Copyright (c) 1996 First Things 53 (May 1995): 13-21.

The Dionysian Dialectic

John J. Savant

Euripides was on to something when he loosed an angry Dionysius on his protagonists. For Dionysius-the god who in his carnal vitality insists upon recognition-will not tolerate neglect or exclusion from our definitions of human nature. Indeed, he is the god who ravages all our dreams and systems when we root them in the airy insubstantiality of wish and vanity rather than in nature.

Volatile and dangerous, Dionysius was nevertheless a god. And so, for the Greeks, he was a source of spiritual revelation. But what he revealed was, strangely, the need for discipline and humility in the building of our lives: the need ever to consult nature in our assessments of what is human and humanly possible. This was an ambiguous, contrary, and tension-filled revelation, for what was revealed was both animal and spiritual, Dionysian and Apollonian.

Somehow (perhaps "original sin" enters here), we resent this tension, this ambiguity, this indetermination. We resent Dionysius and his goat- footed satyrs just behind our aspirations and taking residence, like some moral fifth column, in our hapless glands. We do not, of course, dismiss him in our assumptions or our systems any more than we dismiss the weather by donning a cap. But we do make him-or appear to make him-subservient to our more flattering self-perceptions, to our Apollonian pretensions.

In the Greek tradition, Dionysius must be, if not honored, at least respected. He is passion and energy and eros and exultation. He is the undifferentiated potential for both creativity and destruction. Without him, thinking is sterile, dreaming is pointless, and desiring is wishful.

It is not inaccurate to call Dionysius "nature"- though he is not all of nature. But he is that di-mension of our humanity determined by our animality-by our physical senses and hungers and instincts; by our mere and insistent materiality; by our bulk and movement; by our gravity, our constant changing, our mortality. And not least by our distinctions in size and strength, in talent and beauty and gender.

Thus animal, Dionysius calls for celebration, for the joy of the body. But he also engenders fear-not simply fear of reversion to that nature we consciously try to transcend, nor fear of that latent and indiscriminate violence which he represents: but fear especially of the implications inherent in our physical distinctions. These implications suggest limitations and obligations not congenial to our self- perceptions, desires, and expectations. In brief, Dionysius is to be celebrated and feared for the very nature he represents-both that generic nature which identifies us as human (rational, animal, communal, moral, religious) and that particular nature which identifies us as individuals (sexual, psychological, historical).

For the Greeks these two levels of nature-generic and individual-existed in a creative tension that both defined individuality and enhanced community. Within the context of myth it was a tension that united temporal with spiritual, secular with transcendent, and Dionysian with Apollonian.

The full Dionysian/Apollonian integration remained, of course, an unreachable ideal. But as an ideal it did govern human thought, behavior, and value. It did hold all these up to nature-to that ineluctable tension and union between matter and spirit and, by extension, between biology and social function. For recognition of those individual distinctions that biology makes manifest (size, strength, gender, talent) was, for the Greeks, recognition of those communal roles and obligations attendant upon these distinctions.

Today, confronted by all-assuming secularism (gentled by seductive sentimentality), we ignore Dionysius in the pantheon of consciousness. Our minds turn to the shrine of their own divinity, to the apotheosis of their aspirations. Dionysius, when he does stir, plays no role in the larger vision and realizes no integration into the human venture. He serves, rather, for gratification, for periodic escape. He has become, not the tremendous and terrible steed trained upon some surpassing grail, but the pornographer of our vanity and the magister ludi of our periodic binges-a sort of pressure valve of the psyche.

If, then, the demotion of Dionysius is a corollary of our culture's psychic indulgence, it is also the symptom of our most pernicious, erosive, and potentially catastrophic inclinations. Ignoring the power, the limitations, and the obligations inherent in biology, we construct worlds out of mere ideas. We ignore those distinctions of gift and gender and function indicated by our generic and individual natures. We conjure systems to serve our imaginings. And our imaginings arise, not out of nature-out of what presents itself to our consciousness-but out of private impulse, need, and whimsy.

