Review of "On China"

As President Nixon’s National Security Advisor and interlocutor in the process that helped China transition from inward-directed autarky to export-oriented international player on the world stage, it is of no surprise that Henry Kissinger’s On China presents a compelling account of the country’s history that is both fond and insightful. Some reviewers of the book have called it excessively idiosyncratic, but considering the wealth of history lived by the author and the credentials of the presented by the team that helped him research it I don’t find this to be an issue. Kissinger frames their history prior to his dealings with Chinese diplomats not so much to give a total history of China, but to saliently frame the political issues that relate to the initiation and maintenance of positive diplomatic relations.

Kissinger views both the US and China as countries with national perspectives defined by their exceptionalism, though in drastically different ways. Whereas America imagines that it’s set of democratic values are eternal, judges other countries according to it’s particular moralistic standards of the moment and in a missionary sense seeks to replicate it’s values in other places, China doesn’t hold that it’s values are applicable anyplace else. The actual geo-political results of such a belief system backed by their economic dominance are substantial. Prior to the European’s development of heavy naval warfare, the Chinese were the dominant world power that were so self-content and uneasier to impose themselves on others that they deconstructed their naval fleet following a Mediterranean tour where they gave out wealth to the ports they stopped at as they were under the impression that there was nothing outside of the Middle Kingdom that was not already there. This is not to say that they weren’t afflicted by barbarian, semi-nomadic hordes, but that prior to their feeling the effects of industrial revolution age weaponry, there was nothing that particularly interested them and foreigners were to only be admitted to the country at certain sites at certain times of the year.

The Chinese long sense of history of provided a framework for patience and endurance of many terrible circumstances while their particular geographic position helped imbue specific conceptual insights that is perhaps best seen in the game of Go, a game that makes Chess seem positively sophomoric. On this latter point Kissinger points out similar insights as Deleuze & Guattari, but also includes throughout this diplomatic and political history of China with great effect. On the former issue we also see throughout how it is that the economic and political maneuverings of the CCP were in part informed by the wealth of their cultural and Confucian past. For instance Kissinger explains that within the Confucian principles that have guided China’s course for thousands of years, until the century of humiliation and their anti-imperialist struggles, the nation’s “spiritual fulfillment was a task not so much of revelation or liberation but patient recovery of forgotten principles of self-restraint. The goal was rectification, not progress” (14). The writings of Confucius emerged from a period in which China was again being reunified following a breakup of it’s historical land mass – a similar set of circumstance prior to Mao’s unification of the majority of China. Additionally, Kissinger tell of several instances wherein classical Chinese literature is used to inform political policy and states that “Mao owed more to Sun Tzu than to Lenin” (102). One such example tells how several disgraced General’s justified their position on whether or not to attempt to open to America due to the Chinese fear of China by referencing classic books then banned due to the Cultural Revolution. Amusingly enough, having based their sense of geopolitics on balance of forces model of the Westphalian system, it was these types of decision-making processes that made it so difficult for Russia and the United States to understand their strategic maneuvers.

The descriptions of the various summits designed to normalize relations between the country as fascinating.The manner in which Kissinger describes how a “communist” country was able to reconcile with a “capitalist” one, the shifting alignments amongst countries in South East Asia, Stalin’s masterful strategies for influencing Asia and how it is that the Chinese were able to use small acts to obtain large benefits are just several aspects of the modern period worth highlighting. Furthermore, in this period the 2011 J.P. Morgan Summer Reading List sticker on the font cover of my book began to make more sense to me (I bought the book used from Amazon). How to deal with the management of various crises as well as strategies for continuing fruitful, productive relationships despite temporary and essential set-backs is something that Kissinger can go into at moments without appearing didactic but simply helpful. Additionally, the section on Deng Xiaoping’s assumption of power can be seen as a compelling call to the benefits of reform for the purpose of unleashing creative energies and destroying the old, limiting prohibitions that left the country in poverty for the sake of ideological purity.

