What is Europe?

Thomas Brussig, a novelist from the former East Berlin, says he first got to know Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union when he visited during a book tour. During his stay, he recalls being constantly asked which Russian writers influenced him. Brussig didn’t give the obvious answers — Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. He instead named a third-rate Soviet writer, Arkady Gaidar. “I did it to exact a bit of revenge and to remind them what imperialists they had been,” he says.

Brussig says he has no special attachment to the Russians. He says the only Russian figure he actually views positively is Gorbachev. It was “his vision of a Common European Home that cleared the way for the demolition of the Soviet Union.” It was a dream of a Europe without dividing lines. “We shouldn’t act as though the border to Asia starts where Lithuania ends,” says Brussig. “Europe reaches all the way into the Ural Mountains.”

There is more here. Do read the whole thing (it’s about the relationship between Germans and Russians).

For the record, I can buy Brussig’s argument but why stop at the Ural Mountains and the Mediterranean?

Some Musings on China: Why We Need Not Fear Beijing

The recent ouster of Bo Xilai from the Communist Party can provide an interesting glimpse into the political mechanisms of the Chinese state. The fact that Mr. Bo was dismissed for “corruption” charges means that he was probably doing something right, or that he was too sloppy with his privileges and embarrassed the wrong people. We all know that socialism, in all its forms, leads to benefits for the few at the expense of the many (remember the bailouts of Western financial institutions?), but Mr. Bo’s ouster deserves a closer look, because he was a fairly prominent politician, and was actually slated as a possible successor to Hu Jintao, the Communist party’s current boss.

What I want to focus on is the fact that Mr. Bo was ousted at all. This move means that Beijing is becoming increasingly responsive to the demands of its citizens. Indeed, as China continues to liberalize its markets, democratic initiatives, whether real or appeasing, will continue to bubble up throughout the fascist state. This is because democracy is the natural political order that arises out of market-based institutions (private property, international trade, etc.). The world will have to be careful with China’s democratic transition though. Democracy is not a good thing in itself, especially democracy that is based upon an allegiance to a state. I am thinking of France in the 19th century and Germany in the 20th, although the democracies that sprung up during the post-colonial revolutions can also be good examples.

The main ideas behind the post-colonial revolutions were state sovereignty and democracy – not liberty – and the results, I think, speak for themselves. Continue reading