But as Euripides was so well aware, we ignore Dionysius at tremendous peril. The beast sleeps in the bed chamber. He seems to doze through our dalliances. He lets us pet him and feed him with our occasional lusts. We forget he is clawed and fanged. We sleep confident and inattentive. And then the nightmares come: the sudden rage, the fear, the clenched fist, the indiscriminate victim, the race riot, the beaten spouse, the pogrom, the holocaust. Then come the autocrats of mind and value and taste to fill the moral vacuums where we have slept. The nightmare begins, and human culture teeters on the brink of its ignored animality. And all the while, the pampered mind plays its games and names its delusions: personal autonomy, economic efficiency, racial cleansing, mercy-killing, absolute rights over one's body, and so forth. It all comes off so smoothly, we hardly know the beast has cornered us-until, as ultimately happens, it is our turn to be victim.

How we got to this cataclysmic state is a matter of language-or, rather, of its manipulation. And the word most manipulated is "rights." We say we have a right to the most comfortable life possible. We say we have a right to the goods and wealth we may have amassed. We say we have a right to absolute jurisdiction over our bodies. We speak of these "rights" as though they derived not from the nature of our existing in a physical and social context but from the fact that we exist at all.

What we tragically fail to perceive here is that the concept of rights is inseparable from the concept of otherness-the otherness of the universe generally, and, more immediately, of our planet and our communities. If there were no other beings with whom to share life, perception, or property, there would be no murder, deceit, or theft. There would be no one to offend us, no one to offend.

Our rights, therefore, are inseparable from our condition as members of a community and participants in nature. But as soon as we admit this, we must admit Dionysius. For, aspiring and idealistic as we may be, we are undeniably and inexorably physical animals. As such, we must recognize the Dionysian in every private and social equation if we are truly to understand and serve the order we call "justice"-and that is, in fact, the only ground and embodiment of our rights. What the Dionysian myth tells us, therefore, is that our bodies are both ours and the community's; that our gifts, our limitations, and our genders must serve public as well as private ends; that, as with the highly individual pieces in a mosaic, our fullest identities are realized only within the context of a whole that is larger than ourselves and ourselves writ large. The myth further tells us that property, though it may most fruitfully be private, may never be absolute; that power, though expressive of self, must serve more than the self.

Conversely, against the suffocating encroachments of system or state, the Dionysian insists upon our individualities and the distinctions of our needs and gifts. If, as Aristotle says, matter is the principle of individuation, then the Dionysian consciousness demands that no disembodied abstraction diminish me: let no system ignore my age, my womanhood, my manhood, my intellect, my artistic gifts, my vocation. Note: the Dionysian consciousness does not say, "Let me follow any whim or fancy I desire," but rather, "Let me realize as fully as possible the distinctive roles for which nature has suited me."

One of the great deceptions of democracy-and of democratic advertising- is that we can be anything we like. But we cannot all be beautiful or thin or athletic; we cannot all be concert violinists; we cannot all be strong or stoical; we cannot all be good conversationalists or calm in crises or good drivers or good story-tellers or good cooks. And, though history may sometimes suggest the opposite, not just anyone can be president. That so many publications pandering to the voyeurs of glamour, adventure, wealth, and romance make money is testament to the pernicious appeal of abstractions in our lives-of denials of the individuality that democracies are meant to enhance and that Dionysian consciousness forever asserts.

John J. Savant is Professor of English at the Dominican College of San Rafael (San Rafael, California).

The Accent of Choice

David R. Carlin

As a lifelong Democrat and erstwhile liberal, I'm sorry to have to admit this-but I'm afraid a lot of Democrats and liberals have not been exactly gracious about their defeat in last November's congressional elections. I grant that Newt Gingrich, who gives no quarter to either liberals or Democrats, may be hard to swallow; but the role of the loser in American politics is traditional and well-defined. You have to smile, say that the people have spoken, wish the winner the best of luck in the difficult days that lie ahead, etc. You don't have to mean any of this, of course, and every gracious word plus your smile can be totally insincere. But you really are expected to say things like this, even when the winner is someone you simply can't stand.