One of the surprising aspects of the text for me was the respect and deference towards which Kissinger displays towards the Chinese communists, especially Zhou Enlai and Mao Tse-Tung. Mao, like Stalin, is still a bogeyman in many a political circle but, unlike Stalin, does not receive the Kissinger’s approbation. One could say that this could be explained away by Kissinger’s concerns towards maintaining positive diplomatic relations following his having spent a significant portion of his career on creating and sustaining meaningful dialogue – however I do not think this to be the case. I claim this as Kissinger does highlight what he sees as some of Mao’s negative qualities, such as his circuitous and philosophic manner of speech, yet simultaneously claims that it was his fearlessness towards nuclear weapons that kept other countries from invading, that the high death toll during the three difficult years was not the fault of the CCP nor even exceptional in the history of the region and that to an extent the conflicts of the Cultural Revolution were impossible to avoid unless China wanted to risk another civil war of greater intensity than before. Scene such as Mao’s entreating of Khrushchev to discuss the return of portion of China taken by Russia with him in a swimming pool rather than a meeting room are evokes moments that are humanizing and humorous, as Khrushchev, who could not swim, was forced to wear water wings.

Two final notes partially related to On China. Firstly, this is the second book of Kissinger’s I’ve read and I must admit that like Diplomacy, Kissinger again shows here that he is an excellent stylist as Churchill was. Kissinger’s pre-revolutionary history of the China is, despite it’s brevity, a paean to Chinese culture that unlike few other books made me feel ashamed for knowing so little about the oldest human civilization. I knew various aspects about it, such as it being the first institutional meritocracy, their non-expansionist politics, etc. but admit that after reading this I yearn to learn more. While I’ve no intentions in becoming a Sinologist, and will likely read Red Star Over China, which currently sits on my shelf, prior to anything else due to my desire to now learn more about their re-independence I must admit what little bit I learned here about Mandarin culture makes me want learn more, be it by reading the classical Chinese novel such as Outlaws of the Marsh, Journey to the West, A Dream of Red Mansions, and Three Kingdoms or some other text that I’ve yet to pinpoint.

Review of "Making Seafood Sustainable"

Mansel Blackford’s monograph Making Seafood Sustainable: American Experiences in Global Perspective is primarily a history of the development of the American regulatory regimes in the fisheries of the Pacific Northwest. That such a development occurred while the truck transportation, airline, rail industries were being deregulated by may seem unusual, but is explained by different set of conditions composing their industry. For one, the increased capacity of new, technologically advanced boats following World War II to bring in and even process ever larger catches with greater efficiency was a new force. To speak to the novelty of such an occurrence Blackford quotes a marine biologist who says that “the twentieth century heralded an escalation in fishing intensity that is unprecedented in the history of the oceans, and modern fishing technologies leave fish no place to hide” (15). Secondarily, domestic fishers appealed to government for greater-sized regions to exclusively exploit; thus regulations emerged to progressively force out foreign capital from extracting the limited resources. Following the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, regulations increased barriers to foreign exploitation of fisheries from 12 to 200 miles off the coast of U.S. borders and helped formulate limits to the amount of specific types of fish could be taken. With these factors, at wide variance from the other industries mentioned, regulation became conservatory rather than seeking to facilitate the rapid extraction of maximum profits. These are not, however, the only two factors affecting the form of subsequent regulation and Blackford opens the book by illustrating the historical milieu of the Northeast and California fisheries that helped inform policy makers how to proceed once a regulator body was formed.

Since the inception of the industry in the northeast Atlantic, fishers extracted from the commons of the ocean in their region in a largely unsupervised manner. In California, the fisheries had the resources involved in their catches take a second place to other industries such as electricity and construction. The result for both was a tragedy of the commons, wherein fish were no longer able to reproduce themselves fast enough and stocks were depleted to the point of near extinction. Despite late attempts at curbing catches to a sustainable level, damage to the stocks had been done so that that fishing had to be banned outright for a period of time so stocks could restore themselves. With this knowledge in mind, the northwestern fishers nor various environmental groups wished to see this replicated, so a disciplinary regime based upon scientific analysis of available stock and industry leaders requirements for profitability was formed. As Blackford then shows, this wasn’t a large enough constituency and they had to include other groups that had traditionally fished in that region such as native communities and particular Alaskan villages. Following the creation of a maximum catch allowable, a quota system with percentages of the potential catch had to be distributed amongst those groups. These portions were highly contested and led to conflict amongst various historical stakeholders with the new, big-capital corporations investing in processing and distribution.

At several point throughout the work Blackford relies upon novels in order to depict the life of fishers and the changes occurring as a result of these regulatory and technological changes that made Alaskan fisheries into the most regulated industry in the United States. In addition to this, it provides an aesthetic element that shows the terrifying and sublime aspects of the job that seems to readily appeal to intellectuals looking for a break from their work in the form of strenuous manual labor. Additionally, Blackford includes numerous descriptions of the daily operations of the processing industry that shows how seemingly banal technological developments and hygienic standards could have huge impacts on the industry.

