Richard Rohr: The Politics of Connectedness

a shift of emphasis away from means towards ends; away from economic growth towards human development; away from quantitative towards qualitative values and goals; away from the impersonal and organisational towards the personal and interpersonal; and away from the earning and spending of money towards the meeting of real human needs and aspirations.

‘It’s a Mistake to Underestimate China’

The country’s massive infrastructure project is a blueprint for growth in the developing world.

..  Think of it as a hub-and-spoke model: China, the hub, builds infrastructure in countries around the world, the spokes, in order to facilitate trade. China is building roads, bridges, seaports, and airports in more than 60 countries to facilitate the import of raw material in order to further fuel its own economic growth while it searches for new markets. 

.. Unlike the West, China offers cheap loans, doesn’t ask questions about human rights or the environment, and doesn’t export its political ideology.

 .. China has a singular advantage: It is offering the countries where it is investing a vision for the future.
..  it seeks to replicate what it has done within its own borders for the past three decades—investments that have helped lift more than 700 million people out of poverty and into the middle class. During that time, globalization has brought low-wage but steady jobs to China in sectors such as manufacturing. 

Our Elites Still Don’t Get It

The big social movements of the past half century were about maximizing freedom of choice.

  • Right-wingers wanted to maximize economic choice and
  • left-wingers lifestyle choice.

Anything that smacked of restraint came to seem like a bad thing to be eliminated.

We’ll call this worldview — which is all freedom and no covenant — naked liberalism (liberalism in the classic Lockean sense, not the modern progressive sense). The problem with naked liberalism is that it relies on individuals it cannot create.

Naked liberals of right and left assume that if you give people freedom they will use it to care for their neighbors, to have civil conversations, to form opinions after examining the evidence.

But if you weaken family, faith, community and any sense of national obligation, where is that social, emotional and moral formation supposed to come from? How will the virtuous habits form?

.. Freedom without covenant becomes selfishness. And that’s what we see at the top of society, in our politics and the financial crisis. Freedom without connection becomes alienation. And that’s what we see at the bottom of society — frayed communities, broken families, opiate addiction. Freedom without a unifying national narrative becomes distrust, polarization and permanent political war.

  1. .. Moreover, if you rob people of their good covenantal attachments, they will grab bad ones. First, they will identify themselves according to race. They will become the racial essentialists you see on left and right: The only people who can really know me are in my race. Life is a zero-sum contest between my race and your race, so get out.
  2. Then they resort to tribalism. This is what Donald Trump provides. As Mark S. Weiner writes on the Niskanen Center’s blog, Trump is constantly making friend/enemy distinctions, exploiting liberalism’s thin conception of community and creating toxic communities based on in-group/out-group rivalry.

Trump offers people cultural solutions to their alienation problem. As history clearly demonstrates, people will prefer fascism to isolation, authoritarianism to moral anarchy.

If we are going to have a decent society we’re going to have to save liberalism from itself. We’re going to have to restore and re-enchant the covenantal relationships that are the foundation for the whole deal. The crucial battleground is cultural and prepolitical.

In my experience, most people under 40 get this.

.. To address it, we’re going to need to confront it with another broad social movement

.. Many people my age and above seem clueless. Our elected leaders were raised in the heyday of naked liberalism and still talk as if it were 1994.

  • .. Congressional Republicans think a successful tax bill will thwart populism.
  • Mainstream Democrats think the alienation problem will go away if we redistribute the crumbs a bit more widely.

How China Aims to Limit the West’s Global Influence

In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Xi Jinping of China called his country a champion of free trade and globalization. And at an international conference in Beijing in May, he laid out China’s grand vision of promoting global integration by linking Asia, Europe and beyond through a new network of roads, railways and sea routes.

.. China is fashioning a new form of multilateralism

.. This strategy will advance its economic and political influence in a far more effective manner than a unilateral approach built on brute economic force, a tactic that has produced mixed results for China so far.

.. With the United States apparently pulling back from multilateralism

.. This form of multilateralism is built on transactional principles very different from the type of global order the United States and other Western economies have championed, one built on trust and mutual cooperation. It will eschew values like democracy, human rights and freedom of expression, which the United States has long sought to promote around the world.

.. Beijing’s strategy has two main prongs. The first is to change the rules of the game from within, by expanding Chinese influence in existing international institutions.

.. But the other side of the bargain — China’s opening — was not fulfilled. Foreign exporters and investors still face many barriers in China.

.. Foreign businesses undertaking production in China also have to partner with local companies, requiring transfers of technological expertise and intellectual property. Foreign investment is still restricted in certain sectors, including financial services like insurance.

.. The country is now one of the prime users of the W.T.O. dispute-settlement process to protect its own interests and to aggressively counter trade actions brought against it by other countries.

.. At these organizations, the United States and other advanced Western economies together still have the dominant voting power. So, China has been subtle in its approach, creating alliances with other emerging-market countries like India and Russia to advance its priorities.

.. The second prong of China’s strategy is to set up its own international institutions.

.. Initiatives like One Belt, One Road — the plan to invest $1 trillion or more in transcontinental infrastructure — and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which started operation last year, allow Beijing to cloak its influence behind the facade of a large group of countries

.. The professed multilateral nature of its initiatives allows Beijing to pull other countries more tightly into its fold. It becomes harder for countries that do not share China’s values to stay on the sidelines. Many countries joining with China say they must do so to influence these new institutions from the inside rather than just complain about them from the outside. This was the justification when Britain, Germany and France signed up to become founding members of the Asian infrastructure bank, leaving the United States fuming.