Nov 10

The Fall of the Berlin Wall on our Mind…

Written by Allen on Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 at 2:55 am
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The Fall of the Berlin some 20 years ago is again on the mind of many. According to the NYTimes, “[t]he historical legacy of 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the cold war thawed, is as political as the upheavals of that decisive year.”

For many in the West, the events of 1989 represents the ultimate triumph of the West over East – of democratic, capitalistic liberalism over communist authoritarianism. Many envisioned that we were entering an “End of History.” Writing in 1989, Francis Fukuyama (a professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University) wrote:

The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. In the past decade, there have been unmistakable changes in the intellectual climate of the world’s two largest communist countries, and the beginnings of significant reform movements in both. But this phenomenon extends beyond high politics and it can be seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture in such diverse contexts as the peasants’ markets and color television sets now omnipresent throughout China, the cooperative restaurants and clothing stores opened in the past year in Moscow, the Beethoven piped into Japanese department stores, and the rock music enjoyed alike in Prague, Rangoon, and Tehran.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. This is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affair’s yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in. the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run.

THE power of the liberal idea would seem much less impressive if it had not infected the largest and oldest culture in Asia, China. The simple existence of communist China created an alternative pole of ideological attraction, and as such constituted a threat to liberalism. But the past fifteen years have seen an almost total discrediting of Marxism-Leninism as an economic system. Beginning with the famous third plenum of the Tenth Central Committee in 1978, the Chinese Communist party set about decollectivizing agriculture for the 800 million Chinese who still lived in the countryside. The role of the state in agriculture was reduced to that of a tax collector, while production of consumer goods was sharply increased in order to give peasants a taste of the universal homogenous state and thereby an incentive to work. The reform doubled Chinese grain output in only five years, and in the process created for Deng Xiaoping a solid political base from which he was able to extend the reform to other parts of the economy. Economic Statistics do not begin to describe the dynamism, initiative, and openness evident in China since the reform began.

Important as these changes in China have been, however, it is developments in the Soviet Union – the original “homeland of the world proletariat” – that have put the final nail in the coffin of the Marxist-Leninist alternative to liberal democracy.

In the political sphere, the proposed changes to the Soviet constitution, legal system, and party rules amount to much less than the establishment of a liberal state. Gorbachev has spoken of democratization primarily in the sphere of internal party affairs, and has shown little intention of ending the Communist party’s monopoly of power; indeed, the political reform seeks to legitimize and therefore strengthen the CPSU’S rule.[13] Nonetheless, the general principles underlying many of the reforms – that the “people” should be truly responsible for their own affairs, that higher political bodies should be answerable to lower ones, and not vice versa, that the rule of law should prevail over arbitrary police actions, with separation of powers and an independent judiciary, that there should be legal protection for property rights, the need for open discussion of public issues and the right of public dissent, the empowering of the Soviets as a forum in which the whole Soviet people can participate, and of a political culture that is more tolerant and pluralistic – come from a source fundamentally alien to the USSR’s Marxist-Leninist tradition, even if they are incompletely articulated and poorly implemented in practice.

The rise of religious fundamentalism in recent years within the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions has been widely noted. One is inclined to say that the revival of religion in some way attests to a broad unhappiness with the impersonality and spiritual vacuity of liberal consumerist societies. Yet while the emptiness at the core of liberalism is most certainly a defect in the ideology – indeed, a flaw that one does not need the perspective of religion to recognize[15] – it is not at all clear that it is remediable through politics. Modern liberalism itself was historically a consequence of the weakness of religiously-based societies which, failing to agree on the nature of the good life, could not provide even the minimal preconditions of peace and stability. In the contemporary world only Islam has offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to both liberalism and communism. But the doctrine has little appeal for non-Muslims, and it is hard to believe that the movement will take on any universal significance. Other less organized religious impulses have been successfully satisfied within the sphere of personal life that is permitted in liberal societies.

The other major “contradiction” potentially unresolvable by liberalism is the one posed by nationalism and other forms of racial and ethnic consciousness. It is certainly true that a very large degree of conflict since the Battle of Jena has had its roots in nationalism. Two cataclysmic world wars in this century have been spawned by the nationalism of the developed world in various guises, and if those passions have been muted to a certain extent in postwar Europe, they are still extremely powerful in the Third World. Nationalism has been a threat to liberalism historically in Germany, and continues to be one in isolated parts of “post-historical” Europe like Northern Ireland.

But it is not clear that nationalism represents an irreconcilable contradiction in the heart of liberalism. In the first place, nationalism is not one single phenomenon but several, ranging from mild cultural nostalgia to the highly organized and elaborately articulated doctrine of National Socialism. Only systematic nationalisms of the latter sort can qualify as a formal ideology on the level of liberalism or communism. The vast majority of the world’s nationalist movements do not have a political program beyond the negative desire of independence from some other group or people, and do not offer anything like a comprehensive agenda for socio-economic organization. As such, they are compatible with doctrines and ideologies that do offer such agendas. While they may constitute a source of conflict for liberal societies, this conflict does not arise from liberalism itself so much as from the fact that the liberalism in question is incomplete. Certainly a great deal of the world’s ethnic and nationalist tension can be explained in terms of peoples who are forced to live in unrepresentative political systems that they have not chosen.

