Making the international system in China’s image is one thing. But for the time being, Xi welcomes the limitations of the modern state-system. The CCP wields Westphalian sovereignty in defense of China’s right to self-determination––again, especially in its own backyard. Jiang Shigong’s 2018 essay “Geography and Right: Mackinder and Schmitt on the Conflict of Empires,” sheds light on the vision of a Sinocentric regional order, Halford Mackinder’s “Heartland Theory,” and Schmitt’s Großraum: a conception of hemispheric hegemony in which a “völkish order of life,” an ideologically charged ethnocivilization, “radiates” its power and influence outward. In “Großraum Principles of International Law,” delivered as a lecture in 1939, Schmitt describes the developmental tendency of a “politically awakened nation,” via “an economic process of expansion,” to establish a “technical-industrial-economic order” represented by “networks covering great distances.” With this in mind, as Ryan Mitchell writes: “It is possible that Schmitt’s greatest impact in China could ultimately lie less in domestic affairs than those concerning the organization of Asia’s ‘great space.’”
China’s “Silk Road Economic Belt,” or the “One Belt, One Road Initiative” (OBOR), can be viewed in light of the Großraum “principle.” OBOR is portrayed as a benevolent, nation-to-nation infrastructure and economic development program, spanning Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. To the mind of most Western analysts, however, OBOR is a geostrategic Trojan Horse––an embodiment of the “China Dream.” In this view, the Chinese hope to resurrect the “classical ‘tribute system’...of concentric circles in which the civilized imperial capital [Beijing] at the centre flows out to embrace the periphery, forming a pattern of interdependence, coexistence, and co-prosperity.” Observers like Elizabeth Economy go further: OBOR resurrects tianxia (“all under heaven”): the ancient imperial Chinese vision of a past golden era, in which Confucian values and a preponderance of power in Beijing, charged with a “Mandate of Heaven,” served to maintain a hierarchical global order comprised of quasi-vassal states.
A Sinocentric Großraum that spans all of Eurasia––or, perhaps, a Sino-Reich––has yet to be realized. However, Chongqing Communist Party School scholar Fang Xu’s 2018 essay, “Saying Farewell to Universal Empire with a Großraum Order,” might put some speculation to rest. Here, we might do well to invoke Occam’s Razor. If China’s approach to domestic politics is any indication of its geopolitical ambitions, epochal great power confrontation may be inevitable. Though we should steer clear of fear-mongering and exaggeration, it would be prudent to take the Chinese at their word––especially if it is bound up in the mystifying language of Carl Schmitt.
The culmination of Lasch and Foucault’s relationship came at the University of Vermont in 1982, by which time Foucault, with an appointment at UC Berkeley, had become a star in American academia. Lasch was one of several scholars invited to comment on Foucault’s work during a three-week period in which Foucault himself gave a series of lectures, “Technologies of the Self.” Foucault attributed their inspiration to Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism (1979), in which Lasch had argued that anxious individuals, deprived of economic security and cultural bonds, were investing their self-image, and therapeutic projects of self-discovery, with unprecedented importance.
Foucault perhaps was flattering his hosts, but his intellectual trajectory had indeed taken a parallel turn with that of Lasch. In his final lecture, Foucault noted that while his early work tracked how institutions like asylums, hospitals, and prisons—and bodies of knowledge like psychiatry, medicine, and criminology—define “who we are” by excluding the abnormal, his work following History of Sexuality focused on how individuals come to understand themselves in consultation with a range of supposed experts of self-knowledge. Foucault worked from a broad perspective—tracking such expertise from the philosophers of classical Athens to priests in late antiquity to psychiatrists today—and avoided Lasch’s more personal focus on how modern narcissism makes us miserable. But the two had a common sense of the problem.
By 1991, however, seven years after Foucault’s death, and three years before his own, Lasch dismissed the French thinker, whose influence he had spread and whom he in turn had influenced. In an article for Salmagundi, to which he often contributed, titled “Academic Pseudo-Radicalism: the Charade of Subversion,” Lasch attributed to Foucault the claim that “knowledge of any kind is purely a function of power.” In thus crediting to Foucault a position so obviously self-defeating that it is hard to imagine any thinker holding it, Lasch failed to notice a convergence between the work of his late period and that of Foucault’s a decade earlier.
Now, Said’s complaint that the opera and composer are indifferent to the realities of contemporary Egypt and alien to the Arabs of Cairo can hardly be taken as a serious criticism of this work. In striving to make a case out of the details of the opera’s original performance, Said disregards the fact that Aida is an opera about ancient Egypt—the Egypt of the Pharaohs. His critique conflates ancient and modern Egypt into one entity. The Egyptians portrayed in the opera are not Arabs, a people who arrived in the country in the seventh century A.D. and who were then a predatory imperial power. The Egyptians of Aida are those who inhabited the country three thousand years before the tribesmen from Mecca and Medina conquered it. The Egypt of the Arabs is no more the Egypt of the Pharaohs than is the Egypt once ruled by the ancient Greeks or the Egypt that was part of the Roman Empire in the Christian era.
