The Private and the Public. What we can learn from Wittgenstein

On a Canadian website devoted to the translation of writings by contemporary Chinese intellectuals, its creator, David Ownby of the University of Montréal, writes: “China is, if not totalitarian, surely authoritarian, and I readily admit that I do not fully understand the relationship between the Chinese state and the intellectuals I study.  It is obvious that their published work is not a perfect reflection of their private thoughts, which surely means that many times they cannot say what they really think, but what trade-offs they make and how they make their calculations remain obscure.  While I prefer to believe that what they publish is a fair if perhaps partial reflection of what they think, many people do not, and I admit that now and again I wonder if I’m being played.”[1]

read more

Michel Foucault a pedophile?

The sordid story is going around that Foucault sodomized little boys in Moslem graveyards while he was teaching at the University of Tunis in the late 1960’s. It is due to a certain Guy Sorman who describes himself as a “leading French intellectual” but is in reality a self-promoting right-wing hack who has spent his career lauding the miracle of unrestrained capitalism. Sorman launched his attack in the middle of March on French media and then repeated it to The Times of London on March 28, 2021. He said that that after more than fifty years his conscience had suddenly awoken and forced to tell his story. We don’t know what really motivates him. Is he just someone who is pining for attention? An idle gossip? Is he simply mistaking the facts after so many years? Or suffering from the first signs of dementia?

read more

“Benevolent Autocracy.” The case of Hong Kong

On January 4, 2021, 1,000 Hong Kong police went out to arrest fifty-three democratic lawmakers, politicians, and activists. The event was as much a demonstration of unrestrained police power as an actual  police operation. The arrested were, moreover, charged with a strange crime, namely “trying to use strategic voting to secure a legislative majority, with an ultimate goal of shutting down the government.”[1] They had organized a primary election to produce a slate of democratic candidates for the then upcoming election to Hong Kong’s legislature. 600,000 Hong Kongers had cast their vote on that occasion.  The democrats had also expressed hope that their united front might gain a majority of the seats in the new legislature. Benny Tai, one of the initiators of the event, had, moreover, suggested in a newspaper op-ed that such a majority might eventually be able to veto the city’s budget and, perhaps, even push its unloved Chief Executive to resign.

read more

What hope is there?

Democracy in China. The Coming Crisis is a tightly argued new book by Ci Jiwei that sets itself the dual task of analyzing China's democratic deficit while doing so in a genuinely philosophical manner.

What follows is a short first stab at an assessment of this book.

read more

A short trip to China

A month ago I attended the fourth International Wittgenstein Symposium in Xi’an. I gave a lecture on the beginning of the Philosophical Investigations and a talk at Northwest University on “Wittgenstein and the Decline of the West.”

Almost everyone in Berkeley said: “Xi’an. Where is that?” It tells you how ignorant we are about the country. It is a city of some 7 million people (and perhaps unofficially even of 10 million). The first capital of China lone before Beijing and as such full of antiquities. It was also the end of the Silk Road, the place where Buddhism entered China and it has, till today, a thriving Muslim quarter. A modern city but one with a history.

read more

Local struggles in a global city

A few weeks ago, I met up with a number of local activists in Hong Kong. I wanted to know how much support they still had from the general public and what their chances were for asserting any political influence, given that their leaders were under attack and their elected representatives had been disbarred.

read more

Hong Kong in turmoil

When I arrived in Hong Kong a month ago it was already clear that a political crisis was brewing. The HK administration had tabled a new extradition law and opposition to it was growing by the day. Now the issue has come to a boil.

read more

The End of Eternity

A week ago, I saw Bi Gan’s movie The End of Eternity (《地球最后的夜晚》)-- called In English Long Day’s Journey into the Night -- on a Cathay Pacific flight. I came away thinking that this must be one of the great movies of all times. The next day I discovered that it was also playing at a neighboring movie house and so went to see it again. I couldn’t sleep after that as the images, words, and sounds of the movie were hauntingly coming back to me again and again in the middle of the night. Dark, mysterious, and melancholy, Bi Gan’s work is, in fact, a piece of the most sublime Chinese poetry and utterly captivating as this poetry can be.

read more

The European elections – A shift in political paradigm

The European elections on May 23 mark a point of transition in European politics. More than 50 % of Europeans eligible to vote took the opportunity to do so. For the first time in its history, the parliament has come to be recognized by a large number of Europeans as an integral component of the political structure of the EU. The EU has thereby undoubtedly gained in democratic legitimacy.

read more

Doing prison time in Hong Kong

On my current visit to Hong Kong I am once again trying to talk to some of the activists in order to get a better understanding of the shifting political territory. When I contacted Joshua Wong, one of the most dedicated pro-democracy campaigners, he wrote back to me: “I might not able to meet you since my court case sentencing is scheduled on Thursday afternoon. I need to prepare before being locked up in prison.” This will be the third time he is sent there for his political engagement.

read more

Hot Days in Hong Kong

Saturday May 11, 2019 There was heavy fighting yesterday in the Hong Kong legislature over a newly proposed extradition law. Legislators were injured in the melee. The previous day had seen demonstrations in the street.

read more

A World Without History

In the face of relentless change, we are losing the past. Customs, traditions, religion, and established institutions are going overboard. We are losing, perhaps, even a sense of ourselves as beings with a history, Universities cease to be "universities" and become institutes with "career-focused programs." The liberal arts are a luxury to be dispensed with. Who needs educated citizens? Who needs human beings with a rich inner life?

read more

The Enemy In-Chief

Since its foundation the US has always had an enemy in-chief. First it was the British who helped to solder the nation together. Then came the extermination of the American Indians extending the American territories “from sea to shining sea.”. Then the civil war when the Americans made mortal enemies of each other with wounds that are still not fully healed. Then came the Spanish, the Germans (twice), the Russians, the North Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq,

read more

Karl Marx never looked so good

A cartoon series about the life and times of Karl Marx is set to be shown on a Chinese video streaming website with the full backing of Beijing, according to the host company. The Leader, which recounts the story of the German philosopher and socialist revolutionary, will be broadcast by Bilibili.com “soon”, the company said on Tuesday. The production was commissioned by the central government’s Marxism office, in cooperation with authorities in Inner Mongolia; Weiming Culture Media, which is based in the region; and animation company Dongmantang, Bilibili said on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. (South China Morning Post, Dec. 19, 2018)

read more

Democracy Is in the Streets

I have been re-reading James Miller's 1987 "Democracy is in the Streets" since he was in Oakland a month ago. The book provides a richly detailed account of the short life of the "Students for a Democratic Society" (SDS) from their beginnings at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1962 through their being a major driving force behind the protests against the Vietnam war to their collapse in 1969.

read more