Adam K. Webb grew up in England, Spain, and the United States. He is now Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Centre, an overseas campus of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He has authored three books, including Beyond the Global Culture War (2006), A Path of Our Own: An Andean Village and Tomorrow's Economy of Values (2009), and Deep Cosmopolis: Rethinking World Politics and Globalisation (2015). His interests range broadly across political thought, and efforts to recreate room for traditions and liberty on the emerging global landscape. He divides his time among urban China, rural England, and other corners of the world.
The old neighbourhoods are not coming back amid the glass and concrete of today’s Shanghai. Half of the Andean countryside is beginning to look less like villages and more like mining settlements whose denizens want to leave. And the last few years have shown that liberty and truth are felt less in the bones by each new cohort of educated élites who will go on to craft policy. Still, something more timeless does come through in the frustration that I see growing on the faces of young Chinese on my Zoom screen, as they say they feel more like pawns on a shrinking board than ever before, and in the firm handshakes of the stubborn activists who will not yield and who appreciate the chance to talk with anyone sympathetic.
The fact that the chattering classes outraged by ISIS’s atrocities would unleash the latter-day centurions of the air so eagerly, while leashing ordinary people so cavalierly, should give pause to those of us suspicious of the modern state and jealous of society’s spaces.
What the political mainstream ignores, unsurprisingly, is that any change in how we raise revenue cannot be only about balancing the numbers. It also involves judgements about the texture of society and the virtues that habits of livelihood can inculcate or destroy.
Many a time, I have seen my friend doting on his little seven-year-old half brother, picking him up from school, cooking for him, and keeping his classmates’ junk food at bay. Staying abroad and settling into some sort of upwardly mobile immigrant comfort would go against the grain of years of habit.