While it is impossible to rule out the sudden appearance of new ideologies or previously unrecognized contradictions in liberal societies, then, the present world seems to confirm that the fundamental principles of sociopolitical organization have not advanced terribly far since 1806. Many of the wars and revolutions fought since that time have been undertaken in the name of ideologies which claimed to be more advanced than liberalism, but whose pretensions were ultimately unmasked by history. In the meantime, they have helped to spread the universal homogenous state to the point where it could have a significant effect on the overall character of international relations.

THE PASSING of Marxism-Leninism first from China and then from the Soviet Union will mean its death as a living ideology of world historical significance. For while there may be some isolated true believers left in places like Managua, Pyongyang, or Cambridge, Massachusetts, the fact that there is not a single large state in which it is a going concern undermines completely its pretensions to being in the vanguard of human history. And the death of this ideology means the growing “Common Marketization” of international relations, and the diminution of the likelihood of large-scale conflict between states.

This does not by any means imply the end of international conflict per se. For the world at that point would be divided between a part that was historical and a part that was post-historical. Conflict between states still in history, and between those states and those at the end of history, would still be possible. There would still be a high and perhaps rising level of ethnic and nationalist violence, since those are impulses incompletely played out, even in parts of the post-historical world. Palestinians and Kurds, Sikhs and Tamils, Irish Catholics and Walloons, Armenians and Azeris, will continue to have their unresolved grievances. This implies that terrorism and wars of national liberation will continue to be an important item on the international agenda. But large-scale conflict must involve large states still caught in the grip of history, and they are what appear to be passing from the scene.

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed. Such nostalgia, in fact, will continue to fuel competition and conflict even in the post-historical world for some time to come. Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its north Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.

Do you believe Fukuyama’s prognosis for the world to have been largely on target? Is our world now simply a bland brand of “economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands,” as Fukuyama called it?

Historically speaking, the fall of the Berlin Wall definitely had an effect of China – at least people’s perception of China.  In the midst of climate of uncertainty, the leaders of China under Deng called for a redoubling of efforts to continue economic and social reform and to not make such a big deal of ideology. In the West, many thought that the PRC would fall the way of the Soviet Union.

According to this article in the Economist,

In late 1989 China’s anxiety was so profound and its diplomacy in such confusion that it was difficult to imagine it would ever come to terms with the new world order. Fresh unrest seemed unavoidable. It was far from certain that Jiang Zemin, a little known leader who had been appointed party chief in the wake of the Tiananmen Square unrest, was on firm ground.

It was an appeal for cool heads by China’s 85-year-old senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, that helped China’s rulers weather the storm. In September 1989 he told them—in a speech only published years later—to be “calm, calm and again calm” and to carry on with China’s (mostly economic) reforms. Mr Deng’s advice, and its later elaboration, remains China’s guiding philosophy. Its central message is often summarised as taoguang yanghui, meaning “concealing one’s capabilities and biding one’s time”. Mr Deng wanted China to get on with building its economy and avoid ideological battles. The economy, in effect, would save the party.

David Shambaugh, an American scholar, wrote in a book published last year that China’s most important conclusion from communism’s ruin elsewhere was that an ossified party-state with a dogmatic ideology, entrenched elites, dormant party organisations and a stagnant economy was a certain recipe for collapse. The Chinese party, he argues, has been “very proactive” in reforming itself and adjusting its policies to new conditions.

When President Barack Obama comes to China on November 15th, he will diplomatically avoid any public suggestion that China’s party should disappear like its east European counterparts. In July, addressing a meeting of senior Chinese and American officials in Washington, Mr Obama noted that the tearing down of the Berlin Wall had unleashed a “rising tide of globalisation that continues to shape our world”. Perhaps to avoid embarrassing a crucial economic partner, Mr Obama did not mention the event’s impact on communism. Mr Deng’s strategy has paid off nicely.

Has China really been ideologically agnostic over the past 20 or so years? Or has it been developing its own ideology?

If China has been agnostic, has the agnosticism served China well? Or has China lost her soul, boringly pursuing its brand of “economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands,” as Fukuyama might call it?

For China to develop as a first-rate superpower and to gain the influence appropriate for a superpower, should China develop an alternative, competitive ideology to Western liberalism? Or has China – like the rest of the world – already accepted the basic premises of Western liberalism as Fukuyama argued 20 years ago?

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54 Responses to “The Fall of the Berlin Wall on our Mind…”

  1. Otto Kerner Says:

    I never had the impression that very many Americans think of the end of the Cold War as a victory of West over East. I think they think of it as a victory of good over evil. After all, aren’t East Germany, Poland, the Baltic countries, the Czech Republic, etc. in Eastern Europe? Were they defeated?

    Also, I never had the impression that very many people ever took Fukuyama seriously at the time, and almost nobody since Sep. 11, 2001.

  2. Wukailong Says:

    I recently read a book by David Shambaugh (who’s quoted in the second article mentioned above) on the development of the CCP – “China’s Communist Party – Atrophy and Adaptation,” and he mentions different phases in the CCP’s understanding of itself (or rather the climate inside the party). The period of 1989 to 1991 hardly saw much ideological development because of the position the hardliners enjoyed. I’m not sure exactly when Deng said these words, but it’s quite probable that he said it during these period, namely that even if only China continues to be a socialist country, one fifth of the world is still socialist.