I thought President Clinton did not do badly acknowledging defeat at a press conference the day after the great defeat. By contrast, the New York Times, instead of congratulating the new Speaker and his party, labeled Gingrich an "authoritarian" in its lead editorial two days after the election. As the psychologically literate understand, the word "authoritarian" is a polite code word for "fascist." As we have been told since the Nazi era, authoritarian personalities are those whose moral and mental composition renders them ripe for a fascist political style. The Times would have us understand that Gingrich does not stand in the tradition of Jefferson, as he pretends, but in the tradition of Mussolini and Hitler. The new House of Representatives, in this view, will be a kind of ongoing Nuremburg rally, with the Republican majority acting as a "rubber stamp" (as the Times puts it) for the Fuehrer's agenda.

I doubt any other Gingrich-bashers have been able to equal the Times in its truly magnificent degree of ungraciousness, but many have made a good try. Since the election I have heard prominent liberals describe the new Speaker and his supporters as "morally arrogant" and "self-righteous" enough times that I have come to suspect these are part of his name, like a warrior from the Icelandic sagas: Newt the Self- Righteous.

My aim, however, is not to defend Speaker Gingrich and prove that he is meek, gentle, and kind. I suspect making such a case would be a formidable task. I am more interested in the mentality of the critics. To call someone morally arrogant and self-righteous seems to imply that the accuser is at least relatively free of these imperfections. But have American liberals been notable for their lack of self-righteousness and moral arrogance?

When I was a child growing up in Rhode Island I thought that people in Rhode Island did not have an accent. People in Boston, forty miles up the road, had an accent (plus a few odd words). When they wanted soda, they asked for tonic, which they pronounced "tawnic." People in New York City definitely had an accent, as did people from the South. And of course people from England had an accent (probably a phony one, resulting from speaking pretentiously all the time). Naturally, immigrants from Italy and Portugal had accents, but that was not their fault; and besides, their children who grew up in Rhode Island turned out to be accent-free. Then one day, after I had grown older and wiser, it dawned on me that there is no such thing as speaking without an accent, not even for people who have the privilege of growing up in Rhode Island. This was a great discovery, the first step on the never- ending road toward transcending ethnocentrism.

Cultural liberals who accuse the cultural right of wanting to "impose its values" on everyone else remind me of myself as a child. They are like people who imagine that in this wide world they alone are accent- free. According to its self-image, the cultural left alone does not impose values. Instead it allows everyone to live by his or her own freely elected (or freely constructed) values. Hence the cultural left will not impose its values relative to abortion, sexual orientation, family forms, suicide, etc. Neither the state nor public opinion should tell anyone whether to abort or not, whether to be gay or straight or bisexual, whether to marry or to cohabit, whether to marry homosexually or heterosexually, whether to have children in or out of wedlock, whether to commit suicide or to go on living. What could be more neutral? What could be more free from a desire to impose one's values on others?

But of course neutrality itself is a value. If Jones says, "Marriage is good and cohabitation wicked," Jones is expressing a value. And if Smith says, "Cohabitation is good and marriage wicked," Smith is expressing a value, though a different one from Jones. But if Robinson says, "Both marriage and cohabitation are permissible," then Robinson too is expressing a value, albeit a different one from either Jones or Smith. Jones favors marriage, Smith favors cohabitation, and Robinson favors choice.

If Jones and his friends arrange society so as to favor marriage and discourage cohabitation, Jones and friends are "imposing" their pro- marriage values on the rest of us. If Smith and his friends arrange society so as to favor cohabitation and discourage marriage, then Smith and friends are "imposing" their pro-cohabitation values on the rest of us. And if Robinson and his friends arrange society so as to favor free choice between marriage and cohabitation, then clearly Robinson and friends are "imposing" their pro-choice values on the rest of us.

Now it may be that choice is a better social value than either marriage or cohabitation. But that is not the issue here. The point is that choice is a value, and the people who try to maximize choice in American society (i.e., the cultural liberals) are trying to impose their values on the rest of us. Perhaps they are right to do so; for the time being I have no wish to dispute that point. But the difference between them and the cultural conservatives is not that the conservatives are trying to impose values on society while the liberals are not. The difference is that the conservatives are trying to impose one set of values, while the cultural liberals are trying to impose another set. If the liberals want to defend the values they are trying to impose on others, let them do so by saying, "Our values are better than your values; therefore society should live according to our values, not yours." Let them not do so by dishonestly saying, "We never try to impose our values on others; therefore you shouldn't either."