I believe Mansel was a little too soft-handed when writing on the entrepreneurial ideology anathemic to government intervention held by so many of the fishers. While he need not go deeply into the content of an ideology that doesn’t recognize the fact that the federal government purchased Alaska for 7.2 million dollars in 1868, invested in the infrastructure that allowed the fisheries to transport their goods to southern markets, provided for the search and rescue operations which their lives depended in event of capsizing, or acted as police to keep foreign resource extractors out of the fisheries, it certainly speaks volumes to their incredibility as a legitimate institutional guides in helping determining maximum optimal catches in councils. As this is one of the factors Blackford’s conclusion focuses on, in the context of his endorsement of Elinor Ostrom’s cooperative, natural resource management framework, I think it’s worth more than just letting pass, especially having mentioned that the European attempt at a similar regime has ended so poorly.

Review of "Nietzsche: Philosophy, Psychologist, Anti-Christ"

In trying to come up with a reading list for a Nietzsche seminar that I imagine teaching at some point in the future I read Walter Kaufmann’s Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. An astute thinker need not be aware of Nietzsche’s compelling style to to ask why read secondary literature when his own work is available. Answering such a question bespeaks one of the general problematics of Nietzsche scholarship and presents an excellent manner of opening to Kauffman’s account of Nietzsche.

In contradistinction to the manner in which Nietzsche desired to be read, Kaufmann presents a systematic approach of his work. Nietzsche himself did not write this way, instead he adapted his earlier thoughts to new considerations rather than simply refuting old ones, he posed what he saw were the most important questions and sometimes was only able to come up with partial answers, he wrote beautiful aphorisms using rich symbolic language which was to be appreciated and considered for it’s pith, beauty and the readers resonance with it rather than constructing logical edifices. This is not said to give traction to the claims of some readers of Nietzsche that categorize him as an irrationalist – but to show that the project of coming to grips with his thought requires a similar amount of patience and dedication that one would give to a sage. He wants you to read his entire work, slowly, and then start to respond to him. This is just one of several aspects which make Nietzsche difficult to approach in a classroom setting unless one is to read all or a majority of the Nietzsche books and essays. To give a real-world example of such difficultly in teaching Nietzsche, it’s worth mentioning here is that while taking a course on Nietzsche at NYU with Dr. Friedrich Ulfers our assigned reading consisted primarily of sections from The Will to Power as well as a number of essays written by the professor. Having read most of Nietzsche’s work on my own prior to this I found the course reading list appropriate, though it was clear from the questions asked by participants that reading selections and The Will to Power left them with gaps of understanding.

One of the admirable traits of Kaufmann’s work in this book is his scholarship. There are never claims that aren’t densely contextualized, different positions than Kaufmann’s own are explained and then shown to be risible concepts that are only the other author’s attempt to co-opt. Nietzsche That said, in many an academic circle Kaufmann is seen as a tamer of Nietzsche. I think this is a fair assessment, though I don’t think that this devalues his points of exegesis. In this book specifically he is interested in dealing with three major themes of Nietzsche’s work – his particular contribution to philosophy, his depth analysis of the human spirit and what it means to Nietzsche to be an “Anti-Christ”. Put more simply, the books is concerned priorly with Nietzsche’s thought as it relates to Psychology, Philosophy and Christianity.

As it relates to psychology, Nietzsche is widely recognized as the first depth psychologist. His character studies and examinations of history led him to understand the individual as being motivated not only by the desire for peace or pleasure but also power. Power as a motivating force may not be the one that leads the individual into a quiet life but this, Nietzsche states, is not always desirable or laudable. Kauffman shows how it is that Nietzsche holds the difference between great men and men to be of a greater degree of difference that that between an average man and an animal. The reason for this is that those that are merely acted upon and are unable to make themselves are just like the animals while those that are able to manage their passions and organize them in an artful way are the true inheritors of the divine potential within all. The ascetic/philosopher, artist and politician are the primary persons able to actualize this and they do so via “… the sublimation of their impulses, in the organization of the chaos of their passions, an in man’s giving “style” to his own character.” (252). Accomplishing this includes ridding oneself of erroneous thought as well as drastically limiting oneself by uniting the spirit and letting go of debilitating beliefs. While his deference to Aristotelan notions of habit and being prevent him from becoming a total vitalist, it is clear that his understanding of the potentials of humans is great should they truly make the decision to be so.