    The leadership was terrified at first, especially after seeing what happened to Ceaucescu in Romania. The changes in the Soviet bloc were mostly seen as a plot by Western forces acting from without and Gorbachev from within. Only in the mid-nineties did this begin to change when there was a deeper analysis made of the problems in the Soviet Union. At the same time the idea that ideology as such was a bad thing began to be formed. The late 90s saw the first real phase of ideological adoption when the party began to investigate successful cases in non-socialist countries, such as Singapore. Still, the CCP has to maintain that it’s Marxist, and I wonder how they could successfully change that without jeopardizing their support. At the same time, using very loose interpretations of Marxism to justify just about anything also undermines credibility. It’s a bit like New Labour – it can go on for a while, but not forever.

    My main contention with Fukuyama is his view of the West as a unified whole. I would raise this objection with many Chinese writers as well. China has developed its own brand of market economy, as has many European countries, but it’s still a market economy. If China develops its own ideology, it will most probably be similar to Singapore – market economy, stress on education and perhaps a system of examination for state officials. I’m guessing wildly here, but that’s what seems most probable right now. I don’t think a country can decide to create an ideology, it will have to happen as a natural process. But it will accept one of the main tenets of Western liberalism, that is, the economic base.

    Here’s an interview with Fukuyama on how his ideas have changed after the war in Iraq:


  3. pug_ster Says:

    Even 20 years after the fall the Berlin Wall, the change of East Germany to a Market economy is not at its full potential. Unemployment in West Germany was at 8% while East Germany is twice that. West Germany companies avoid investing in East Germany because of its strict labor laws. Many people in East Germany educated wanted to eventually move to West Germany. West Germany have spent 1 trillion euros in rebuilding East Germany and spending money on the East. That said, it is better than 10 years, ago, maybe it will be better in the next 20 years.

    Democracy have existed in East Germany for 20 years yet economic prosperity hasn’t been as good as West Germany and I doubt that political change will help China either.

  4. Rhan Says:

    Hi Otto,
    “I never had the impression that very many people ever took Fukuyama seriously at the time”
    What about Samuel Huntington? Before and after Sep 11, 2001. Thanks.

  5. Allen Says:

    @WKL #2,

    Thanks for that link. It’s interesting to see how a neo-cons perspective has changed after the Bush years. Still, I believe those are minor changes. In my eyes, the dominant themes of Fukuyama’s views – of the triumph of the “rule of law should prevail over arbitrary police actions, with separation of powers and an independent judiciary, that there should be legal protection for property rights, the need for open discussion of public issues and the right of public dissent” – the thinking that democracy may not be a perfect form of governance, but it is the best form possible – remains still the dominant theme of international discourse (from the West) these days.

    I understand there are differences between countries in the West, but on the fundamental issues of Western liberalism, do you really think there are differences?

    By the way – I just found this article from the global times on our very topic. It does not contain a lot of details other than the observation that China is still searching – and that this is definitely not the end of history as we know it. But I thought I’d point it out.


  6. Wukailong Says:

    @Allen (#5): “I understand there are differences in the West, but on the fundamental issues of Western liberalism do you really think there are differences?”

    It depends a bit on what is meant by Western liberalism, but if we go by Fukuyama’s definition you mentioned above, that “rule of law should prevail over arbitrary police actions, with separation of powers and an independent judiciary, that there should be legal protection for property rights, the need for open discussion of public issues and the right of public dissent,” then I’ll agree it’s been the dominant framework since the Cold War ended.

    However, there is a catch here. I wonder if the economic model is deliberately left out by Fukuyama and others because that would make it seem less unique. I also think that rule of law and legal protection of property rights, while not currently well enforced in China, is what the government strives for. There is also open discussion on many public issues. If China constitutes a new model, it’s mainly based on the following:

    * State ownership still strong
    * No public dissent
    * Judiciary and army under party control
    * No separation of powers

    Except the third point, this looks very much like the Singaporean ideal to me. The point I’m trying to make is that, simply by having a market economy, a country has to a large extent accepted a “Western liberal” model. In the future other models might evolve, but currently this is not so different from Europe or the US.

  7. justkeeper Says:

    @Wukailong: If what’s described in that book is true, it may demonstrate a point: CCP was still 70% a party of peasants and bandits at the end of 1980’s which doesn’t even have access to first-hand information of the European politics. Here is a article showing how opposed Britain and France leaders are to the German reunification:


    Now here is a few points I believe may be relevant to the understanding of their geopolitical thinking:
    1. A unified Germany may trigger instability in the local political framework because:
    (1).East Germany had a large standing army and probably more belligerent leaders than West Germany, it was uncertain whether GDR political figures would be able to exert influence on German policies when the political future
    of the unified Germany was undecided.
    (2).The annexation of GDR by FRG may deteriorate the living standard of a lof of the German people, such deterioration is also one of the causes of German support of Hitler before WWII.
    (3).The national pride stimulated by the unification may increase nationalism.
    (4). The Allied force control of Germany will probably have to end.

