Thursday, May 06, 2004

it's just like China!
Via politix, a review by Terry Eagleton of Robert Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism.

It remains to be seen whether the world will revert to fascism. But there are certainly signs that a planet well stocked with authoritarian capitalist regimes is on the cards. Liberal capitalist nations are becoming more authoritarian under the threat of terrorist attacks, while societies which were already authoritarian, such as China, are turning capitalist. The two systems are meeting each other, so to speak, coming the other way. Meanwhile, the globe is well furnished with capitalist set-ups that were never liberal in the first place, as well as with regimes whose former colonial proprietors exported market forces to their shores while forgetting to include democratic institutions in the cargo. The assumption that the free market and political democracy go naturally together was always pretty dubious, and fascism is one dramatic refutation of it. But we might now be moving deeper into a world where the two go together like a horse and cabbage.

This strikes me as exactly right. Back in the early nineties a Chinese friend and I worked on a magazine together. It was bilingual, and part of his job was to write about the UK government and its various stupid politician tricks. One day he asked me about a Major era measure to force people into makework jobs in return for benefit. That’s just like China! he said, when I explained it. “That’s just like China!” eventually became a standing joke between us, having been repeated so often in our conversations about the government. I think he eventually made it the title of a regular column on British politics, though I can’t be sure.

Another friend came over after being involved in the Tiananmen demonstrations. I remember her disappointment after the cops nearly shot some fellow waving a Tibetan flag at Jiang Zemin on his state visit a couple of years back. She started talking about going back to China to make some real money after that. What else was there for her to do? And what’s the real difference?

My friends, this is Hobbes’ world. The rest of us just live in it.