In other words, liberals speak with accents just like everybody else. Admittedly, this may seem obvious to some readers. What is obvious to me is that many of our fellow citizens, like that boy in Rhode Island, have yet to make this great discovery.

David R. Carlin, Associate Professor of Sociology at the Community College of Rhode Island, served as a Rhode Island State Senator from 1981 to 1992 and was a Democratic candidate for Congress in 1992.

Amending the School Prayer Amendment

James R. Stoner, Jr.

The missing clause in the Republicans' "Contract With America," which surfaced for a moment after last November's election only to be submerged until this summer, is the promise to secure a vote on a constitutional amendment that would permit voluntary and student-led prayers in the public schools. Nonetheless, Newt Gingrich's personal commitment to an amendment to the Constitution permitting voluntary school prayer is clear. Not only has the Speaker promised a House vote on an amendment by the summer, but the sentiment behind the proposal seems genuinely to be central to the articulated vision of a "renewal of American civilization" that informs all the speeches of this professor- turned-politician. "I do not have a vision of America which is dramatically better just because people pray," he said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation a month before the November vote, "but I do have a vision of an America in which belief in the Creator is once again at the center of defining being an American."

Though usually identified with the entrepreneurial wing of conservatism, Gingrich follows in the tradition of authors such as Michael Novak in seeing a link between individual enterprise and religious faith. His critique of the secular welfare state and his ambition to dismantle it rest not on secular libertarian premises but on his sense that the welfare state undermines the sense of responsibility for oneself and others that goes along with seeing oneself as God's creature. The point of allowing school prayer, Gingrich argued in that speech, is to "reestablish . . . that there is a spiritual dimension to our existence" and "to remind everyone of the word 'Creator.'" Without such an understanding, such evils as poverty and crime are intractable.

Shortly before last November's election, Representative Ernest Istook of Oklahoma introduced, with the Speaker among his cosponsors, a draft constitutional amendment:

Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions. No person shall be required by the United States or by any State to participate in prayer. Neither the United States nor any State shall compose the words of any prayer to be said in the public schools.
To my mind this draft is a good start for this year's deliberations, but in accepting in its final sentence the verdict of the Supreme Court's first prayer decision, in 1962, which threw out New York's simple and ecumenical Regents' prayer, the draft is either too timid (liberty depends on the voluntariness of a prayer's recital, not the accident of its composition) or too sectarian (given the Court's expansive notion of state action in the 1992 graduation prayer case, even suggested guidelines for nonsectarian public prayer might be forbidden). If the moment is ripe, and if something more is intended than a constitutionalized version of the Equal Access Act, then a proposal is due, at least for debate, that would stem the tide of militant secularism that has flooded American life and law since the 1960s. Opposition to any school prayer amendment is assured, after all, so nothing is lost by a serious effort to recover the place of religion in American public life.

Remembering that the Bill of Rights was originally drafted by James Madison after assembling the many proposals for amendments submitted by state ratifying conventions, and that the amendments as actually passed were significantly altered from Madison's initial draft, I would add the following version to the deliberations:

The prohibition of laws respecting an establishment of religion shall not be construed to forbid voluntary prayer or other religious exercise in public places, or to bar expenditure of public money for the general welfare through religious institutions; nor shall general laws be held invalid on grounds of the religious beliefs or motives of those supporting enactment of such laws.
Let me recount what I think are the advantages of an amendment of this sort. The peculiar locution, or circumlocution, with which this draft amendment begins is meant to take a clear position on a fundamental issue necessarily raised by any effort to further amend the Constitution with respect to religion: The purpose of the amendment would be to restore the original understanding of the Founding generation, which has been misconstrued by several generations of justices on the Supreme Court, and not to alter the historic American principle of religious liberty. As scholars as diverse as Robert Cord, Gerard Bradley, Ellis Sandoz, Thomas Curry, Michael McConnell, and others have shown, and as Supreme Court justices including Warren Burger, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and others have accepted, the Religion Clause of the First Amendment must be understood in the context of the vibrant spiritual life of late eighteenth-century America and thus should not be seen as forbidding a wide array of then-contemporary practices, including government-sponsored prayer, proclamations of days of prayer and thanksgiving, even grants to the clergy to run schools for the Indians. The prohibition against laws "respecting an establishment of religion" was meant, in the eyes of these scholars and justices, to insure that the federal government would not prefer one denomination to another (as some states at the time still did); at most, even taking Jefferson's and Madison's campaign for disestablishment in Virginia as the paradigm rather than the exception, the intention was to prevent the government from subsidizing religion itself. (As Speaker Gingrich puts it, "the Founding Fathers were trying to limit government in a world in which, literally, you had to pay a tax to a church you didn't belong to and didn't believe in.") Nearly everyone at the time assumed that society depended upon a shared morality, and that morality, at least for most men, was a product of religious faith. As Paul Johnson writes in his January 1995 Commentary article, "God and the Americans,"

