East Meets West book discussion.

Two blogs I read, “A Ku Indeed” and Tang Dynasty Times have recently begun discussing Daniel Bell’s “East Meets West”. I think the potential for a discussion of how philosophy ought be conceived in relation to politics is interesting and might generate some discussion here. Here is a brief description of the book from the Princeton University Press:

Here is the first bit of the discussion, posted at the Tang Dynasty Times:

I’ll post some of the cooments (edited for interest. This post is long enough as it is!):

So, what are people’s thoughts so far? Are concepts like Human Rights a Western artifice and therefore not only not applicable to certain situations but actually undesirable? Or does fostering HR allow for flourishing that creates prosperity irrespective of the soil it lands on? More importantly (and more interesting, I think), is the notion of ‘HR’ just a by-word, a justification that not only makes no sense outside of a development from local conditions but is actually just that? And all of this is without even discussing the desirability of these things themselves. If the seeds are foreign, is their introduction worthwhile despite the difficulties provided by the climate?

In terms of these various elements, I find myself taking a rather moderate path. I believe economic creativity ultimately comes from the masses. We can talk about CEOs or even inventors, but without a broad network to allow these individuals to function they can’t accomplish anything. But at the same time, how those creative energies are directed are of paramount important. When you look at the process of industrialization and increases in general prosperity, it has always been done on the back of the lower classes and for the benefit of the upper classes. In Europe, the nobles got in on the whole industrialization thing and allowed it to take off. Indeed, that is on of the major reasons England industrialized so early – the stigma against merchant/noble marriages/unions wasn’t as strong in England as it was on the Continent. Contrast that with France and Germany. In France, there was a disrupted power-structure near the top so industrialization was a slow, broad process that lead to the development of highly vital niche industries. Precisely what one would expect from a relatively unguided creative class. In Germany, the nobles resisted industrialization because it would lead to mingling with the unclean merchants. But when they opted to take advantage of the creativity present it was highly directed. Areas where the noble class was even more firmly entrenched (such as China and Russia) saw no serious need to modernize at all. And in both those cases, once the old noble order was eliminated the country’s modernization was built (often quite cruelly) on the backs of its peasants. In the more gradual cases, a middle class developed in tandem with the economic development and as they gained influence they made sure the rights of nobles were expanded to include them. This creates a problem in areas where a middle class is arising but a rights-holding class has been eliminated. Introducing the notion of ‘rights’ to these areas is anachronistic and, frankly, confused. But at the same time, the middle class allows for a very efficient channeling of the creative energies of the people. So I’m not really sure how those areas ought proceed.

This post seems interesting but it’s too much reading. Can you just give the conclusions that you want us to make?

Is Capitalism + Liberal Democracy the End of History: yes or no?

I would say no because history doesn’t end.


A douschebag, but he argues the other.

Wow… This looks really interesting… Lemme go get a coffee…

Edit: Whilst, yes Fukuyama is a douche, he actually retracted his idea that the end of history had been achieved.

SD: He didn’t so much mean that things would stop happening, but that, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was the triumph of Democracy over Communism, and more sort of the End of Ideology. Which is still bollocks.

It’s certainly a fascinating issue. There is some particularly relevant stuff (at a philosophical level) here and Dreyfus’s paper on Kierkegaard and the Internet (mentioned in the excerpt from the Tang Dynasty Times) is here and worth looking at.

I am inclined to the view that an answer cannot be fixed, either geographically or historically, and that by extension neither can HR. However, I also believe it is perfectly natural to remain committed to some form of “principled response”, as it were. Clearly, then, this is a complex issue. As an example, I suggest looking at the issue of genocide, which has been central to so much of the discussion of HR in the last century.

The concept of genocide was developed by the Polish lawyer Rapahael Lemkin in response to his studies of the Assyrian and Armenian “genocides” in the aftermath of WWI. His tireless campaigning eventually led to the UN’s Convention on genocide in 1948. However, rather than quoting from that document, I think it is more informative in the present context to consider one of Lemkin’s definitions:

The point that I think is made here is that genocide can be identified procedurally, but cannot be understood outside of its particular context - that is to say, it cannot be responded to without a serious consideration of the specific local conditions within which the genocidal act was perpetrated. Nevertheless, the definition remains focused on communities rather than simply individuals and therefore has a wide application.

Somewhat inevitably, the discussion of genocide has been dominated by studies of the Holocaust, especially its Jewish aspects, but in the wake of a series of events during the 1990s (leading to a general awareness of “genocides” in places as diverse as Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia) the question of the “uniqueness” of the Holocaust has come increasingly into focus and a number of comparative studies of the Holocaust with historical and contemporary atrocities have been undertaken. It is my personal view that the Holocaust was “unique”, but only in the sense that it was paradigmatic - it provided for a particularised case study that could lead to more generalised insight into a set of social procedures. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, it provided (through its international setting) for a generalised response from the whole of the international (by which I mean Western-dominated) community embodied in the UN. Consider the following quotations:

Dirk Moses

Mahmood Mamdani

I do not, certainly, agree with everything that is said in these two extracts, but they are informative of the difficulty in generalised analysis and, by extension, in fixing universal values. As such, they hopefully help to shore up my example of the discussion of genocide as indicative of Xunzian’s broader concern.

Sources on genocide:
Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction - Ch. 1: The Origins of Genocide.
Mahmood Mamdani, ‘The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency’ in the LRB.
Robert Melson, ‘Paradigms of Genocide: The Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide and Contemporary Mass Destructions’.
Dirk Moses, ‘Conceptual blockages and definitional dilemmas in the ‘racial century’: genocides of indigenous peoples and the Holocaust’ in The Holocaust: A Reader or Patterns of Prejudice.

Yeah, it sounds to me like it is the end of the ideology that he likes best. Ideology never dies. It just changes from one form to another, like energy, based on who is in power.

The comments about genocide are interesting, especially the two phases:

If we are working with that as the hallmarks of ‘genocide’, is the paternalistic attitude devoted to spreading HR, ironically, a genocidal ideology? Clearly HR stands in opposition to many classical cultures; indeed, it often stands in contrast to the barbarisms of the past. But if those barbarisms are part-and-parcel with the culture, how to move towards HR without falling into the old traps of colonialism?

I think this probably explains why the UN has been so careful to delineate its own Framework on genocide and to move away from the more protean, cultural approach taken by Lemkin. Of course, that inevitably dilutes its explanatory force, and the same is probably true of HR as well.