Moreover, to charge any opera with being unrealistic is a complaint that ought to disqualify its author from the ranks of critics forever. Realism is just about the last attribute opera has ever sought. This is an art form in which characters sing instead of speak to one another, in which large women in their fifties pass as seductive teenage girls. It is an art form that allows magical events, ghosts, sea serpents, monsters (some of whom sing in Italian), ocean storms, lightning strikes, and anthropomorphic gods of various religions to make regular appearances on stage. To try to score a political point out of an opera’s lack of realism is to display how unfit one is to talk about the subject.
It is equally imperceptive to complain that, because its staging and costumes derive from the discoveries of Egyptology, Aida is politically tainted by this. It is true that “Egyptology is not Egypt,” but it is still the only field whose archaeological and philological studies provided what was known in 1871, and most of what is known today, about ancient Egypt. Rather than being a European conceit, Egyptology has long provided the principal means through which people of any culture, Egyptian Arabs included, can know the ancient history of that country. If, as Said says, Egyptology is misleading about the “real Egypt,” where else does he imagine our knowledge of the place in 3000 B.C. could possibly come from?
Joseph Schumpeter described capitalism as a system of creative destruction. Innovative new ideas, new products, and new production methods displace the old. This works to the advantage of entrepreneurial individuals who bring innovations to market, enabling them to get ahead by producing more value for consumers. After those entrepreneurs get ahead, the forces of creative destruction work against them, threatening to displace them in the economic hierarchy. The system that helps those who want to get ahead threatens those who want to stay ahead. An examination of the institutional framework that supports capitalism shows that it contains incentives for the political elite to cooperate with the economic elite for their mutual benefit. An extensive literature on rent-seeking, rent extraction, regulatory capture, and interest group activity explains why the legal system that supports capitalism is susceptible to capture itself, for the benefit of the elite. Capitalists are the biggest threat to capitalism.
The best account of modern gnostic doctrine I think is H.N. Frye’s Fearful Symmetry, a book on Blake. Frye I know. He is a Jungian. Most of Bergson would seem to be naively gnostic too. You have seen Victor White’s book on gnosticism called God and the Unconscious (Harvest Press, London, 1952)? White is a Dominican. Now I assume that your own program of activity includes illumination of these secret relationships which have so long masked the power politics of the modern world. Since the arts in a very special way are the focus of all the esoteric speculation of the cults, I am baffled to know what attitude to take up toward them. For me, of course, art is no channel of grace or gnosis, but an activity of making – analogous to the act of cognition itself. As such, art is a humanist, not a religious, affair. But I should much welcome any reading suggestions you could give me that would clear up some of the historical relationships between the arts and the cults, as for example you do apropos of Hooker in suggesting that he was quite aware that puritanism was the re-emergence of the pagan cults.
E Gilson’s recent Métamorphoses de la Cité de Dieu is curious in omitting Joachim of Flora [sic] and Thos More, and Marx. In fact, Gilson ducks the gnostic tradition. Would you say that the gnostic is EASTERN, neo-platonic and that the opposite cult is WESTERN, platonic? This split occurs everywhere in the techniques of the arts. It seems to divide Gilson and Maritain.
In rewriting my doctoral dissertation I am going to include a history of Senecanism as the opponent of Ciceronianism. Can you suggest any available research done on Senecanism beside Zanta?[ii] Seneca is the way of gnosis. Cicero of expression. Senecans stress connatural, irrational knowing via the passions. Use of the passions [or not] as a way of knowing seems to divide the cults of every age.
I look forward immensely to the appearance of your complete study.
A few weeks after I first watched the film, I read the novel on which it is based, published in Polish in 1961 and in English in 1970. Sections of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris consist of discussions of ‘Solaristics’, a research programme attempting to understand how contact with an alien intelligence might be achieved. It was a project, the narrator tells us, which seemed to its critics to be ‘the space era’s equivalent of religion: faith disguised as science’. The struggle to contact an alien mind is a surrogate for the mystical quest for God.
In another interpretation, also suggested in the book, those who claim to be trying to understand the water-covered planet are not attempting to contact an alien mind at all. They are only ‘seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors’. The struggle to understand an inhuman intelligence then becomes a critique of solipsism, the inability or unwillingness of the human mind to move outside itself. For Lem, this may have been the meaning of the book.
Tarkovsky’s Solaris is different. It is a stream of numinous images, which – as we see them on the screen – seem intermingled with our memories and desires. Yet what we see is not manufactured by our conscious selves. Instead, film releases parts of ourselves we had not known before. We cannot fully articulate what they tell us. For me, though, the epiphanies evoked by Tarkovsky are revelations of the dream-like transience of the human world.