though the Constitution and the Bill of Rights made no provision for a state church-quite the contrary- there was an implied and unchallenged understanding that America was a religious country, that the republic was religious not necessarily in its forms but in its bones, that it was inconceivable that it could have come into existence, or could continue and flourish, without an overriding religious sentiment pervading every nook and cranny of its society. This religious sentiment was based on the Scriptures and the Decalogue, was embodied in the moral consensus of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and manifested itself in countless forms of mainly Christian worship. Since American religion was a collection of faiths, coexisting in mutual tolerance, there was no alternative but to create a secular state entirely separated from any church. But there was an unspoken understanding that, in an emotional sense, the republic was not secular. It was still the City upon a Hill, watched over and safeguarded by divine providence, and constituting a beacon of enlightenment and an exemplar of conduct for the rest of the world.
That this consensus survived until almost yesterday can be confirmed by anyone who reads the walls at the great monuments in Washington, D.C., or considers the paintings that hang in the rotunda of the Capitol, or goes over in his mind all the verses of nearly any of our patriotic songs.

Now my point is not to deny any plausibility to the alternative interpretation; after all, some of the leading statesmen of the Founding seem to have been quite a bit more secular than most of their contemporaries, and an America that became ever more religious in the wake of the Second Great Awakening was the America that went to Civil War. Rather, it is that, since the interpretation sketched in the preceding paragraph has its own cogency, it is legitimate for the people to establish it as authoritative, and it would be wise for them to so establish their authority in a way that recovers the American tradition, or in other words, in a way that keeps the prohibition on establishment and the guarantee of free exercise of religion intact.

No one is suggesting that the American experiment in religious liberty has proven a failure and that as a consequence we must repair to the comfort of an established church, but only that the recent experiment in strict separationism and militant secularism has impinged on religious liberty itself and must be curbed. The language offered, "shall not be construed," borrowed from the Ninth and Eleventh Amendments and used as well in the Istook draft, makes it clear that the error to be corrected was committed in legal circles. The implication is, I think quite evidently, that states and cities and counties and towns would have ample room to determine for themselves how to acknowledge and involve the spirit of religion in the life of their communities, provided that no particular church gained official status and that the rights of conscience were preserved.

The aim of the draft amendment's school prayer clause is obviously to allow a long-standing American tradition to be restored. The universal acquiescence in speaking explicitly of voluntary prayer shows that the advocates of a school prayer amendment do not differ from the courts in rejecting coercion in religious matters. They only have a hardier notion of what it means to be coerced: religious liberty is not a right never to be confronted with ultimate questions or made uncomfortable by difference. To be sure, the sort of public prayer that is usually offered will seem thin gruel to an Orthodox Jew, a traditional Catholic, or a Protestant evangelical, but that hardly seems to be a reason for supposing it does no good, only a reminder that civil religion is an introduction to, not a replacement for, the real thing.

As for the protection offered in my text for "other religious exercise in public places," I mean to endorse an interpretation of what the Constitution permits in holiday displays and in the use of public facilities by religious groups that does not privilege secular culture over religious culture in the public life of a community. To the fear that majority culture will so dominate the scene as to exclude minority religions, I would reply that America's religious diversity seems generally to insure that politicians, unlike judges, soon learn at the polls a hard lesson in tolerance if they offend. Besides, the Free Exercise provision would not be touched by this amendment, but, arguably, would be reinforced.

