Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

The Cream Rises to the Top

State of the Union: China is a world leader in technology, and America should be concerned.

Shanghai City Lockdown
(Jackal Pan/Getty Images)

Admittedly blindsided by the bleeding obvious and expected reaction, that China is looking to “ensnare” the West—read “the U.S.”—in a proxy war in Ukraine, the Biden administration has been probing European desire to sanction China, if and when push comes to shove. “China may be trying to ensnare the U.S. and its allies in a lengthy proxy conflict, draining their resources and potentially making it less of a threat if Beijing were to move on Taiwan,” Politico reported. The response, an instinctive reaction from the Blob, combined Euro-American sanctions and financial muscle. 

In short, if the Chinese politburo decides to call our bluff and pull the trigger and we see hundreds of freight trains crossing from Langfang border to Mongolia and then east through Russia, at best, we are in a severe and immediate cold war with the manufacturing giant of the world, a moment similar to, and perhaps more dangerous in scope than, the Berlin crisis, given our own manufacturing status. The worst-case scenario of the culmination of such an escalatory spiral in East Europe is too devastating to even contemplate. 


But before one blunders into another confrontation without the levers to control, here is a key stat from a new report. “China’s global lead extends to thirty-seven out of forty-four technologies that ASPI is now tracking, covering a range of crucial technology fields spanning defence, space, robotics, energy, the environment, biotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced materials and key quantum technology areas”, a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute argues. Put simply, no nation is even remotely close to China, with the U.S., India and the U.K. following. A couple of German and South Korean research sectors are somewhat distantly behind, to round up the top. 

Remarkable that within days of the report, almost by a divine signaling about the direction of the peer rivals, Columbia University became the first Ivy to drop SAT testing. I am not sure what my PhD supervisor, a former student at Columbia and a genuine historian from an earlier, more rigorous age when they produced stern and neutral historians, would remark on the whole sorry state of affairs, other than lamenting the overarching pattern of decline in elite ideological positions that historians observe and prefer to study. But if we had decent and truly ideologically neutral history departments, this would be the time to conduct some good comparative research on how China is blindly imitating early Victoriana or the middle-American republic. And the results are showing. 

See, cultures might be different, but there are always visible patterns observable in the rise of a nation or an empire, determined to aspire hegemony. Massive naval buildup; a localist elite; a dedicated civil service solely focussed on the national interest and not some universalist ideology; compulsory physical education for the youth; sexual taboos and discouragement of emotional and physical effeteness; and a school system designed to churn out an imperial officer class purely based on merit and nothing else—all the gears of society grinding towards glory and unparalleled supremacy. 

Victorian England went on to occupy a quarter of the globe on the same formula that China is essentially replicating, albeit sprinkled with arcane Marxist rhetorical justification. Teddy Roosevelt, no darling of the left anymore, echoed the same sentiment that would now be considered toxic in every elite institution in the United States.

“Americanism" may be employed is with reference to the Americanizing of the newcomers to our shores. We must Americanize them in every way, in speech, in political ideas and principles, and in their way of looking at the relations between Church and State. We welcome the German or the Irishman who becomes an American. We have no use for the German or Irishman who remains such. We stand unalterably in favor of the public-school system in its entirety. We believe that English, and no other language, is that in which all the school exercises should be conducted. He must revere only our flag; not only must it come first, but no other flag should even come second.

Increasingly both the concept of a localist elite ideology dedicated to a national cause and interest, and the concept of merit itself, are looked down upon, often for justified causes. People often confuse credentialism with true meritocracy. 

But the collapse of history education and scientific research in favor of irrelevant social sciences in both British and American universities, has resulted in blinkered and ideological assumptions about everything that is inevitably leading to faulty analysis and policy. And just as faulty premises and first principles do not survive a contact with reality, one fears that in extremis, the end-game for social complacency and intellectual weakness will be equally catastrophic, if one ever has to face an East determined to crush everyone on their path.


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