The Power of Thought

“China’s New Intelligentsia”, this month’s Prospect title story by Mark Leonard, provides for some highly fascinating reading. Even though Leonard does not cash in its headline’s ambitious promise, he quite efficiently places the thought of some Chinese intellectuals into the context of The Middle Empire’s recent internal and external actions and development.

In my eyes the foremost value of informed articles like this one consists in the fact that they serve as an invitation not to talk about, but enter into a discussion with people representing widely differing world views, presenting them not as naive or even as authoritarian brutes, but as people quite able of giving reasons for their positions.

Let’s face it: Liberal western democracies may have had their high time during the 90s, but more and more they are experiencing a legitimacy crisis, due to many factors: the US’ rapid descent into unilateral authoritarianism, a declining trust into the traditional party systems, the diminishing credibility of the media as a safeguard of public knowledge and awareness, among others.

Of course we’ll still hold that free media, free and secret elections, the division of power, a system of checks and balances etc. are all necessary ingredients of any really good form of societal organization. But this might not be as self-evident as it seemed to us after years of liberal complacency. And it is not only for the sake of human rights in some places we haven’t even begun to understand that we have to re-enter the market-place of ideas and test or defend our positions. It might turn out that the pragmatic discourse of some Chinese thinkers could help us come to grip with some of our domestic problems as well.