    2.It’s also important to note that the personal experience of Thatcher and Mitterand may have shaped their vision, growing up in a Europe which was excessively nationalistic and having living memory of WWII may make them always suspicious of the prospective of a strong and unified Germany.

  8. FOARP Says:

    The fall of the Berlin wall, even though it happened when I was only nine years old, remains a wonderful memory in my mind. I was only nine, but I was old enough to understand that the confrontation between the USSR and the Western Powers threatened a horrific nuclear war – a threat which vanished as if had never been in the years after ’89. I latter came to understand the true joy of the occasion through my friends who grew up in the Berlin, and through visiting the city (which remains a weirdly schizophrenic city). 1989 was not the end of history, but it marked the end of a distinct era in European history in which the continent was divided between armed camps, and the advent of our current climate of largely peaceful co-operation, disturbed only by the Eastern autocracies, Caucasian (the mountains, only Americans describe whites as ‘Caucasian’) turbulence, and the Balkan farrago of 1991-2000.

  9. hohhot Says:

    what are those world leaders celebrating in Berlin, the end of history? or merely the reunification of German nation? probably the former. if history is mainly about consensus, China by controlling and conditioning the media and public opinion is generating a huge consesus, hence is creating a new history, as Global Time editorial claims.

  10. TonyP4 Says:

    WW2 split many countries into half. Germany and Vietnam reunited. Hope China and Korea would be next in our life time. The unification usually has a big price to pay.

  11. Jimmy Says:

    looking back after 20 years, I think the fall of Berlin Wall is not a simple triumph of ideology, it is rather the triumph of Europe over the superpowers and the rise of Europe as an independent global power.

  12. Raj Says:

    I agree with FOARP. The Fall of the Berlin Wall should be celebrated because it ended the Cold War. Not just the threat of nuclear annihilation went but also all those disasterous proxy wars. As one of the Economist articles said, receding fear of Communism in South Africa led to Mandela being released from prison.

    Sure, many Russians bemoan the loss of presige that went with the end of the Soviet Union, but then Eastern Europe and the Baltic States had a very different experience of it. Plus I think they simply misunderstand why the Soviet Union collapsed (because it was just failing rather than because of outside powers pushing it) – or they don’t care because they in particular had safe jobs.

    As for China, it has clearly accepted capitalism. Politically it hasn’t made its mind up about an ideology, even if the CCP would like to pretend that it has made China’s decision for it.

  13. Allen Says:

    @Raj, FOARP,

    The NYTimes article I linked in the beginning of the post included the following:

    In Central Europe itself, there are serious divisions over 1989, symbolized by the long and bitter rivalry in the Czech Republic between Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus, between a softer collective polity, anchored by Europe, and a fierce individualist liberalism reluctant to give up sovereignty to the European Union that was so recently regained from the Soviet collapse.

    In the eyes of many in the old West, the events of 1989 enlarged but also diluted the European Union. The union has struggled ever since over how to deepen and solidify the alliance. “There is a kind of melancholia toward Europe for part of the French, because in this whole, one has to negotiate with everyone,” Mr. Védrine said.

    For Mr. Garton Ash, the divide remains between Western and Eastern Europe. “We hoped as Europeans that 1989 would be a second founding moment for the European project, and that this would become a pan-European memory and a shared cause for celebration,” he said. “But that hasn’t happened. ‘Eastern Europe’ still exists in the collective memory and we haven’t purged it.”

    Many people in the East, of course, suffered from 1989 and the sudden, even brutal switch to capitalism. “They feel the transition was very tough on them and feel cheated and even betrayed, and are open to conspiracy theories about shady deals done at the round tables,” Mr. Garton Ash said.

    “It’s not like the way in Britain we remember V-E Day,” when Nazi Germany surrendered, he said. “It’s really quite divided.”

    In short, there seems still to be a East-West divide in people’s consciousness. Do you attribute that merely to the pain associated with economic reform, or are there fundamental ideological / political differences at work here?

  14. real name Says:

    recommended film about german reunification:

  15. Allen Says:

    I have a dumb question to ask everyone here about what capitalism or market economy means – especially when we say it is a Western construct or reflect Western values.

    When I think of market economy, I think of an economy where the production and price of goods and services are based on supply and demand. To me, supply and demand seems to be a natural phenomenon. It’s something that occurs naturally in feudal societies, mercantile, even bartering societies. Why is this a Western concept?

    When I think of capitalism, I think of a system where economic activities are controlled by those who own capital – and where accumulation of wealth in terms of capital is not only allowed, but incentivized – where those who control economic activities often gain political influence. Again, is this fundamentally a Western concept?

    I know this is oversimplified – but it helps me get a hold of why market economy and capitalism are attributed to the West.

  16. real name Says:

    west is opposite to east (or red, or soviet, …)
    there was decided build new, planned and state controlled economy (crisis-less)
    (anyway small private business at lest in central europe was possible)

  17. justkeeper Says:

    The group of people who want political freedom is not always the majority group, but it’s always the most vocal one.So all you hear is voice from these people.

