Why East Asia Alienates Intellectuals

  • May 1, 2014
  • Op-eds

East Asia is arguably the most important part of the world. It is the geographic organizing principle of the global economy. It has an array of strong, consequential nations and treaty allies of the United States. But outside of this or that article or essay about this or that Chinese dissident or the hideous depredations of the North Korean regime, intellectuals and humanists of all stripes tend to write less about East Asia than about other regions. The reasons are several. But in general, we can say that East Asia has comparatively little to offer them.

In fact, East Asia is a rebuke in major respects to the humanist project. It is prosperous and successful, with the latest postmodern infrastructure and technology; yet at a macro political level it is consumed less by universalist ideals than by old-fashioned ethnic nationalism. ChinaJapanSouth KoreaVietnam, the Philippines and so on are deeply conscious of their own ethnic identities, which carry within them clashing claims of sovereignty in the South and East China Seas, as well as elsewhere. East Asia shows how exclusivist mindsets need not be confined to poor, post-communist populations or poverty-stricken peoples with tribal or sectarian differences. East Asia is a flagrant example that sustained capitalist development need not necessarily lead to universal values.