ideals. The slogan of French Revolution is freedom, equality and fraternity, which is still inspiring up to the present. Rousseau’s theory, the General Will is Indestructible, makes the rebel reasonable and the revolution guiltless. However, how can his pure democracy be realized nationwide? No matter whether the ideal can be achieved or not, it can really incite tremendous irrational enthusiasm among the bottom level of the society. “Once released, the irrational enthusiasm will become the crazy wave of deconstructing the civilization which can not subside in a short time.”(Zhu Xueqin)

Nevertheless, once the Pandora Box is opened, “the spiritual atom of the human society” is “ignited” (Mao Zedong) and it will lead to a loss of control in historical development. The society is weirdly characterized by “the coexistence of ferocity and kindness, the concomitance of terror and ideal”. During “the Cultural Revolution” numerous red guards from all over the country came to Beijing just in order to wait for the inspection by Chairman Mao. They made Tian’anmen Square a red ocean, but just by them how many people were wrongly condemned, punish, insulted, and even persecuted to death? Similarly, “the beginning symbol of the French Revolution was attacking and destroying Bastille prison and saving seven prisoners there; three years later with the development of revolution and the foundation of Republic, schools and churches were turned into prisons and thousands of innocent prisons were slaughtered. Those things were done by the same public people of Paris.”(Lin Da)

Innocent sacrifice and ferocity breaching the original intention are the bloody costs caused by mania. However, the cost of revolution is far beyond these. Just before the French Revolution, an example for revolution arose in America on the other shore of the Atlantic Ocean. “For Americans, war is one thing while drawing up a constitution is another thing. Those are two things that can not be messed up.” “Drawing up a constitution is certainly a kind of revolution. But the real revolution is the transformation of internal system, not the external form.” “Those representatives who drastically debated and argued but finally had to compromise and sign in the council house would not launch a new revolution but try their best to explain to the public people the necessity of compromise. They persuaded the people to vote to approve the constitution in order to enact it as soon as possible.” “In the revolution of the United States there are not those romantic revolutionary stories like public people’s occupying Bastille prison, which can be showed off to the offspring. It is boring but logical.” (Lin Da)

“As for Versailles’s constitutional convention, the rebellion of Paris people was rather interference than support. Versailles could not hold a peaceful council board any more. They were put into an awkward position since the beginning.” “It was so difficult to explain to the people who had a grudge against the old system why they could not carry out a revolution to release their anger and why they should compromise to those royals and nobles. No matter how hard you could have tried, you would never escape such an interrogation: what kind of revolution was it, civilians’ or nobles’?” (Lin Da)

Maybe the comparison in numbers is more convictive. “It took three months and twenty-three days for the United States to establish its constitution.” During the two hundred odd years in which the constitution has been adopted, “scores of peaceful turnover of political power was accomplished without one violent coup.” “It took over two years for France to establish its constitution…but not more than one year later, the constitution was overthrown.” After that France also experienced numerous people’s revolutions and monarchy restorations. “Nearly no peaceful turnover of political power took place.” In French history there is always a saying “Revolutionary alarm bell rings again in the sky of Paris and rebellious people from all the districts assemble together.” Not only in history but also at the end of last year, nationwide turbulence originating in the suburb of Paris shocked the world. It is not the feudal times of occupying Bastille prison but the twenty-first century of high modernization! No wonder that French people themselves also admit it as a shame.

Due to the different character of France as a nation, its different understanding towards revolution, and various other historical factors, France paid a higher cost, the cost of time, during the establishment of a new system. The vicious circle again and again exhausted the mania for revolution and turned it into rational establishment of constitution. It’s hard to imagine that the history would have been rewritten if French people had chosen different ways to express their revolutionary ideal.

Fortunately the mania caused by revolution can not last long. “The whole society will suddenly awake on one morning, overthrow the “revolution idol” which was still worshipped yesterday, and send it on the guillotine which was just set by it. “Even though those disciples of Rousseau were so crazy and enthusiastic that they cut the king’s head at one night and pilloried it on the square, they would become ‘sick of revolution’ sooner or later. They would recall and long for the meat pot of Voltaire and return to the kitchen of home from the street assembly.”(Zhu Xueqin) After all, revolution cannot feed the people.

