Tuesday, October 1, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, October 1st, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China: How Mao Zedong’s Declaration of a Totalitarian, One-Party State in 1949 Changed the World
There are just a few dates in history, especially over the last 200 years, that are genuine historical hinges. You can look at the progression of history, and you understand there is a before and there is an after, and that hinge really matters.
One of the tests of time is whether that hinge turns out to matter more upon reflection in the unfolding of time than less. What turns out to matter more is what happened 70 years ago today, when Chairman Mao Zedong stood in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and declared the existence of the People's Republic of China. This was not totally unexpected, but it was earth-shaking news coming, of course, just over three decades after the Bolshevik Revolution, so utterly transformed and devastated Russia.
By 1949, Westerners were pretty familiar with a communist revolution. They knew it when they saw it. Furthermore, the West had opposed Mao and his forces during the years of struggle that led up to the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. The long story of history comes down to a very short statement. Mao and his forces won, and what they won was announced on October the 1st, 1949 when they declared a one-party communist state that had unified China.
This was, in a strange way, a moment of pride for the Chinese. It was a pride that came with the uniting of China after China had largely been humiliated by being treated as a colonial entity by Western empires, and then of course, the subjugation under Japan that was so horrifying in the years that were leading up to and then included World War 2. So Mao provided for China a new and Marxist nationalism that United China, but under the dictatorship of a totalitarian one-party rule.
Ian Buruma on the front page of The New York Times says, "When Chairman Mao Zedong stepped forward in Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1949, and proclaimed in standard Chinese the founding of the People's Republic of China, many patriots rejoiced. A large number of Chinese who were not communists were still happy that after years of humiliation by foreign powers, of vicious Japanese invasion, and a bloody civil war, China was now finally united. For the first time in roughly a century, the Chinese had regained their dignity. Mao was widely credited for this.”
But now 70 years later, the world knows what Mao and Maoism really represented. But as we're looking at the 70th anniversary of communist rule in China, we are looking at a still unfolding story. This is actually remarkable in its own right.
If you consider the fall of the Soviet Union and the crackup of the Soviet Bloc, many Westerners came to the conclusion that in the words of Francis Fukuyama, we had reached the end of history, that Western understandings of liberty, and of human rights, and constitutional democracy, and free markets would triumph over all other rival worldviews.
Fukuyama's thesis was actually a bit more sophisticated than that, but there were so many people in the West who thought that communism was now completely failing, failing everywhere inevitably and probably quickly, and Western norms of democracy, and government, and constitutionalism were rising.
But as it turned out, what happened in China was a very different story. In China, you have now a one-party rule that is if anything, an even stronger one-party rule than ever before that is combined with a Chinese version of a free market, a certain form of capitalism. 70 years after the foundation of the People's Republic of China, what has become clear in China is the fact that there is a form of capitalism at work.
Now, Christians need to remember that capitalism and the existence of a free market are not exactly the same thing. In China, you have a form of free market capitalism, but it is still under the absolute tyranny of a totalitarian one-party state. This was not something envisioned by either conservative or Marxist economists a century ago.
This is a hybrid that is at this point, most classically demonstrated in China, but now China is not only a totalitarian state under a one-party rule. It is also a hyper-modern surveillance state, which means that the communist party in China right now has mechanisms of control that Mao could never have imagined. But as we're thinking about Mao, we need to recognize that Mao and Maoism were two of the deadliest realities of the 20th century now extending into the 21st.
In her important work, Maoism: A Global History, Julia Lovell points to the fact that you have Mao, and then you have Maoism, and then you have the international impact of Maoism. Within China, Maoism was distilled into Mao's famous Little Red Book, a book of pithy sayings that was neo-Confucian in its organization and in its theme, its poetic structure. But in reality, it was a form of indicating that Mao was the source of all wisdom.
Now, as you're thinking about different civilizational patterns in the East and in the West, as you're looking at the Chinese communist pattern, you really can't have it without the antecedent of Confucianism, the idea that there is a certain wisdom that is to unify society, a largely secular wisdom. Mao's Little Red Book was not only secular wisdom, in one sense, it was profound nonsense, but nonetheless, it gave a certain kind of intellectual coherence to what became Maoism.
One of the points made in this new book, Maoism: A Global History, is that Mao became the inspiration for some of the most deadly, indeed murderous, and dictatorial regimes in the 20th century. China under Mao undertook what China had not had before, and that is a set of client states or client regimes. Most infamously and classically, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.