  18. real name Says:

    sure always?
    it recalled me

  19. FOARP Says:

    @Allen – As with most Brits, I’m given to thinking of the continent as ‘over there’ and not distinguishing too much between east and west, so this is a hard question which you should probably better ask a mainland European – the nearest Chinese analogy I can think of would be asking a native Taiwanese about the difference between north and south China. The most I can say is simply to note that, whilst an Eastern European politician is yet to join the ranks of the EU grandees (Prodi, Blair, Giscard d’Estaing, Kinnock – not exactly a trustworthy bunch), they have been active in the debates over the Lisbon treaty and do seem to have a voice in Europe. As an aside, I think that Timothy Garton Ash’s book “History of the Present” is one of the best books written on the fall of communism and its immediate aftermath, and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to study this period.

  20. Ted Says:

    @Allen #15:

    “When I think of market economy, I think of an economy where the production and price of goods and services are based on supply and demand. To me, supply and demand seems to be a natural phenomenon. It’s something that occurs naturally in feudal societies, mercantile, even bartering societies. Why is this a Western concept?

    When I think of capitalism, I think of a system where economic activities are controlled by those who own capital – and where accumulation of wealth in terms of capital is not only allowed, but incentivized – where those who control economic activities often gain political influence. Again, is this fundamentally a Western concept?”

    I think the attributions to the west came about during the Cold War when Russia, China and other countries, deliberately moved away from this system. The notion was reinforced by propaganda on both sides.

  21. Wukailong Says:

    Actually, I would say that all ideologies contain something deeply human (and not just Western) – otherwise they wouldn’t exist. But I digress.

    “Market economy” might be a too broad assertion, but capitalism, at least the version of capitalism that is popular and gaining ground around the world today, was created in Western countries and for this reason has Western baggage. The specific legal framework for companies, stock markets, insurance and the way the government handles the economy are all part of how capitalism developed. If it had developed in another place, it might be similar in many ways, but I’m sure core characteristics would be different.

    I think we’re taking capitalism and/or market economy for granted, and thus think that its acceptance anywhere is natural, whereas democracy and rule of law are not as accepted and thus construed as being unique to the place they originated (the West). I try to apply the uniqueness concept to all of these things, including science. Not to say that other places didn’t have learning and scientific thinking, but the specific way we do research today also has a Western flavor.

    Also, there’s the question of socialism and communism… But I’ll stop here.

  22. Wukailong Says:

    @real name (#18): “Freedom can go to hell” – that’s a funny one. 🙂

  23. Jason Says:

    I have a question for all you Brits on here: Why did Margaret Thatcher opposes the fall of Berlin Wall?

  24. Wukailong Says:

    Thinking about Jason’s question, I remember reading about the muted and vary response from Swedish politicians at the time. In Israel, a lot of people were terrified by the prospect of a united Germany. I didn’t know that Thatcher opposed it, but I can understand why many other Europeans might have opinions due to all uncertainties.

    In the same vein, China might not be interested in Korean unification, at least not in the short run:


    Of course one might wonder if Reagan really meant that he wanted Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” or if it was more of a publicity thing.

  25. Otto Kerner Says:


    We should distinguish between a phenomenon itself and ideas about that phenomenon. One might compare the case of physics: physics as we know it was developed in Europe, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the laws of physics were inoperative throughout the world prior to that. Likewise, markets and capital accumulation have been occurring all over the world for a long time, but certain ideas about them have become associated with Western thought. The difference is that, in physics, there is a clear consensus, and so what used to be “western physics” is now generally accepted. With regard to economics, though, there are various competing ideas, especially when you enter the terrain of politics and folk economics, as opposed to academic economics.

    There’s also the angle of legal institutions, which Wukailong brought up.

  26. Jason Says:


    We do not want a united Germany. This would lead to a change to postwar borders, and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security.

    -Margaret Thatcher



    I was dumbfounded by this comment when I first know about this and I was wondering if any Brits know why Thatcher used fearmonger-ing statement for her opposition.

  27. FOARP Says:

    @Jason – Short answer: Ten long years of blood, sweat, tears and toil. Europe as it stood in 1988, whilst restive, was free of international conflict. German reunification represented a threat to that, one which did not come to pass, but a definite one all the less. The Soviet Union imploded, but an explosion was by no means impossible.

  28. justkeeper Says:

    @Jason: I present my thinking on Thatcher’s reluctance to see a unified Germany on comment #7.

  29. Raj Says:

    Allen (13)

    In short, there seems still to be a East-West divide in people’s consciousness. Do you attribute that merely to the pain associated with economic reform, or are there fundamental ideological / political differences at work here?

    Sorry, the bit of the article talks about different things. Could you clarify what divide you’re talking about?

  30. hzzz Says:

    Someone wrote that people stopped listening to Fukuyama after 9/11. That is understandable, because Fukuyama is a neo-con who deviated from the blind neo-con support of the Iraq War. As the result the left still sees him as neocon while the neocons and right see him as a traitor.

    Interesting article though, especially towards the end where Fukuyama wrote:

    “This implies that terrorism and wars of national liberation will continue to be an important item on the international agenda. But large-scale conflict must involve large states still caught in the grip of history, and they are what appear to be passing from the scene.”