The second substantive clause in the draft, allowing expenditure of public money for the general welfare through religious institutions, has the immediate purpose of insuring room for the sort of experimentation in the provision of charitable social services that Speaker Gingrich suggests, not to mention forestalling judicial interference with serious programs of school choice. The further intention is to acknowledge that the modern crisis concerning religious establishment arose coevally with the welfare state, which itself was a response, perhaps misguided, to economic modernization. As government came to absorb increasing wealth through income taxation and to hold itself responsible for keeping people fed, schooled, and housed, it crowded out the earlier providers of charitable services, most especially churches. Even if Republicans succeed in their most radical ambitions of dismantling the welfare state, some of its parts, for example federal old-age insurance, are apt to remain, and it is always good to hedge against the sure bet that sooner or later public policies will change. Again, the point is not to remove the ban on government paying priests to say mass or ministers to preach revivals, but to allow the full participation of churches and church-sponsored institutions in the charitable and intellectual life of the community in an age when government resources tend to dominate the field.

The third clause, reaffirming the right to speak and act from religious motives in the public square, must seem the strangest. The free speech and press clause of the first Amendment and indeed the whole character of democratic politics would seem already to guarantee this, and unlike school prayer and parochial aid this right has not obviously or not often fallen before a majority of the Supreme Court. I include it because a ban on religious principle in public action-achieved indirectly by voiding legislation advocated by its proponents on religious grounds-seems to me the logical next step of the secularists, already foreshadowed: certain opinions in abortion cases have suggested that restrictions on abortion, because they originate in tenets of religious faith, cannot be enacted into law without running afoul of the Establishment Clause; in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) the Court threw out a state statute mandating a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day because a few state legislators had been imprudent enough to suggest that students might use the time to pray; and in cases concerning state restrictions on the teaching of biological evolution, the religious origin of the contrary opinion proved to be the statutes' fatal flaw. The issue here is precisely the "naked public square," and the responsibility of seeing it decently clothed. As America will impose on no one a constitutional faith, so its Constitution should be such as can be embraced in good conscience by servants of the Lord.

Let me close by considering briefly a few objections that might be raised to a prayer amendment or to the version I propose. To the claim that the First Amendment ought not to be disturbed, I reply, in the spirit of John Locke's account of the right of revolution, that the disturbance has already occurred in the form of a generation or two of judicial decisions that upset the original and long-standing arrangement concerning the place of religion in public life. The frankly restorative form of the version here recommended would remedy the ill without revising the Founding principle.

To the claim that a prayer amendment has no chance of succeeding but is merely an exercise in symbolic politics, I would reply that the surprising changes signaled by elections in both 1992 and 1994 ought to make anyone hesitate to speak with certainty about what the electorate will and will not do. Passage of such an amendment would certainly be difficult, but the hard work of building a successful coalition would have its own reward, because it will require a coming together not only of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, but also of whites and blacks-many recent incidents in the press concerning school prayer have involved the latter-especially in the South, and no one needs to be told how historic that would be.

An objection I can imagine from readers of this journal would be to wonder why the forces of conservatism should expend their limited resources on a school prayer amendment, even in expanded form, rather than mobilize to withstand the threats in the burgeoning abortion and euthanasia culture that seem so much more immediate and real. Here I am tempted to plead realism: public opinion seems stalled at a more or less even divide on abortion, and, barring actuarial surprise, the Supreme Court seems fixed in its favor for at least another decade. But perhaps, since success for the pro-life cause looks increasingly as though it will depend upon the conversion of hearts rather than on political acumen and current electoral strength, it is providential that the question of prayer should come first. For if a prayer amendment could, in the process of its enactment and in its effect, restore the original American understanding of the place of religion in republican life, I am confident that a people who have rediscovered how to see the hand of the Almighty in their daily lives will soon come around to seeing life itself as God's gift.

James R. Stoner, Jr. is Associate Professor of Political Science at Louisiana State University.