Accordingly, the 19th-century “Innovation Parties”—broadly made up of those seeking upward mobility by overturning exclusive hierarchies—looked very different in Europe than they did in America. In the same lecture, Emerson defined conservatism in opposition to radicalism, the future, hope, liberalism, “the reformer”, “the partisan,” and even “Reason” itself! But the logic of his argument makes it plain that he is equating all of these things with idealism, and that he equates conservatism with so-called Burkean pragmatism. “Each theory has a natural support,” and the clash between them is “the primal antagonism, the appearance ... of the two poles of nature.”
In other words, in Emerson’s view politics is not a battle of the correct side winning out, but “the counteraction of the centripetal and the centrifugal forces.” It requires understanding to see that each makes “a good half, but an impossible whole,” and this is the sentiment that drives the American public toward a divided government. They understand intuitively, as Emerson did, that conservatives and reformers “expose the abuses of [each] other,” and that “in a true society, in a true man, both must combine.”
By “true man”, he meant something like “in touch with reality.” Speaking from personal experience, he warned Boston’s conservatives that, by denying ambitious young men meaningful participation in society, established institutions would breed radicalism and revolt. “The country is full of rebellion,” he noted, “full of kings” vying for control of the emerging order. He hoped that the authorities would meet this challenge with understanding, reason, and pragmatism—a wish that is very much relevant to the state of political affairs today
The first recorded case of Covid-19 in the United States was reported on January 20, 2020—a person who traveled from Wuhan, China, to Washington State. As the virus spread across the country, global supply chains that are usually invisible suddenly became highly visible. News headlines tracked a surge in demand for personal protective gear for frontline health care workers. At the same time, however, factories had shuttered or were operating at a fraction of capacity, causing shortages and panic.
China’s role in supplying masks, gowns, gloves, and testing kits for the United States and other countries became evident. But the media were strangely silent about China as the top global producer of components to make generic drugs, which represent 90 percent of medicines prescribed in the United States.
Days before Congress shut down, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship held a hearing on Covid-19. Testimony revealed the extent of U.S. dependence on China for medicines as the country was facing a surge in hospitalizations. China produces 90 percent of the core components for the generics needed to treat people hospitalized with Covid-19. The sedative propofol (which is administered to people on ventilators), antibiotics including azithromycin and vancomycin for secondary bacterial infections, and anti-inflammatories such as hydrocortisone are among the generic medicines in America’s intensive care units that are made with China-sourced materials.
Beyond medicines used to treat Covid-19 and related illnesses, China controls the global supply of raw materials and chemicals, called key starting materials (KSMs), for thousands of generics sold in retail pharmacies and big box stores. Take the case of the antibiotic azithromycin. Ground-zero Wuhan is a global manufacturing hub for the key ingredient in the antibiotic. When the city shut down, production did too.
In the aftermath of Covid-19, supply chains for products used by millions of Americans have been disrupted. Shortages of semiconductors, critical minerals, batteries, household refrigerators, and much more ripple through the economy and drive rising prices. As government and industry reassess global supply chains, actions to strengthen U.S. manufacturing are being debated in Washington and corporate board rooms.
Antibiotics and other life-saving medicines should rank high on the priority list for domestic production. The U.S. supply chain for essential generic drugs is at high risk of catastrophic failure. Mitigation measures are needed now if we are to be prepared for the next pandemic.
The painting is among Velázquez’s best-known, and among the best-known works in the figurative canon more generally. Deservedly so; it is the product of a mature artist who began powerfully and precociously and only deepened and intensified as he entered middle age. The so-called Siglo de Oro, the remarkable flourishing of the arts and sciences in Spain that roughly coincided with the rise and fall of the Habsburg dynasty there, produced many stellar talents: Miguel de Cervantes and Félix Lope de Vega in literature; Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera in architecture; in painting El Greco, Bartolomé Murillo, and Francisco de Zurbarán. But Las Meninas remains, perhaps, the most strikingly iconic painted work of the period. This is likely due at least in part to the painting’s complexity. From this still but somehow tense portrait of royal life innumerable interpretive avenues lead away. Consider, for example, Velázquez’s self-insertion into the painting. Is the work a comment on itself? On painting as a discipline? There is an echo of the famous self-inclusion Cervantes performed in the second volume of Don Quixote — and the painting’s mingling of light and shadow, clarity and obscurity, only adds to this mystery.
This is just one of the many possibilities a closer look at Las Meninas, which dates from 1656, just four years before the painter’s unexpected death, provides. Indeed, one might argue that what separates Velázquez from the other court painters who pictured the lives of royals throughout early modernity is precisely this invitation to peer, to scrutinize, to think. Yet sussing out a specific intent somewhat misses the point, Cumming argues. Las Meninas is remarkable not because we can derive a philosophical or ideological schema from it — though of course many serious thinkers have. Cummings cites in particular the French cultural theorist Michel Foucault, who called the work the “representation of Classical representation.” But it was not postmoderns alone who saw the painting in this way: the Neapolitan Baroque painter Luca Giordano saw in it the “theology of painting.”
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