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Monday, April 20, 2009

Que pense la Chine ?

J'ai un entretien la semaine prochaine pour un programme en Chine et afin de me préparer j'ai commencé à me mettre dans la littérature un peu. Vu que la plupart des livres à la bibliothèque de l'Assemblée nationale sont en français, j'ai lu une traduction d'un bouquin écrit en anglais par Mark Leonard qui est le directeur exécutif du European Council on Foreign Relations, ce que je trouve assez bête, mais oui.

Le livre m'est fasciné. Leonard essaie de montrer la discussion économique et politique comment elle prend place en Chine. Fascinant, parce que:
Nous ne cessions de nous passionner pour les idées des différentes factions de la vie intellectuelle américaine [...] mais lequel d'entre nous peut nommer plus d'une poignée d'écrivains ou de penseurs chinois contemporain ?

La première clivage discuté est sur le champ économique où la nouvelle droite chinoise est favorable à une continuation de la politique de dérégulation commencée par Deng Xiaoping dans les années 80. Ce groupe se voit opposé par la nouvelle gauche chinoise qui veut accentuer plutôt la inégalité qui a été le prix de la croissance chinoise ces derniers 30 ans. Même si cela semble assez similaire de la discussion européenne voire américaine, elle est évidemment très différente déjà à cause des systèmes politiques incomparable.

Leonard discute les expérimentes démocratique dont la Chine s'engage dans certaines provinces sur des échelles locales (en sort une dictature délibérative). Il montre aussi la discussion au sein des experts des relations internationales. La militarisation asymétrique de la Chine, vu comme la seule tactique valable contre les Etats-Unis. L'accentuation du pouvoir attractif (soft power) sur lequel la Chine pourrait baser sa émergence. Il réclame finalement un monde hérissé de murailles comme la conception de la Chine opposée directement de l'idée américaine d'un monde plat.

De nouveau, très fascinant ce livre. Facile à lire et on a l'impression de gagner un bref aperçu sur la discussion chinoise. Qu'est-ce qu'il y a à critiquer? Leonard reste (nécessairement probablement) très superficiel. Le livre sert comme une introduction mais rien plus que ça. La langage simple est facilement accessible du bouquin aide à la compréhension, mais au même temps j'ai l'impression qu'il oblige à une sur-simplification parfois. Cela est peut-être fait par volonté car il me semble comme si le livre n'est pas nécessairement écrit pour une audience scientifique seulement. En tout cas, il vaut la peine.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I read William Gay's short story collection i hate to see that evening sun go down (the title being a reference to the WC Handy song most famously covered by Bessie Smith with Louis Armstrong playing the cornet) a few years ago and I believe I actually wrote an essay on one of those stories for a literature class of mine back in Austria. More importantly though I had sat in on an interview my dad did with him in Hohenwald, Tennessee (check out this photo if you care to see the friends we made there while having breakfast). Southern, gothic literature at its finest. The old Faulkner comparisons are most definitely overdone, but still valid in this case.

I couldn't resist buying the book while I was in a store getting a present for a friend and considered as a treat in between my regular consumption of French and scientific literature (nothing against either of those, but I have to admit that my heart still lies with good, ol'-fashioned Southern writing). I even read the book the way you would consume a piece of candy that pleases your taste buds and that you are afraid to let go, even while sucking hard on it and getting pleasure out of it will let it fade away far too quick. Sometimes I wish I'd spend my life reading books like this.

Now, in order to actually say something, anything about the novel. It is great. A page-turner without being dumb, exciting without being cheap. Gay's stories are violent. He writes about common folk in the rural South of first half of the 20th century. Yet, his heroes are beset by evil and by the inertia of institutions and public figures. I realize I am not making much sense, but there is a reason I have not become a literary critic of professor. Read him (it), he (it) is worth it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Voyages dans le Reich

J'ai trouvé cette collection par hasard à la bibliothèque de l'Assemblée et je l'aurais jamais lu en français normalement vu que beaucoup des textes ont été traduits de l'allemand ou de l'anglais. Mais, même sous cette considération, l'œuvre, compilée par Oliver Lubrich, est recommandable. Effectivement et comme le titre implique Lubrich a amassé des textes des étrangers voyageant en Allemagne de 1933 à 1945, dont les auteurs connus (C. Isherwood, M. Frisch, V. Woolf, A. Camus) et moins connus (un étudiant chinois, la fille de l'ambassadeur américain, des journalistes).

Les textes soi-même varient beaucoup en longueur et style, ils sont tous plus ou moins littéraire mais certains sont beaucoup plus biographique que des autres. Et, comme toujours dans une collection, certains textes sont simplement meilleur que des autres. Mais en général je peux dire que ces écrivains offrent une perspective fascinante sur l'Allemagne et les allemands de l'époque. Certains entre eux se montre intrigué par le fascisme, mais même leurs descriptions (avec l'intention de flatter) réussissent à faire peur du climat à l'époque.