One of the things that I particularly like of Nietzche’s thought, upon which Kauffman makes a point of in the section on Sublimation, Geist, and Eros is the ridicule of the “pure spirit” that is supposed to exist after the body has died. He ties this connection of the pure spirit to a distrust or denigration of the human body and the willingness to subsume rationality, to castrate the mind in favor of an dangerous idealism. This is important as is bespeaks his deep concern with human self-realization and is connected to his notion of Amor Fati. Amor Fati, or love of one’s fate, is a formula which, paraphrasing Ecce Homo, holds that nothing that is may be subtracted from one’s self and that nothing is dispensable. Including every element in the material past which lead to the construction of the self up until the present one is better able to intellectually and totally sublimate oneself. Using faulty steps leads to a poorly integrated personality. The Overman does not hold mystical notions as he is content with the facts, as sublime or horrendous as they may be, as the manner in which he will actualize himself.

While Nietzsche is oft-quoted, mistakingly, as originating the quote “God is Dead”, his actual relationship to Christianity is much more complex than a simple repudiation of it as a mythical system created by a once nomadic tribe of people occupied by an imperial power.Towards the end of his life he signed his letters “the crucified one” and his contention with Christianity has more to do with the hypocrisies of the adherents rather than the distaste for the man. Christianity ethics as such he holds as being resentful, but he sees greatness in Christ who is in many ways similar to the other spiritual ideal which he respects, Socrates. Both were combatants against the prevailing statist logic that degraded the human spirit, a tradition which Nietzsche places himself in.

As a philosopher Nietzsche styled himself in opposition to another German philosophical giant, Hegel. Kauffman in this and his work on Hegel, however, points out that the two were often in agreement on many things despite purported fundamental differences. The holist-perspectivistic duality is something that, at least accord to Nietzsche, cannot be crossed however Hegel’s recognition of it is important to qualifying some of Nietzsche’s more bombastic claims. Also worth mentioning, thought not addressed in the book, is Nietzsche’s lauding by left and right political philosophers. The American anarchist Emma Goldman lectured extensively on him and as Corey Robin’srecent article illustrates, his writing also had a profound influence on the Austrian Right.

Review of "The Best Transportation System in the World"

Mark Rose, Bruce Seely and Paul Barret’s book The Best Transportation System in the World: Railroads, Trucks, Airlines & American Public Policy in the Twentieth Century limns the development of these three modes of transportation in America, and to a lesser extent waterways, to illustrate the federal government’s role in the formation, regulation, maintenance and segregation of these industries.

As transportation of goods for trade is one of primary importance for capitalist development, these four industries were of highlighted as of particular concern to American politicians seeking to increase the country’s wealth. Stoppages or bankruptcy would lead to negative effects rippling throughout the economy, as primary and manufactured goods would cease to circulate and capital would stop flowing. To prevent such economic vicissitudes from occurring, railroads increasingly had their capacity for free action limited by government. Committees such as the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Department of Transportation were formed to contend with these market forces and encourage the development of the nation’s industry through capital outlays, loan co-signing and regulatory oversight. These oversight and advisory boards, however, had limited capacity to influence business or enforce the policies stemming from their research.

One such example of this that I found particularly interesting was the manner in which national or regional planning was a solution continuously developed and promoted by every single professional studying the situation in an advisory capacity. Railroad consolidation was first promoted by transportation economists such as William Z. Ripley as a panacea to railroads competitive waste and fluctuations. Though it was not until the 1970s that this was able to gain political traction, and even then not in the manner envisioned by these professionals the authors make it clear why this is so: the various transport regimes desired to limit competition to increase profits and provide a modicum of stability in fluctuating, artificially isolated markets.

When one additionally factors in the high entry costs of these industries and the pressures to upgrade machinery following post-war technological developments, it becomes more understandable why the government would wish to partially subsidize them. One of the best examples the authors give to illustrate the governments overarching concern with stability and the manner in which government subsidized transport regime is in the airline industry and the variations they tried to create a efficient system. In this industry, the authors are concerned with illustrating that in the decision making process that to lead specific public policies political considerations was the driving force and not the promotion of capitalist rights. Regions with small populations that might not be profitable for companies could not be abandoned according to the regulatory regime but instead had to be included and the costs deferred amongst passengers taking other routes. This of course had pricing effects which the authors illustrate via reference to promotional, student and business fares.

