On power, justice and commonsense

Power may not be just, justice may not be powerful. In the end, power may triumph. But it is essential that we keep them separate in our minds, if we must keep our spiritual freedom.

In a piece about the current dire state of Chinese universities, Muran identifies a root cause to all forms of anti-intellectualism: what he calls authoritarianism or, in Chinese, 权力注意. This doctrine, he says, takes power as its only touchstone and only point of focus. Under its impulse, the sole purpose of the human spirit is to justify power.

Westerners easily criticize Chinese authoritarianism, brandishing human rights, free press, democratic elections, etc. Yet the Middle Kingdom does not have a monopoly on anti-intellectualism. But in our countries, it takes a different color. What people want is what we give them, as market-democracy proposes. And shouldn’t we trust the wisdom of crowds? So truth and beauty submit to the power of the masses.

Democratic traditions, for all the joys of equality, easily suffer the lack of an aristocratic spirit, pointing its finger at beauty, justice, truth. These ideals are too different from what is, and sometimes too sharp on the tongue for the taste of many. And so, we point the finger down: we stay grounded. Our spirits are no longer invited to run free, but will now serve the power of commonsense. Gravity rules. And it imposes its dumb earnestness or – in chaotic times – the tidal waves of murderous opinion.

(January 2 2016)

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