Depuis toujours, l'être allemand, tant l'individu que le peuple dans son entier, hésite entre la peur de l'infériorité et une confiance en soi exagérée. Je n'adhère pas aux préjugés trop simple comme celle je viens de citer, mais elle m'a fait rire quand même. Et finalement, si vous l'avez pas encore remarqué en lisant ce blog ou en me parlant:
D'habitude, le Berlinoi aime commenter.

Europe continued

I am actually decently busy at work, so let's keep this short, even if it would be fun to engage in something a bit more fundamental. (IPE)

Europe as a whole does not have a military of course (the battle groups are ready by now, but let's pass on that). It is not true that Europe always has been divided on these issues (even if I of course adhere to the more general point that this is too frequently, if not to say usually, the case), Afghanistan seems to be the most striking counter example. The point I was trying to make here is that Europe's militaries would suffice to act against virtually everyone (with a few notable exceptions that apply to the US as well). Basically, Europe's armies are powerless only when compared to the US and why should Europe even try to compete with its closest ally?

It is clear that the provision of security for Europe by the US has greatly widened the range of possibilities for European social policy decision-making. Europe paid back through a lack of foreign policy independence though (Suez being only the most prominent example).

I did realize that the post was mainly geared towards economics, I guess I just enjoy looking at security and foreign policy more. Anyways. I think it is important to note that most people in Europe don't believe in the necessity of more fiscal stimulus (rightly or wrongly - I tend to believe they are wrong, but that's besides the point really). They are not asking the US to provide further stimulus to their economy even if they will take the continuing exports of course (and the German obliviousness to their problematic status as Exportweltmeister shall not even be further explored). The crisis is seen as having originated in the US alone (again, rightly or wrongly, I tend to believe there is a point to this, but again, that doesn't really matter) and people ask themselves why they should help bail out an unregulated overly-capitalistic giant (it would be a pretty hard political sell as well btw). I am not quite sure then whether it can be called free-riding if you do something I don't think I necessarily need, even when it benefits me to some extent.

The IMF:
diplomats say that the strongest opposition to thorough IMF reforms currently comes from the US – reluctant to give up its de facto ability to veto IMF decisions – rather than Europe. (CER)

I don't remember where I read this, but the US also refuses to discuss supranational structures in order to oversee the international financial system (which is not surprising considering the differing attitudes (modern/post-modern) in the US and Europe). I thus simply have a hard time seeing how the American position is more cooperative than the European one. You can of course argue that the European positions are wrong and that Europe should come around to the American ones, but that's not cooperation anymore then. In fact that'd smell suspiciously like the same old (admittedly benign) coercion.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Bashing Europe

Well, well, well.

Now I am the last one not to criticize European leaders for their lack of action and coordination, but I do feel that some criticism leveled at Europe from the US (conveniently?) forgets to put into account some aspects of European contributions.

1 - Europe (as a whole) has by far the second most impressive military in the world. Would Americans really want the EU to start competing with them too?

2 - American security provision exists only when American (hegemonic if you want) interests are concerned (see the lack of activity in Albania and Macedonia). Plus, if that provision includes starting (or continuing) unnecessary wars all over the place (Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq to name just a few) I have to wonder why European accounts should even be charged for it.

3 - For the war that Europe supported (Afghanistan) Europeans have provided nearly as many troops as the US did.

4 - If you put development aid into account, European spending on world affairs is not really all that much smaller than that of the US.

5 - Without European support (intelligence, infrastructure) wars such as in Iraq would be virtually impossible for the US or in the least far more expensive (in political and financial terms).

What else? Criticism from the US that Europe is only willing to coordinate on their terms is quite amusing of course (Kyoto anyone? the ICC?), I am not even going to really comment on that.

I could try to respond to some of the more specific accusations against the European (non-)activities on economic/financial questions. Let it suffice to say that some American beliefs simply are not shared by a large majority of European politicians (fiscal stimulus!) so why should they adapt their policies in order to please a partner with whom they disagree? And that the difference between $99,7 million and $100 million is not something that I would describe with the word chunk.

One last, and more important, note though. I understand some of the criticism leveled at Europe (if not its tone), but all those people clamoring for more European contributions hopefully realize one thing: It'll come at a cost. Europe having its own security/defense forces will not let itself be pushed around by the US on foreign policy issues. The same is true for virtually every policy field. Be sure you know what you wish for is all I can say. Me, I think Iraq, this crisis, the G20 all mark very much the twilight of the American unipolar moment.