Monday, April 25, 2011

Below the sulphurous haze

With 35 million blogs here in China, it feels appropriate to post something on Rawls & Me as I land in Beijing. But the simple fact that I need to use an encrypted network tunnel to get this post up also says something about blogging from China.

Today, I have been visiting the Faculty of Law at Tsinghua University which will be our partner in the EU-funded exchange programme that I am working on this summer.

After the conference euphoria in London last week (see previous post), I went up to Stockholm for Easter to see my sister and her boyfriend. As often, we ushered into long political debates about everything from the mechanisms of labour markets to cultural politics. I like these debates since they let me be wholeheartedly "Left" whereas I otherwise often have to defend more market-liberal views. The funny thing is that my sister's boyfriend in his turn is considered leftish by his colleagues at work... Talk about relative denominations. Except politics, we also went for a run in the forest and a nice walk on Söder.

All that feels very distant, not only after those endless hours over Russia, but also mentally. If anything, Beijing reminds me a bit of a Warsaw on steroids with its colossal scale, coal-infused inland air and wide roads. Especially since, below the sulphurous haze, one can find all those gems and pretty cafés with their large comfy sofas, green orchards and travel-planning expats. Just walking down this trendy hútòng next to the Lama Temple, I stumbled upon a number of small places that I most certainly will return to through the summer. It is a strange kind of reassurance, that despite the recent wave of repression, post-modernity seems to be well and alive.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Toward a politics of radical engagement

Talking at conferences always leaves me oscillating between nervous anxiety and overconfident bravado. Yet, in between, there are these moments when you once again come to believe in the social sciences, in the possibility of communication and when you realize exactly how much the world needs a politics of radical engagement.

As intellectuals, we cannot hide. We need to be on the barricades, to challenge our own partiality and parochial beliefs, and make good on the promise of the Enlightenment.

The neoliberal order is not written in stone. We can change it, but it will require us to outsmart the neoliberals: to think in new ways, to show them why their profound pessimism about the human condition is unwarranted, and explain step-by-step why we need trust rather than repression, or as the Germans say, “Freiheit statt Angst”.

It is so easy to “resist” things; the real challenge is to find democratically plausible ways to transform them. That was the great idea of social democracy in the 20th century. Now it is our responsibility to take these ideas further and to show why we should aspire for the greatest in all of us rather than the lowest.