    This is interesting because back in the cold war days (and apparently today as well), the “intellectuals” thought that once the cold war is over and marxism/leninism/communism is conquered there would be world peace, save the few pockets of violence in regions which have been in conflicts throughout history. Fast forward to 2009, the biggest wars which are going on today involve capitalistic greed (Iraq War) and religious/cultural resistance towards “western culture” (Afghanistan). You get the familiar players (US and Brits) and the familiar propaganda (we must free from the rag heads from oppression). Heck you even get the same rhetorics flying around, except this time the enemy is Islam.

    At the end of the day, people will always find reasons to start up wars because there is money and glory to be made from conflicts. Afterall, what are the folks from the Western defense industry going to do if world peace is achieved? The useful idiots are those who in the West who believe that foreign people actually want to be forcibly “liberated” by tanks and unmanned planes.

  31. Wukailong Says:

    Leaving the East/West question aside, I think it’s quite obvious that we haven’t seen the end of history. Even if all countries became liberal democracies, it’s quite possible that there are future political systems that can replace them, systems we can’t imagine today. Since I don’t believe that all countries will become liberal democracies the next half-century (though it is possible China might), what will then come to pass? Some guesses:

    * The Western world will stop seeing terrorism as the greatest threat and begin focusing on resources (or the lack thereof) instead. At least one new environmental problem that has no simple solution will be found, and it will be seen as a doomsday scenario. In SF movies, aliens will warn the human race about this particular problem.

    * Culturally, the world will become much more Chinese and possibly Indian. This will mostly be seen in movies and books, but in the middle of the century it will also spread political values

    * Latin America finally get their act together… or Africa. Or at least they will create a new ideology and new alliances.

    * North Korea and Cuba both begin with Chinese-style reforms. This will probably happen early, around 2020.

    I can see at least four major players creating new ideologies: the Arabic world, Africa/Latin America, the West and China/India. It will certainly not be a unipolar world like today.

  32. Wukailong Says:

    Here’s an interesting guess on what the world could have looked like in 2068 made in the 80s:


    “I worked on it from 1986 to early 1991. If it had been published then, I’d probably be mildly notorious, because things keep happening that I predicted. I had the Soviet Union breaking up– though I expected it would take decades, not a few years. I also foresaw a terrorist attack from a Southern nation that would provoke the US to retaliatory war and internal repression. My description of 21st century electronic media was also pretty close to the Internet, though I missed the astonishing democratization of information brought by the Web.”

    I think some of this is possible, especially a Northern and a Southern bloc.

  33. Allen Says:

    @WKL #31,

    Interesting thoughts. I wonder why you lump China/India together into one potential ideology block though. From a Chinese perspective, I can see that India culture has definitely affected China a lot – mostly through the teachings of Buddhism.

    However, in the modern era, what does China and India really share together besides being both located in Asia and being developing countries? Perhaps someone should start a thread about how China and India are really closer than we think!

  34. Wukailong Says:

    @Allen (#33): I don’t have a very strong foundation other than my feelings, namely, that India apart from its obviously Western institutions ought to be closer to China in values than it is to the US and Europe. However, I realize I don’t have a strong case for these ideas, so let’s change the possible future ideological blocs into:

    the Arabic world, Africa/Latin America, the West and China.

  35. linho Says:

    #33, #34:

    Ancient India and modern India are two totally DIFFERENT place, both on population composition and indigenous cultures.

  36. TonyP4 Says:

    # Modern India and modern China are both developing countries with China ahead of industrial progress for last 20 or so years.

    # India and China are both respected ancient civilizations. They were on the top of the world for many years in many different periods. Chinese have written history recording better than India. Both declined in the last 300 years and were humiliated by the westerners.

  37. justkeeper Says:

    I think China is better on the “hard” side, while India is better on the “soft” side.

  38. dewang Says:

    Interesting discussions…

    Some times the “West” get too much credit for “democracy” however this concept means to each person. China had the scholar official examination system which is arguably one of the most enlightened policy any society could have, and in a practical sense, its super democratic. This was something the West adopted.

    My gut feeling is at a diplomatic level between governments, they view priority and definition of “democracy” differently than the campaigners.

    Regrading India and China:

    As developing nations, they usually vote together on many issues – for example, on human rights. They also vote together on international treaties which favor developing nations vs. treaties which protect developed nation advantages.

    On environmental issues, due to their sheer numbers, they obviously will want to assert the rights of individual citizens and thus “per capita” is a relevant concern for them.

    Anyways, the classic dichotomy in humanity has always been between the rich and the poor.

    As soon as China feels like she’s a “developed” country, then I think the “ideological” difference between India and China will widen.

  39. Wukailong Says:

    I think the discussion on whether an idea or institution is “Western” or not comes up because some groups want to discredit it. It’s a bit like the discussion on whether something is capitalist or socialist, like Deng said, 姓资姓社 (whether it’s name is capitalism or socialism). Today there’s a lot of ideological stuff that we could call 姓西姓中 (whether it’s called Western or Chinese); if something was successfully tested in China it must somehow be Chinese at the core, because only essentially Chinese things work in China.

    @dewang: “Some times the “West” get too much credit for “democracy” however this concept means to each person. China had the scholar official examination system which is arguably one of the most enlightened policy any society could have, and in a practical sense, its super democratic. This was something the West adopted.”