What is terrible is that as soon as the collective mania fades, the people will try to forget all the tragedy caused by it. “It is regarded only as an accidental incident which can absolutely be avoided and does not have any necessary foundation embedded in its civilization construction.” Maybe this is why China does not even have one “Cultural Revolution” museum up to now. It is after several hundred years that France “began to face the reasons and lessons of French Revolution”. On the other hand, the people “strive to pursuit vulgar enjoyment and request to be compensated for the sensatory pleasure deprived by rudeness.” (Zhu Xueqin) As a result of the disparity between the rich and the poor and the lack of belief, the society is waiting for another visit of revolutionary mania.

From the comparison between French Revolution and China’s “Cultural Revolution”, we can see astonishing historical similarity: the same mania for revolution, the same pursuit of their own so-called ideal, and the same brutal dictatorship. Meanwhile, looking at American Revolution, it was very different: rational, orderly, and high efficient. It is true that absolute perfection never exists in the world. But can we avoid the tragedy of guillotine as much as possible in the course of history, so that fascist dictatorship in the name of so-and-so-ism can never come back?

The character of one nation affects its historical road. American people upholding freedom and democracy are proud of the founders of the country, the generation of George Washington forever. However, romantic French people have to swollen the bitter fruit of Jacobin dictatorship. May our nation,which has a new lease of life after the “Cultural Revolution,” have more practical deeds and less fantastic ideals, be more rational and less crazy.

Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France

I’m by no means a conservative person, but I do understand why conservatism emerged in relation to liberal revolutions, especially the French Revolution. Liberty, equality and democracy always ideals people are trying to achieve within society. Then how could the revolution in the name of our pursuing actually lead to huge terror and chaos? More seriously, “the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken.” Because of such worries, people like Burke started to think the society should be stable, in which people “want of a steady education and settled principle.” Learned from lessons of the French Revolution, people would become more practical than idealistic as before. As Burke said, “they will be more careful how they place power in base and incapable hands.”

Though I agree with Burke’s reflection on the French Revolution, conservative thoughts are still not that sound to me. It’s necessary to separate ideas and the practice of ideas. The fault of a wrong practice is not accredited to the idea, and what we need to do is to find a right way to actualize those ideas. Conservatism tends to give up those ideals, as it claims ideals could never be realized, and the most practical thing is to protect what they already had.

I ever did some readings comparing the French Revolution with the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and in contrast to the American Revolution. I wrote it in Chinese first in high school, and then someone helped me to translate it. I would like to post it here as a separate blog entry.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

On Education

I took an “Education and Society” class last semester, in which we touched on the issue of school voucher. As a controversial policy in US, we tended to have more critiques than support for it. We also read Jonathan Kozol’s book “The Shame of the Nation,” which mainly talks about unequal education among different socio-economic students and the trend of re-segregated education in America. Based on the above background knowledge, I obviously have more doubts on school voucher.

The first question is whether education is a commodity and should be under control of free market. Coulson argues that education in a free market pushes schools to be more competitive. But I think education is not only a commodity, at least it’s a special one. Commodity may be good or bad, but each kid has the right of receiving good education. Hence, society and government should ensure the right of children and the quality of school.

However, school voucher is not the right way. Though the intention sounds good, which is “allowing the poor to have the more varied educational choices which are currently enjoyed only by the wealthy,” it causes a lot of problems in practice. If the government has the money for poor kids to good schools, then why not use the money to change those bad schools, so poor kids could also have good education? Are those good schools and those rich kids willing to welcome poor kids and not worry about the quality of education? Do those poor students improve their study after using voucher? If students use the government money to religious school, is it in accordance with the constitution?

I always thought the Chinese education system is very problematic, but when looking into the American education system, it’s not that idealistic as I originally assumed. Each system has its own problem in related to the society. But still, comparatively saying, American kids have more choices for different kinds of schools, and more happiness within their school experiences.

