Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Notes on reading J.A.G. Roberts' Complete History of China

Since no one will ever read this, and because I have no more useful place to record my thoughts:

The following occurs to me on reading the chapter on the Latter Han Dynasty. Roberts frequently mentions what he calls the "downward signs of the dynastic cycle." For the Zhou, Former and Later Han dynasties, this began with troubles in succession to the throne. Children or invalids are chosen for the throne, and power is shifted to either a regent or the empress dowager. The puppet emperors serve the interests of the great families at court (Zhou and Former Han), or the Eunuchs (Latter Han). This begs for comparison to the Election of President Bush, and to the current primary races.
In the last two elections, 'special interest groups' have blocked voters into reliable, single-issue units. The self-serving tendencies of these groups seek to place like minded rulers on the throne. Their success, however, emboldens them, and the most successful politicians become essentially powerless infant emperors while factions at court grow more and more divisive. In the Han dynasties this process occurred until a usurper restored power to an individual.
There are complexities here which I would like to point out. The first is the difference between a democracy and a tyranny. The second is the importance of an individual will. The argument I have just made may sound narrowly fascist. To be sure, I am not advocating totalitarian rule. Just as much as an autocracy is not a democracy, so is not an oligarchy. A democracy must be predicated on the equivalence of every opinion, and ability of everyone to opine. The grouping of individuals into 'single-issue voters' unbalances the essential uniqueness of the individual and produces excesses and voids of power in the democratic landscape. So too does a family acting as a unit to secure its own power fail to serve the society as a whole. On the second issue, leadership is practically and best executed by an individual. In democratic theory, the individual is that whose personal philosophical orientations best estimate the aggregation of the citizenry. Therefore, this individual is practically tyrant until the citizenry changes its orientation enough that the individual tyrant becomes obsolete (interesting research question: what is the margin of error?). When a politician forfeits their will to dynamically track the population, they are serving their own ambitions to power, and failing in their capacity as tyrant. My theory is that this is Bush.
An interesting cultural comparison can be made between the 'blocks' that I have been rambling about. In the east, and in the past in the west, these blocks have been family units (or clans). Post enlightenment, they are ideological bodies. Identity groups, what have you.

Another idea I would like to remember is the conflicting nature of two quotes. One Jeffersonian, the other Hu Jintao. Jefferson wanted us to remember that the tree of liberty must be replenished from time to time with the blood of patriots. Revolutionaries. Etc.
Mr. Hu has professed that he would like China's ascendancy into the global community, and indeed to the top of the global community, to be a 'peaceful rise'. Perhaps I have been wrong in my love for peace. In my reflection on world history, there really has not been much progress in human political philosophy since the very earliest ages of empire. There is indeed a driving force of constant human nature which cycles its way through history. The only major development I can think on right now is the enlightenment, and development of humanism. Individual liberty is not a foregone conclusion in any sense. Historically, it is unique, and perhaps precious. But if this is the case, how does our freedom jive with our nature? Or are we at experiencing, as a brother of mine recently said "western civilization going insane"?