    I agree that Western countries get too much credit for democracy, but I also wonder if this is because so many seem to think it’s Western at the core, rather than a sort of political technology.

    But how was the examination system adopted in the West? From what I understand the great difference this created in society was that there basically was no hereditary aristocracy like in Europe, where the power of the aristocracy was only challenged with the advent of capitalism. I wouldn’t call the examination system democratic, but it was certainly one of equal opportunity.

  40. dewang Says:

    Hi Wukailong, #39,

    I read somewhere the examination system had a huge impact in Great Britain. In a casual conversation a friend mentioned this had an impact in Germany. (I’ll have to do some research.) I agree with your view of the difference about no hereditary aristocracy like Europe – which in my view was a big benefit to China. Don’t you think the examination system automatically make the rulers much more representative of all corners of society than if the rulers based on hereditary? I guess it further depends on our definition of democracy (again) about representation. 🙂

    Nowadays especially with the Internet, ideas travel fast. Its more valuable to see who can reduce ideas to practice given certain sets of conditions.

  41. real name Says:

    i also would like to know more about
    it seems to me in ‘contact times’ was this system already basis for creation of too many candidates (mostly from rich families – what is probably quite natural because of price for education) where finally chosen were often people with best ‘recommendations’ (do i remember well? Timothy Brook Commerce and Culture in Ming China)

  42. Wukailong Says:

    @dewang (#40): That’s interesting. I know there was a time from the late 17th to the at least the middle of the 18th century when European intellectuals looked up to China and the lessons it could bring for Europe. In the 19th century this changed completely and the country was instead seen as backwards.

    I agree the examination system was much better than having a system of hereditary aristocracy. Of course, like real name points out, it could be corrupted by the rich, just like any other system… 😉

  43. Nimrod Says:

    Wukailong Says:

    November 13th, 2009 at 10:02 am
    @dewang (#40): That’s interesting. I know there was a time from the late 17th to the at least the middle of the 18th century when European intellectuals looked up to China and the lessons it could bring for Europe. In the 19th century this changed completely and the country was instead seen as backwards.

    For a long time I found this sort of change difficult to reconcile until I remembered the vastness of the historical timescale and how quickly things change. We can clearly see that within one or two generations of Chinese, for instance, infatuation with everything Western can give away to the complete opposite view. All it would take is for the relative powers to change, so it is understandable that China could quickly go from being admired to being seen as contemptibly backward in one century — a cautionary tale for all civilizations perhaps…

  44. dewang Says:

    Hi real name, Wukailong,
    Yes. Money talks and the good old 关系 is powerful and pervasive. I think they pooped equally on all systems and its only the modern day law based societies seem to have developed stronger immunity against them.

    Hi Nimrod,
    Very true. When you think you are on top of the hill, you are too self absorbed to think there’s something to learn from others. Individuals are capable of learning this concept, but societies collectively have always failed to grasp it. I suppose the first society to be able to maintain this learning may enjoy perpetual advantaged standards of living and so forth. Or perhaps by design, this is a way for various societies to take turn carrying the torch for humanity for a century or two at a time. 🙂

  45. Wukailong Says:

    1979, the year the world really changed:


    Interesting reading.

  46. dewang Says:

    Interesting read, Wukailong. Regardless, I thought the fall of the Berlin Wall helped heal a division which was a result of the Cold War. For the very long term perspective, its probably better for the whole of German people. That also sets a precedence for places like North and South Korea. Perhaps some day that’s a possibility.

    The Niall Ferguson article – hmm – the U.S. is going to remain the sole super power for a very long time to come. In many areas, its unmatched. The main problem with this is the tendency with some to want to solve issues on the world stage with this might. That tend to be a big distraction against those who wants to solve issues in a proper way.

  47. Wukailong Says:

    @dewang: “In many areas, its unmatched. The main problem with this is the tendency with some to want to solve issues on the world stage with this might. That tend to be a big distraction against those who wants to solve issues in a proper way.”

    I agree. Also, to me it seems like he’s just projecting the current state of affairs far into the future. Even if the US remains the sole superpower for several decades, its might is still reduced when other countries rise. It’s not that it isn’t militarily strong enough to fight these wars, I think it’s rather the political will that’s lacking; it will be even more lacking when other countries get more of a say.

  48. Steve Says:

    @ DeWang & WKL: I also agree. I know Niall Ferguson is some big shot Harvard professor but so far just about everything I’ve read from him, I disagree with. None of what he writes fits in with my experience in China.

    Personally, I think after 8 years of the neo-cons, the “might makes right” approach has seen its day. The US public is war weary and wants the troops home. My guess is that most of them will be by the 2012 elections. WKL, as you said, the political will is lacking. Not only that, but I think theory has been replaced by experience and the decision makers are a lot wiser these days than they used to be. At least I hope they are…

  49. FOARP Says:

    @Steve – Niall Ferguson is not a serious historian, that’s not just what I think, but what a hell of a lot of reviewers have concluded, here’s some examples:

    “The House of Rothschild remains Ferguson’s only major work to have received prizes and wide acclaim from other historians. Research restrains sweeping, absolute claims: Rothschild is the last book Ferguson wrote for which he did original archival work, and his detailed knowledge of his subject meant that his arguments for it couldn’t be too grand.”