Here’s a link to the topic of voucher and other school choices:

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

John Dewey: Liberty and Social Control

John Dewey is one of my favorite thinkers. I ever approached to his articles mostly about his philosophy and educational ideas. Today when I read his thoughts on liberty, it’s still as impressive as his other works. According to him, liberty is not that idealistic idea, but closely in related to actual social powers. No wonder he’s one of the founders of the school of pragmatism.

He discovered the relation between liberty and power because of the contrast, that “the demands for liberty and efforts to achieve it have come from those who wanted to alter the institutional set-up.” The best example must be the French Revolution, which the society ended up in huge terror in the name of pursuing liberty. However, in America, “every effort at planned control of economic forces is resisted and attacked, by a certain group, in the name of liberty.” I guess it also explains why government inaction here is conservative, as they hold the actual power.

Three ways to understand real conditions of liberty is very clear in Dewey’s article. At first, “liberty is not just an idea, an abstract principle. It is power, effective power to do specific things.” The real life has no space for liberty, which becomes an excuse for power, so “demand for liberty is a demand for power, either for possession of powers of action not already possessed or for retention and expansion of powers already possessed.” Both sides could claim for liberty for their own interests. Second, “the possession of effective power is always a matter of the distribution of power that exists at the time.” One’s power is interactive with others, so as liberty. It reminds me of Mill’s harm principle, which liberty is related to others as well. Dewey also said that “liberty is always a social question, not an individual one.” Third, “there is no such thing as absolute liberty … wherever there is liberty at one place there is restraint at some other place.” Liberty could only be a relevant idea, and its opposite has to exist at the same time, or they would disappear together.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

William Graham Sumner: That it is not Wicked to be Rich

Sumner’s view of government inaction in economics is acceptable for me only to certain extent. From the perspective of individual, “they are paid in proportion to the supply and demand of them.” In other words, everyone could become rich as long as they work hard, which is a typical American dream. From the side of government, Sumner argued that limiting one’s wealth is impractical, because “there is a wide margin between their ideas of how rich they would allow their fellow-citizens to become, and of the point at which they would step in to rob a man of his earnings.” But it’s an issue for government to balance between suitable intervention and over intervention, not completely inaction. Sumner’s main conclusion is “there is no reason to desire to limit the property which any man may acquire.” But the reality is, not any man may acquire property no matter how hard they work, which Sumner also agreed that “all aggregated capital will fall more and more under personal control.” That might be a reason why anti-monopoly law occurred later.

It’s interesting to see, both in history and today, Americans debate over whether government should intervene into economics, while Chinese government more and more tries to free its market from a highly controlled economics before. It seems these two opposite ideas need to find a compromise in between, just as what I was taught and still believe that economics works better when an invisible hand, the unconditional principle of free market itself, cooperates with a visible hand, namely, the government intervention. From my point, free market and government intervention should be interactive. Let the principle of economics alone, it naturally has ups and downs, so the government has responsibility to alleviate the unstable economical impact on society to minimum. On the other hand, the government shouldn’t control all aspects of economics or make plans for everything, which is against the nature of economics and proved problematic in a long term.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Adam Smith: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

I never doubt the huge effects of division of labor. Smith claimed it as “the greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour.” Since Smith, modern economists tend to rank efficiency and quantity on top of everything, and division of labor successfully achieves that goal. Simultaneously, it changed the role of a modern person. Those encyclopedic kinds of people like Leonardo da Vinci become more and more impossible, because “each individual becomes more expert in his own peculiar branch, more work is done upon the whole, and the quantity of science is considerably increased by it.”

It seems perfect, but as Marx pointed out, division of labor is also the cause of human alienation. Everyone becomes a part of the process, no longer in charge of the whole thing. Such as in an assembly line, each worker is assigned to do a certain job without knowing what others do before and after him. It reminds me of Charlie Chaplin’s movie “Modern Times,” in which nonstop screwing nuts made him mental breakdown. Everyone seems to be more independent than ever before, as she just needs to care her own work, but at the same time, everyone is also forced to be more dependent on each other, because each part needs to cooperate together to make the machine work.