By about 1970, after just a few years of the rule of the Khmer Rouge, about 20% of the entire population of Cambodia had died of something other than natural causes. This reminds us of the murderous reality of Mao's own revolution. In the years after the declaration of China as a one-party communist state, China underwent a famine that killed at least 30 million people, and this was not an accident nor was it simply a matter of natural causation. It was a political famine because much like Lenin in the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution, Mao also sought to completely change the ways society operated, including the peasants and the others who were involved in the agrarian sector.
By the time Mao had concluded this part of his revolution, again, about 30 million people were dead, and then fast forward to the 1960's and Mao's cultural revolution. There probably has never been in human history an ideological regime of such revolutionary character in any place at any time, and that's pretty easy to document simply because of the sheer size of China's population. This was something new and something genuinely horrifying.
Now, as we think about worldview analysis here, let's just remind ourselves of communism. Communism is a form of dialectical materialism. Materialism is a worldview that declares that the only existent reality is material reality. This was one of the key points of Karl Marx himself. It was one of the key affirmations of the Russian revolutionaries and the Bolshevik Revolution. It is quintessential ideological Marxism and it was at the center of the Chinese communist Marxist revolution.
Materialism. There is no religious truth. There is no spiritual reality. There is nothing other than atoms, and bits, and other formations of material. Thus, human beings are just other forms of material. Thus, the regime could justify in its own mind because of its thirst for power killing 30 million of its own people. After all, they are just material.
Christians just need to remind ourselves of the infinite distinction that comes by defining human beings, every single human being, as made in God's image. That's not a slight distinction. That's an infinitely important category distinction. But it's also important to recognize that this transforms morality because morality by definition cannot be transcendently and objectively given. Instead, morality becomes nothing more than a Machiavellian formula of what keeps the party in power.
Now, we're looking at the new reality in China of the fact that Maoism is back, and it has been updated in a big way. That's a surprise to Americans because, again, with the end of the Soviet Union, most people in the West assumed that communism would evaporate in China as well, but it didn't.
One of the reasons it didn't is because the leaders of the Chinese communist party understood two things. One was that they were going to have to reverse the course of Mao, especially in the cultural revolution, and the other was that they would have to keep the population happy and content by raising the standard of living. This would require basically adopting at least a form of a free market economy.
China has done that, but it is a free market economy that breaks all the traditional rules. That what's part and parcel behind the great trade war right now between the United States, and other Western societies, and China. China routinely supports the subversion of Western capitalism and the stealing of intellectual property, and Mao has now been succeeded, of course, by the current leader of the communist party, Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping has now been given the status of Mao with his own political philosophy, even as Mao was declared to be the author of Maoism and Maoist thinking, now China is ruled by what's officially called Xi Jinping thinking.
One final note. You really can't have communism without a massive military that is to intimidate not only foreigners, but also, those inside the nation. The military parade that is scheduled today in Beijing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China is expected to involve no less than 15,000 soldiers and sailors, 160 fighter jets, bombers, and other aircraft, and no less than 580 tanks and other weapons.
Oh, and The New York Times also reports that those 15,000 soldiers involved in the parade have been decked out not only in their uniforms with their weaponry, but they are also going to be wearing diapers because given the ideology of the communist state, there can be no acknowledgement of what it means to be human, even when having to go to the bathroom.
We are told that all the male soldiers involved in the parade in uniform have to be between 5 foot 10 and 6 foot 1 in order that they would look uniform. Just another reminder of what happens to the individual under the regime of communism. The individual disappears, and in China, that's not just a metaphor.
Government Wants All the Children: Britain’s Labour Party Adopts Platform for Abolishment of Private Schools
Next, shifting from Beijing to London. Last week, the Labour Party in Britain held its conference. In fact, this is conference season for the major political parties in Britain. Right now, as I speak, the Conservative Party, the Tory Party is meeting in its national conference. We'll be talking about that later. The important thing is to recognize just a couple of issues and one in particular that arose from the Labour Party Conference.
The big news is not that the Labour Party has turned socialist, it was founded as a socialist party. The big news is that in its conference last week, Labour adopted a policy, a platform for the absolute abolishment of private education at the level under university within Great Britain. The headline in The Daily Telegraph, "Labour votes to confiscate the assets of public schools." Actually, the measure adopted by the party is to basically abolish private education, every form of private education, and instead, to confiscate the assets of those schools and distribute them in a government form of state education.
Now, there's a background to this, of course, and that background according to the Labour Party is what they identify as the problem of inequality. Here, again, we see the basic worldview conflict. You have two goods, two moral arguments. The moral arguments are equity on the one hand and liberty on the other, but one of the insights of the Christian worldview and frankly, one of the lessons of history is that you cannot simultaneously affirm any absolute form of equity and any legitimate form of liberty. Liberty and equity are actually not reconcilable.
