Technocracy can live without humanism - but we cannot
From: The Australian January 25, 2012 12:00AM
TO write of Western civilisation in the 21st century is to invite suspicion. To write well of it is considered treason in fashionable quarters. So it is best done for good reason.
The progressive displacement of liberal democracy in Western politics and higher education with technocracy is good reason.
In November, we witnessed perhaps the most savage strike on liberal democracy ever issued from its contemporary ruling classes.
The EU responded to the economic catastrophe in Greece by effectively replacing its democratically elected leader with an EU technocrat and banker, Lucas Papademos. Their ghastly encore was to prohibit democratic elections in Greece for 100 days.
The official rationale peddled for this gross violation of a sovereign people's will was technocratic; the EU wanted to parachute in its faceless men to balance the ledger under austerity measures. But when they raised the sanctity of EU geopolitical unity as an adjunct cause for instilling totalitarian control, the philosophy and politics of technocracy coalesced into a European condition.
...Technocracy is an idea for the organisation of society based on scientific and expert knowledge. Philosophers Robert Scharff and Val Dusek have traced its origins to the Renaissance figure Francis Bacon and later luminaries of the Enlightenment such as Comte de Saint-Simon. In the early 20th century, it was revived by engineer Thorstein Veblen in the first modern attempt to mould technocracy into a political movement.
Despite its Western origins, it is China, not the West, that is the leading technocracy of the 21st century.
The relationship between technocracy and the decline of Western civilisation is close. Mao Zedong loathed the liberal humanism of Western civilisation and from 1966 to 1976 he enforced a series of economic and educational reforms that broke the minds and bodies of many Chinese citizens who supported the freedoms associated with Western life.
The comparatively concealed history of communism is the technological and scientific research championed on the conviction that modernity was -- and must be -- separable from liberalism and democracy.
Such a distinction was essential to the success of the communist project, not in the least because of the military power that was required to defend it internally and externally.
In his book Rise of the Red Engineers, Johns Hopkins University sociologist Joel Andreas chronicles the incipient emergence of a Chinese technocratic class in the late stages of the Cultural Revolution. At universities such as Tsinghua, students were trained in engineering then educated in communist philosophy, producing perfect technocratic citizens.
China is today emerging as a scientific superpower. In Research Trends, Andrew Plume illustrated that by measure of mass research output (a common indicator of a country's higher education prestige), China sits second to the US in scientific rank. Plume predicted that by next year, it will surpass the US in mass scientific output. The quality of the output was not considered, but the pursuit of technocracy in China has exacted a great human cost.
In his 1957 speech "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People", Mao railed against intellectuals not committed to communism, exonerating those who put their fellow citizens to death on the charge of autonomy. Labelled counter-revolutionaries, Mao urged that these autonomous liberal intellectuals be "eliminated wherever found". University academics and students were forced to study Marxism to acquire a "correct political orientation . . . and become workers with both socialist consciousness and culture".
From the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping instituted a new system of technocracy with explicit policies to recruit political leadership from university graduates. A new era of scientific management modelled on the Saint-Simonian ideal had arrived.
Despite their focus on science, Chinese universities continue to mandate Marxism on the undergraduate curriculum, cognisant of the cultural power of higher education and its relationship to nation-building.
Unlike Western liberalism, Marxist materialism does not provoke the clash of culture between science and the arts elucidated in CP Snow's famous essay Two Cultures. Rather, technocracy and Marxist materialism are entirely wholly compatible.
Technocracy has bloomed in Chinese higher education and politics because it is the philosophical and material perfection of the communist principle. It thus requires the forceful suppression of liberalism, most notably embodied by Chinese artists and humanists such as Liao Yiwu and Ai Weiwei, who have been maltreated and imprisoned by their government. Technocracy is not conducive to the human freedoms for which Westerners have fought across seas and centuries and now inherit as a birthright.
The arts and humanities remain under suspicion in China. Political scientists such as Cheng Li and Princeton University's Lynn White revealed that throughout the history of the People's Republic of China, social scientists have been ostracised and sometimes despised.
Humanism, it seems, nestles most safely in the bosom of the West.
The recent introduction of technocracy by EU leadership into Greece, the philosophical birthplace of Western Civilisation, is more than symbolic. As in China, a great purge of classical liberalism has been taking place in Western universities since the 1970s.
We have a problem.
Western civilisation has been almost eliminated as a continuous historical fact and teachable field of study in Western universities. The National Association of Scholars' recent report "The Vanishing West" surveyed the decimation of Western civilisation programs in North American public universities from 1964-2010. In 1964, 82 per cent of public universities sampled offered Western civilisation as a sequence. By 2010, it was 10 per cent.
In part, the teaching of Western civilisation has declined because of growing multiculturalism in universities and subsequent competing demands for cultural recognition in the curriculum. However, there is no apparent reason why universities should not offer specialisation in various civilisations and cultures, including that of the West.
Western civilisation has been -- and continues to be -- subjected to hostility in higher education. The culmination of anti-Western sentiment was the 1987 protest by Jesse Jackson at Stanford University, where he led a chant of "Hey he, ho, ho, Western's civ has got to go". Really? Then here's a taste of what's going to go: Plato, Socrates, Hypatia, Galileo, the university, underground sewage, antibiotics, soap, contraception, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Mozart, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, women's liberation, de Beauvoir, democracy, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, newspapers, aeroplanes, movies, jeans. Oh, and electricity.
An edition of The Australian could be filled only with names and historical events that have composed Western civilisation, a musical score recognised across the globe. Yet we do not teach it in our universities. It is a historical error spiralling into absurdity.
The Enlightenment, one of the pinnacles of Western civilisation, was an extension of the earlier scientific revolution. As historian Niall Ferguson points out in his recent book Civilization, its central feature was social science; the development of reason as a key to unlocking the mysteries of humanity.
Without the humanities and arts, technocracy can survive but Western civilisation cannot. It is the most optimistically and profoundly human of civilisations from its representative government, its exaltation of the reasoning human mind over supernatural authority, and its protection of the freedoms prerequisite to artistic expression and individual autonomy.
The notion that Western civilisation is in decline remains as popular today as it was a century ago when Howard Spengler penned The Decline of the West. But all of the time spent defending cultural perimeters during the past three decades has been a lost opportunity to cultivate civilisation's positive values.
Freedom, truth and beauty comprise the reason for Western civilisation and the universities that were established to grant it perpetual life. That this history has been struck off by revisionists is cause for ire.
After the culture wars, as in all warfare, the task of reconstruction must begin. I begin as I hope to end, imagining Western civilisation in the arms of its great poet Walt Whitman: O setting sun! though the time has come/I still warble under you, if none else does, unmitigated adoration.
Jennifer Oriel is a Melbourne-based writer and higher education analyst
Taken from: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/technocracy-can-live-without-humanism-but-we-cannot/story-e6frgcko-1226252731104