As for the reason why there occurred the division of labor, Smith provided some insights. “It is not from the benevolence… but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love.” Thus the relationship between each person looks mean and cold, but true in reality: “Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Frederick Douglass "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July"

On National Day, it seems EVERYONE should share the happiness of the country, as a reconfirm of one’s national identity. However, it’s not always the case. Many people might be ignored, or unequally treated under the same sky. At the time of Douglass, he focused on American slavery in this speech. He was very sensitively aware of the difference, as he stressed, “It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom,” and “this Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” He even questioned “what have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?”

Along with the development of history, slavery was doomed as predicted. More and more attention and rights were given to Black and other minority groups, resulting in an American “melting pot.” However, after coming to America, I was kind of shocked by the fact that racism is still the most severe social problem within this society. When volunteering at the American’s biggest homeless shelter at Washington DC, which is just a couple of blocks away from those government buildings, and which dwells mostly by black people, I was deeply touched. The problem of racial inequality has never been really solved, and there’s still a long way to go.

But I believe hope is also on the way. Douglass truly expressed what I want to say, “Your nation is so young.” It’s a fortune or blessing for a young nation, as it has enough time to try though the human experiment. In comparison to America, China is too old to get out of its own historical cycle, which was already repeated for thousands of years. Just as what Douglass said, “Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thomas Hobbes "The Leviathan"

Hobbes’s theories are very dubious to me. His observation of human nature was mainly from the evil side, or he believed the mankind is inherently bad, such as “three principal causes of quarrel, competition, diffidence, glory.” He even imagined “the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war.” Therefore, his felt “dominion over men being necessary to a man’s conservation.” But is that really the case? First, I don’t agree that man is naturally evil. Second, both in history and in reality, it’s proved that a common power could not keep people away from war. As far as what I learned from my logic class, Hobbes’s logic may be valid, but his statement may not be true.

The Commonwealth Hobbes supposed to construct is also “dangerous” from my view. The idea of Commonwealth is not bad, but the question is how to construct such a Commonwealth. According to Hobbes, “the multitude so united in one person is called a Commonwealth.” It’s pretty authoritarian thought, no matter how great the person is. Hobbes should have known that Chinese dynasties exactly followed his so-called commonwealth, which resulted in the destiny of a dynasty totally depend on the personal capability of the emperor.

John Locke "Second Treatise"

Locke criticized Hobbes to a great deal, as he put “absolute monarchy, which by some men is counted the only government in the world, is indeed inconsistent with civil society,” and he’s asking “what fence against the violence and oppression of this absolute ruler?” As a saying goes, “to live by one man’s will, became the cause of all men’s misery.”

Locke’s political idea is to set up a civil society, in which people “are united into one body, and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them, and punish offenders.” It sounds like another commonwealth, but completely different from Hobbes, because “no man in civil society can be exempted from the laws of it.” I appreciate this idea very much, as it exemplified the ideal that all humans are born equal.

Locke was trying to drag everyone out of the state of nature, so as to get into the civil society. It’s like you want everyone to join you, and no exception. Using today’s term, everyone is forced to be modernized, to be involved in society. Maybe I read too much from Rousseau, who’s the very first to find modernization problematic, and to encourage people to get back to the state of nature, hence Locke’s ideas lost his attraction to me.

John Stuart Mill "On Liberty"

Mill’s idea of individual liberty was mostly based on the relationship between one another. As he said, “the only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” His standard of freedom was not high above, but simply not to harm others. According to this logic, “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” In other words, the power should exist for and only for providing freedom to its member.

Through his article, I feel Mill put a heavy weight on individualism. Such as “among the works of man, the first in importance surely is man himself,” and “in things which do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself.” Though he never forgot “others,” the individual was always the first thing. I guess the American society is a great example of his belief. Sometimes it works very well, when everyone tries to achieve the best as she can, thus resulting in a better society. But many other times I doubt, when everyone just works for her own interests or for her own good, where the common good comes from? Don’t we need to care for others, or take more social responsibility? I haven’t figured out the answer yet.