Now, every society comes to some kind of understanding of how these goods, these moral arguments are to be balanced. There's virtually no society right now that says it's all liberty, no concern for equality, but the title shift, especially on the left in Western societies, has been something like going back to the early decades of the 20th century with a massive restructuring of society towards equity, it is claimed, at the expense of liberty. There's no more classic example of that than denying the right of parents to send their children to the school of their choice.
Now, notice you have, in virtually every Western society, parents who are required by confiscatory taxation to pay for the government schools. Those who pay for private schools are not only paying their taxes. They're also paying the tuition and the cost of private education. But also, deeply grounded in Western civilization is the right of parents and the authority of parents to make the decisions concerning the education of their own children.
But here's where you see the rapid rise of authoritarianism and quasi-authoritarianism in the part of government claims that government knows best. Government knows best in the education of children, but here's where Christians understand it's an even bigger story than that because we understand that just looking at the United States of America, in the early decades of the 20th century, those who are trying to move the country in a specific direction with a new specific idea of what it meant to be an American saw the government schools as the way to accomplish that unifying theme of Americanism. You have John Dewey and others in the formation of the public schools as we know them in America.
But then, there came a further left turn, especially during the '60s, '70s, and '80s when those who were seeking to move the country in a far more liberal direction in morality and cultural values came to see that the way to shape the minds of young people was to get more of them in the government schools in the United States, in the public schools, and then to train the teachers, and thus to have a mechanism for shaping the mind of the future.
That's the background of what's going on here in the United Kingdom, but the issues here arrived earlier just at the end of World War Two about 20 years before many of these issues arrived in the United States, and that's one of the reasons why, for example, American Christians should pay attention to this story because what takes place on this side of the Atlantic doesn't stay here. It pretty quickly now migrates to the other side of the Atlantic.
Here's another political reality: There is an enormous symbiosis between the Labour Party in the United Kingdom and the Democratic Party in the United States. This was true, for instance, during the 1990's. Just take the example of two leaders, Bill Clinton, the president of the United States, a Democrat, and Tony Blair, the prime minister of Great Britain, a member of the Labour Party. Both of them represented what they claimed was a new form of their own party's identity.
In the United Kingdom, it was Tony Blair with what was called New Labour. In the United States, it was Bill Clinton with a new moderate form of the Democratic Party after the annihilation of the party in the 1972 Presidential Election, and it was the arguments coming from the Democratic Leadership Council, a think tank that was associated with what both Clinton and Blair declared to be a new third way.
But what we now know is that that third way, number one, really didn't work, and secondly, it surely didn't last. If you want to know two of the most unpopular people in the eyes of their own parties, just try to mention Tony Blair at the Labour Party Conference or Bill Clinton at the next Democratic National Convention. Both of them are now seen as sellouts, economically and politically, who no longer represent the identity, much less the future of their party.
Both the Labour Party in the UK and the Democratic Party in the United States have lurched to the left, but each in its own way. Labour, at this point, considerably more to the left than the Democratic Party, but the Democratic Party has shown over years it's trying to play catch-up pretty fast with the Labour Party in the United Kingdom.
Looking at the issue of education, the accusation coming from Labour is that there will never be academic or educational equity so long as parents have the choice of where their students go to school. But here's where the situation gets really complicated in Britain. It’s because Britain's educational system is, well, a lot more complicated than the United States. You have elementary schools. You have comprehensive schools. You have the so-called grammar schools. The grammar schools have been more traditional. Then, you've got an entire array of private schools. You have some Christian schools, but you also have the old and esteemed private schools that were the backbone of the British aristocracy.
Classically amongst them, Eton College, which is a school for boys between the ages of 13 and 18, and let's just say that it's old. It was established in 1440 by King Henry IV. Just imagine claiming that your alma mater goes all the way back to 1440 and was founded by none other than King Henry IV. It was established as King's College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor. Eton is visible, of course, from Windsor Castle, but what you see here very visible in our eyes is that the Labour Party is now openly calling for the entire option of private education to be disestablished, unallowed, properties to be confiscated.
What makes this all the more shocking is that the Labour Party went into its conference last week with virtually no one expecting that the party would adopt this particular policy. Instead, it was expected that the party would move towards revoking the tax exempt status of private schools in order to remove any kind of encouragement of people to send their children or to donate to those schools. But instead, the party demonstrating that lurch to the left actually adopted a policy they call for the abolishment of those schools.