    Benjamin Wallace-Wells

    “Half-truths and fanciful speculation, shorn of academic protocols such as footnotes, can sound donnishly authoritative . . . . . . The book accompanying Ferguson’s current Channel 4 series on 20th-century history, The War of the World, tells us that people “seem predisposed” to “trust members of their own race”, “those who are drawn to ‘the Other’ may … be atypical in their sexual predilections” and that “when a Chinese woman marries a European man, the chances are relatively high … that only the first child they conceive will be viable.” Not far from the pseudo-scientific nonsense that once made it possible to punish interracial relationships.”

    Priyamvada Gopal

    “Consider these confident predictions:
    (1) p. 458: “If the British Expeditionary Force had never been sent, there is no question that the Germans would have won the war.
    (2) p. 459: “Had Britain stood aside even for a matter of weeks continental Europe could therefore have been transformed into something not wholly unlike the European Union we know today but without the massive contraction in British overseas power entailed by the fighting of the two world wars.”

    How can we evaluate the strength or weakness of these predictions? The first rules out much of the literature on the logistical impossibility of the Schlieffen plan, and on the surprising willingness of French conscripts to bleed for the Republic, and to die by the tens of thousands for it. The British Expeditionary Force did not stop the German invasion of France; it was a minor element in what was in 1914 largely a Franco-German bloodbath. But these are minor quibbles. The problem is more fundamental: it is the confident statement of a prediction which goes beyond any set of evidence known to us now.”

    Jay Winter

    “it’s bad enough to have people resurrecting 75-year old fallacies about macroeconomics right in the middle of a crisis in which knowledge is our only defense against catastrophe. What’s really bad, however, is when they do so believing that these fallacies are deep insights that have somehow eluded those of us who have, you know, been studying these issues for a while, and saw some (not all) of this crisis in advance.”

    Paul Krugman on Ferguson’s wildly ignorant views on economics

    Despite Ferguson’s reputation as some sort of historical genius in the US, he is not nearly so popular in the UK, and my suspicion is that this is because people in the UK both know more about European history and are less given to viewing history as a grand story which delivers specific policy choices for today. In fact, my suspicion is that Ferguson owes much of his popularity in the US to the air of British intellectualism that he lends to views which are otherwise staples of the US right-wing. A friend of mine helped put together a couple of documentaries (pure paranoid fantasies in both my and my friend’s opinion) by the director Mitch Anderson (born in Romania to Romanian parents, so I guess that’s not his real name) in which Niall Ferguson featured – at $5,000 dollars per short interview. You can check them out here:



    (Warning – don’t click on that last link if you are allergic to fake British accents)

    The man has, I think, poor taste in who he associates himself with, particularly in his association with the previous US government.

  50. Steve Says:

    @ FOARP: Glad to hear I’m not the only one who thinks he’s all wet. American media has the unfortunate tendency to discuss an issue by bringing in two guests from opposite sides of the spectrum, rather than two guests that actually know what they are talking about, with occasional exceptions. It seems once an “expert” has appeared a couple of times on TV regarding an issue, they become the de facto “source” for that side of the issue and appear ad nauseum. FOX News is particularly guilty of using the same people over and over again, with many of them having very limited credibility in their field, making them even more beholden to FOX News to keep them in the limelight and so they become very supportive of the FOX position.

    I hope to hell this guy doesn’t have tenure at Harvard so they can correct their mistake in hiring him.

  51. Allen Says:

    I personally don’t see anything particularly wrong with Ferguson. I don’t defer to him to be some sort of a sage, but he does know what he is talking about – at least to the same extent that most others think they know what they are talking about.

    Ferguson is a good writer – and a good talker. His ideas are interesting. His views about China’s rise is that the U.S. should engage but should be somewhat wary – just in case. At this stage, I don’t think he’s particularly wrong; he is just too skeptical. Time will prove he is wrong. But him being wrong does not mean his ideas should be summarily dismissed.

  52. FOARP Says:

    @Allen – I have a low threshold for people who seem to be talking about stuff which they don’t really understand (yeah, I know, but I’m also pretty good at forgiving myself!). Ferguson trips this pretty much every time he gets onto the subject of China. Yes, he’s far from the worst or only person writing about China because it has become important, rather than because they actually know enough to write about it, but there it is. And I find the stuff mentioned in the Priyamvada Gopal quote above pretty unforgivable.

  53. Wukailong Says:

    Since I was the one who linked to Ferguson, I guess I should point out that I found the main tenets of his article interesting and probably correct. I don’t believe that 1989 was just a surface phenomenon, though. The world would have been very different without it (imagine a growing, capitalist China in a Cold War setting). What I do agree with, and what I think is underestimated, is the start of the Chinese reforms in 1979. The elections of Thatcher and Reagan might be milestones, I’m not sure, but they do correspond to the unprecedented election of a right-wing government in Sweden, so I’m inclined to believe that it was part of a larger neo-liberal wave sweeping over Western Europe.

    I didn’t know anything about his credentials (or lack thereof), but in this case I evaluated the article on its own merits and found it so-so. There were some nuggets in there, and I think the argument about 1979 as the year when the world changed stands.


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