September 3rd, 2006

Voted for Dean

Well, now that's a cat of a different color.

In China's most prosperous city, Shanghai, the Communist government just took an absolutely unprecedented step, one that is truly remarkable and worth wondering at (and wondering about). Quietly, with very little fanfare, they dropped almost all references to socialism or communism from the public school curriculum. Under the new curriculum, the first time any student would even hear the word socialism would be as a senior in high school. (See Joseph Kahn, "Where’s Mao? Chinese Revise History Books," New York Times, September 1st, 2006.)

I'm reminded of something that Robert Heinlein wrote, back in 1950, when he was offered an immoderate sum of money to play the fool's game of trying to predict what the world would be like in the year 2000. One of his more whimsical predictions was that by the year 2000, the United States would have become a communist country, and the Soviet Union a capitalist country. But, he predicted, the United States would call its communism "capitalism" and the Soviet Union would call its capitalism "communism." Now, like about half of the predictions in that article, he was wrong about this one ... mostly. Like many people, he failed to anticipate that the Soviet Union would fall before the end of the 20th century. But what's happening now in China bears an uncomfortable resemblance to that remark.

When back in the 1970s and 1980s, then-premier Deng Xiaoping began the process of introducing more and more of the forms of capitalist economics into the Chinese economy with the intention of catching up to the West economically, he justified his "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics" with the proverb, "It doesn't matter what color a cat is, as long as it catches mice." In other words, the People's Republic of China could become as capitalist as it needed to become, if that was what was necessary for the Chinese Communist Party to retain its dominance of China. In particular, the theoretical justification was that as long as you could only advance into political power by swearing fealty (in the long run) to communist economic principles, and as long as Communists continued to control the education of the young, then any reversion to capitalism in the short run would have nothing to do with reversing the "inevitability" of the coming of the New Communist Man.

Well, it now would appear that even China has admitted that the New Communist Man isn't coming; the extent to which they retain any socialist principles at all is a robust commitment to state-sanctioned labor unions, which makes them no more Communist than, say, South Korea or France. Which leaves me with two questions. First of all, if they're not safeguarding the future for the New Communist Man any more, what possible justification could they give for continuing to use the military to suppress any challenge to their single-party rule? Oh, the new textbooks and the current premier place great emphasis on the Party as the defender of "order," but will that be enough for the Chinese people? And my second question is, now that the Chinese are being grown-up enough to admit that they were deluded about their ability to, through education, create a new species of human beings who would be perfectly happy and productive and virtuous in their demonstrably currently unworkable economic system, when will the Libertarians and the Republicans in the United States be just as forthright and admit that their hypothetical future New Capitalist Man is just as mythical? And without that myth, do the Republicans have any internal justification for continuing to seek, and to fear any alternative to, single-party rule for their ideology?
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