With its tight focus on business history, public policies and the development of the “presidential state” to regulate and later deregulate these industries for increased capital efficiency through a vast number of primary sources, there are few things with which one can find fault. The only thing I believe could strengthen it the book, recognizing my own biases behind such a statement, would be a short narrative of the railroad conditions prior to the 1920s as the political actors from that time to the 1980s repeatedly use that epoch as a rhetorical device, much like the phrase, “the best transportation system in the world,” to mobilize political actors. Doing so would provide greater clarity as to why it was that such restrictive and at times seemingly counter-intuitive policies were implemented.

Review of "The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times"

The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times by Orne Westad takes together a dauntingly large number of documents released or unclassified by governments to provide a narrative of what happened when the post World War II global powers, the USSR and USA, intervened in the third world, “the former colonial or semi-colonial countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that were subject to European… economic or political domination” (3).

Westad opens by contextualizing Soviet Socialism and American Capitalism as ideological conceptions of socio-economic relations that represent different variations of modernism. Both powers saw themselves as embodying the natural trends of development and subsequently sought to obtain security from the other via weapons development and alliances. Additionally, he is keen to point out how in this post-colonial period: “Moscow’s and Washington’s objective were not exploitation or subjectification, but control and improvement. While this distinction may be rather ethereal seen from the receiving end, it is crucial for understanding the Cold War discourse itself: while imperialism got its social consciousness almost as an afterthought, in the Cold War it was inherent from the very beginning” (5). In this regard Westad writes to correct post-Soviet collapse revisionists who see the struggle between the two as emanating primarily from the machinations of the Evil Empire. Quite often, Soviet influence sought to counterbalance the relationship of “guide” and “ward” that the U.S. had imposed. Towards this end he provides a short but compelling account of American’s continuous aggression towards collectivists domestically and international and points to it’s intervention immediately following the Russian revolution in October as a sticking point for the newly self-proclaimed Socialist government.

The first chapters the book limns this account in detail while the second delves into the evolution of a United States ideology that increasingly viewed itself in a paternalistic mold. The Native American, Philippines, Mexico and many other countries felt the hard hand of America as they attempted to express faith in something other than market rationality. This form of emancipation at gun barrel point lead to agendas of “nation building” and “development” that would later be seen if not the models that at least the precedents for subsequent third-world intervention. Following this outline of American ideology and how it played out the third chapter begins by providing an account of the Soviet model for development and intervention.

Westad outlines the variations found in Marxism’s relation to anti-colonial practices within the third world. Significant factors, such as level of economic and bureaucratic development are analyzed and how it was that the United States sought to develop it’s own form of scientific modernization theory in an effort to combat the Marxian model gaining traction in these countries eager for development but seeking to avoid the pitfalls of exploitation by their newly empowered countrymen. Insistent on the post-Enlightenment connections of these two forms of historical experience that laud science, education and technological development and seek to shape the world in it’s own image, Westad presents them in an almost evangelical sense.

From here the last two hundred and fifty pages give account of the many “hot” conflicts in the Cold War. Westad gives background on the major players within the conflict and details the fighting and diplomacy involved in the struggles in Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the Horn, Southern Africa. There are of course monographs on each of these conflicts however, to my knowledge, they do not limn the links between all of them in the manner in which both governments did.

The Soviets vacillating enthusiasm for their intentional projects at the cost of domestic growth is a recurring theme, as it the inability for the United States diplomatic core and intelligence services to provide an accurate telling of events to the policy makers. This latter point also obscured the manner in which the U.S. helped create the situation that would later be classified as under-development in world-systems theory. While this might be construed as a particularly academic concern, when considering that such theory influenced the U.S. decision to mobilize against democratic movements in Latin America it’s significance shines through. Also worth mentioning is that this should not be seen as a specifically American flaw, as similar modes of wishful thinking was occurring on the Soviet side as well. Westad develops this particular theme most forcefully in the various responses to the Afghan revolution and their calls for assistance. In the tension between these two super-powers Westad is also keep to illustrate how their policies helped facilitate the growth of radical Islam as a counter-balance to their attempts at extending into the Muslim world. Westad ends with a general call to non-violence in the political process in the understanding that as long as capitalism continues to cause the crises that lead to calls for revolution, Marxism will be a viable option for the dispossessed. The wars that he just described will continue, but need not.