From Making Revolution to Making Charters: Liberalism and Economism in the Late Cold War
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This chapter offers an intellectual political account of the rise and fall, yet persistence and transformation, of Chinese liberalism during and after the Maoist era. The ‘case’ of China helps illustrate a global point: the weakening and degradation of liberalism, the rise of economism and de-politicized politics in place of an actual or socialistic left. But this global condition is also in itself co-produced, determined by the fate of Chinese politics during and after the revolution. In short what we ultimately have to attend to is not just a ‘Chinese’ problem or failure (as if de-politicization and economism were not global ills) but the state of the political right now. More specifically I will eventually argue that a certain ‘liberalism’—defined with the Maoists as an economism that seeks de-politicization and ‘stability’ or peace—informs the developmentalist Party-state today, and forms an evil twin alongside Chinese liberalism proper. The latter shares the official concern with economic and even political reform with many in the Party establishment, but it is also an anti-state intellectual movement that should be familiar to observers of libertarianism and neo-liberalism elsewhere. Taken together, both sides—sometimes in direct conflict, as with the dissidents, and sometimes in a more or less happy marriage, as in the ardently pro-market establishment liberals—speak to the global conjuncture as one dominated by forces and discourses that would like to put an end to politics altogether in favor of rule by markets (and by the ruling class of those markets).