Here's where Christians, Christians in the United States and elsewhere, need to understand that if parents do not have the authority and the right to make the educational decisions concerning their children, then their own parental role, and authority, and responsibility has been abrogated by the state. What we need to note is that there are those who would be extremely happy to compromise those parental rights, if not to nullify them and to take them away.
It is because it isn't particularly new, even in the United States that at least some see educational and academic alternatives for children as subversive to the direction they want to take the society. Here's where American Christians very committed to Christian education, to classical Christian education, to Christian schools, and for that matter, more fundamentally, to parental authority to make the educational decisions for our own children, we need to remember that some of the hard-fought victories along these lines were one without evangelical notice.
For example, we go back to the year 1972 in the United States Supreme Court. A decision known as the Yoder decision in which the Supreme Court by a divided vote voted that it was the right of Amish parents to decide that their children would not continue in compulsory state education after the eighth grade or even in an Amish alternative as a school system, not beyond the eighth grade.
The Supreme Court decided in 1972 that a part of what it meant to have rights as a parent in the United States of America was to have the right to make and to have the decision stick, the decisions concerning the education of our own children. Christians have to understand that we are already up against an enormous challenge in this increasingly secularizing culture.
That challenge only becomes more ominous with developments like this, and again, it's easy to say, "Well, that's Great Britain. Nothing like that could possibly happen in the United States," but it doesn't take an action this extreme or this straight-forward to accomplish some of the same effect. It can come by encroaching government regulation. It can come by economic strangulation. It can come by other means.
The effect would be the same, and this is where Christians have to understand that our right to homeschool, to school in Christian schools, to make the decisions concerning the education of our children, well, that's an indispensable right, but it's not a right we can take for granted on either side of the Atlantic.
The Propaganda of Banned Books Week: What’s Really Behind a Society Celebrating Books that Aren’t Actually Banned
We'll end in a story from the United States of America. USA Today's Mary Cadden reports with the headline, "Challenged or Banned: Titles Aren't Just in the Past." Yes, you probably felt this coming. It's Banned Book Weeks again in the United States of America, but what are the points I want to make is that this is largely propaganda. There is no banning of books in the United States of America, and actually, the story makes that clear. As USA Today reports, "When you think about banned books, you may think of the past. Novels written many years ago come to mind like Catcher in the Rye, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Tropic of Cancer, but book banning and censorship is still very much alive and well."
Book banning in the United States? Well, let's just think about going back in time to when the Roman Catholic Church and its congregation for the defense of the faith had what was called The Index. It was a list of forbidden books. It was a crime to hold those books. It could sometimes be a capital crime. But when you're talking about banned books now, you're not really talking about government banning books. You're not talking about any religious authority having the right to ban books. You're talking about mostly parents challenging books that are directed to their children in the schools, in the libraries of the schools, and in the public libraries.
Let's just note, removing those books or not having those books in the catalog would not be banning those books. Those books would still be, let's just note, just one click away, but the reality is that this serves a propaganda purpose that is now being driven even by library professionals.
Now, let's just state right up forward that there are many devoted Christians who are professional librarians, but the fact is that the profession of librarianship has moved again decidedly to the left. Just look at the American Library Association and the resolutions that it adopts year by year. The fact is that the American Library Association and many booksellers use the idea of Banned Book Weeks as basically propaganda, and there's also cultural intimidation here suggesting that it is wrong for parents to have some interest in, much less control of what their children read.
But when you look at USA Today's list coming from the ALA of the books that are now increasingly targeted, just consider that they include books such as A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss. Reasons challenged? “For including LGBTQIA+ content and for political and religious viewpoints.” You also have the book that's listed as number one, the most challenged. It is the title George by Alex Gino. The reasons it is challenged, "For encouraging children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning dirty magazines describing male anatomy, creating confusion, and including a transgender character."
But let's just assume for a moment that you're coming from the cultural left, not the cultural right. What about number six? It is the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Reasons challenged, "For addressing teen suicide." That's nothing more than an absolute misrepresentation. Both the book and the television series became a focus of very widespread concern from both the left and the right because it was traceable to an actual spike in adolescent suicides amongst those who read the book and saw the television series.
But this should at least wake up some American Christian parents to what we are now facing. The reality is that if you seek to exercise your responsibility, not just your authority and right, but your responsibility as a parent, you are now considered the enemy by many who would, such as you see in the Labour Party, say that you don't have the right to make the decisions concerning the education of your children, and like those coming from the American Library Association who say in essence you are morally wrong if you want to control or even influence what your children and teenagers read. We're living in an age in which you can have widespread cultural conversation about Banned Book Weeks when actually, there are no books being banned.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from London, England, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.