The Long View 2005-04-28: China; Quagmire; My Folly



Contra John Reilly's prediction here: Gordan Chang is still wrong.

China; Quagmire; My Folly

Anyone in immediate need of a theory of the post-communist world, past and future, should take a look at David Brooks's column in today's New York Times, Mourning Mother Russia:

But private morality, the habits of self-control and the social fabric take a lot longer to recover. So you wind up with nations in which high growth rates and lingering military power mask profound social chaos.

This is what we're seeing in Russia. It's probably what we would be seeing in Iraq even if the insurgency were under control. And most frighteningly, it could be what we will be seeing in China for decades to come.

One may question how closely the Chinese case parallels the Russian. Mao's People's Republic probably ranks higher than Stalin's USSR on the Lunacy Scale. (An 8.5 for Mao and a 7.5 for Stalin, perhaps, with a 9.5 for Kim Jong-il and an impeccable 10 for Pol Pot. Hitler ties Mao, but I would give Mussolini just a 3.0: a thug, not a monster.) However, at some deep level, Russia may have been injured more profoundly than China. That would be consistent with Mark Steyn's take on the matter:

I’d say the Chinese are doing it the right way round: historically, economic liberty has preceded political liberty...The real foreign-policy challenges in the immediate future are the stagnant EU, poor doomed Russia and China's incoherent market-communism. If you were betting on only one happy ending, I'd take China.

As is his wont, Steyn is at pains to emphasize that stability is neither likely nor desirable. The tensions occasioned by economic progress without democracy are really accidents waiting to happen, one of which the current autocracy will not survive:

Do you remember Sars? Big disease a couple of years ago. It started in rural China, leaping from livestock to people, because farm animals are highly valued and often sleep in the house...Sars spread to the cities because some rural dweller came up to town for the day, and before you knew it it had reached Hong Kong, where the infected lobby, elevators and other public areas brought the international clientele of the Metropole Hotel into contact with the disease...That’s a metaphor for the present-day People’s Republic.

Steyn, by the way, is not one of those who see China as a coming superpower. To some extent, its future may well parallel that of the USSR:

Calling it all ‘China’ sounds nice and homogenous, but it’s a China that has never previously existed in any functioning way; as a centralised nation state it’s as artificial an entity as the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia.

He has a point. Zhou En Lai once famously remarked that it was too early to say whether the French Revolution had succeeded. The same might also be said of the empire the Manchus created, of which China was and is only a part.

This is all the sheerest speculation. Still, Gordon Chang's Coming Collapse of China looks daily more prescient.

* * *

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration remains trapped in an unnecessary quagmire of its own making. In the May 2 issue of The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes suggests an exit strategy:

If Bush is forced to accept defeat on Social Security, it's important he do it the right way. If he's petulant, it will only make things worse. And if he says the fight isn't over yet and he's going to try again in the next Congress to push through a reform measure, it will only make life easier for Democrats. They've become completely reactionary and have nothing to compaign on in 2006. Keeping Social Security reform alive would give them an issue to run on -- or rather against.

In reality, the Democrats will have a great deal to campaign on, from rising energy prices to an increasingly unaffordable health-insurance system.

On the upside, there is Iraq, and indeed the Middle East generally. I later learned that, when Thomas Friedman suggested recently that the Iraq War did in fact distract Al Qaeda from another major attack on the United States, he was only reflecting what security types were saying. (I also discovered that the security types don't routinely read the New York Times, or at least not the editorial page.) In any case, regarding what Mark Steyn sees as the happy instability of the Middle East since the invasion, it seems that the Domino Theory does work, at least when it its managed by Republicans.

There are ironies here.

* * *

Finally, to add another of the entirely too infrequent I-am-an-idiot postings to this blog, I find that I entirely misunderstood that letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the one I mentioned in my last entry, in which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger defined the Church's jurisdiction over the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse. Here is what a canonist has to say about the matter:

[T]he CDF letter had as one important aim to settle certain procedural questions among canonists as to which canonical crimes are "reserved" to CDF per 1983 CIC 1362, that is, which ecclesiastical offenses are considered serious enough that Rome itself could adjudicate the case instead of allowing the normal canons on penal jurisdiction to operate (e.g., 1983 CIC 1408, 1412).

The letter is really about whether Rome or the local diocese should be handling these cases. Ratzinger said that Rome should. Considering the record of the dioceses in dealing with these cases, that was a good decision.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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