On The Other Hand

Chinese Greeting Cards and the East Asian Future

Peter L. Berger

The readers of First Things, I know, are eagerly awaiting further reports by this writer from the wilder shores of American feminism and other battlefields of this country's culture war. But I have just returned from visiting China, and at least for the moment, the shock has diverted my attention from our local disturbances. And the whole point of writing a column is for the columnist to share his nightmares, or so I have been told.

It is about seven years since my previous visit to the Middle Kingdom. The place is hardly recognizable. Then as now, I went from Hongkong to Canton by boat, though the boat has greatly changed. Then it was a sparsely furnished ferry, the sort where one anxiously locates the lifeboats as soon as one is on board. Now the boat was almost elegant, serving food and regaling the passengers with Hongkong-made sitcoms and science-fiction movies (the two, as far as I could tell, overlap). What has remained the same is the sensation, as one travels up the Pearl River, of sailing into the past. But, again, it is now a different past. Then it was going from Hongkong modernity into a timeless Chinese reality of underdevelopment. Now it is the bustling world of the early Industrial Revolution-the world of Charles Dickens, say, orientalized in a Brechtian Verfremdung. Wherever one looks, there is construction-roads, factories, vast blocks of apartment buildings.

China is undergoing a gigantic capitalist revolution-breathtakingly dynamic, raw, brutal. A Hongkong businessman observed (not necessarily disapprovingly), "They treat workers like cogs." And another one says, "You know, what China could use now is a bit of socialism." Ironically, a red flag still flutters over this replication of nineteenth-century Western capitalism. But the People's Liberation Army owns luxury hotels and gambling casinos, and, it is rumored, so do the security services. Apparently there are members of the Communist party who find all this ideologically repulsive; most are successfully converting their political elite status into a commercial advantage. An economic giant is in the making. What will be the values that will animate this new society?

When I was in Canton the last time, it was just waking up from its Maoist stupor. Private enterprises were beginning to spring up here and there; there were a few cars. Now there are stores and businesses everywhere; the center of the city is one enormous traffic jam. The masses of cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and reckless pedestrians remind me of Mexico City and other urban explosions in the Third World, but then I notice a striking difference. There is almost no color, and there are very few children. The latter fact has two causes-the ruthless policy of population control ("one couple, one child"), which has been quite successful at least in the cities, and the migration pattern whereby men come into the cities looking for work and leave their families back in the villages. It is strange to be in a city that still looks like a place in the Third World, but where everything is colored gray and where there are few children. The effect is grim.

I returned to Hongkong by train and the sense of travelling through time is reversed. Now, one is travelling into China's future. Shenzen is the city on the border. It is the center of a special economic zone, where everything has been done to facilitate foreign investment and industrial development. A decade ago this was a sleepy fishing village; it is now a city of about two and a half million people. It already resembles Hongkong, full of highrises and blazing with neon signs at night. The resemblance is not accidental. Much of this development is based on Hongkong capital, Hongkong firms, and Hongkong management.

The mood in Hongkong reflects this. It is already the economic capital of China. At least among business people, there is now much less anxiety about the takeover in 1997 (some intellectuals are worried, but they form a small group). One repeatedly hears the statement, almost a mantra by now: "China is not going to take over Hongkong; Hongkong is taking over China." A comforting illusion? Maybe. But business is booming, and real estate prices in Hongkong are now higher than those in Tokyo. There are no signs of capital flight. In terms of per capita income, Hongkong is now the sixth-richest society on earth. The annual salary of a senior university secretary is about U.S.-$50,000. The chief executive officer of the Hongkong Stock Exchange tells how he is helping to set up new exchanges in several Chinese cities; he explains why, in his opinion, Shanghai is unlikely to win the competition for being the financial center.

I was in the region in connection with a research project on the role of business in processes of modernization and democracy. There can be little doubt about the modernizing impact of business. Democracy is another matter. In China, of course, it is not a good idea to ask people about democracy. But there still is reasonable freedom of speech in Her Majesty's colony. In a week of conversations in Hongkong I did not meet a single person (Chinese or British, I might add) who had anything positive to say about democracy. Admittedly, most of my interlocutors were business people, but my impression is that their view may well be shared by the majority of Hongkongers. There is worry about various things that the Chinese government might do that would have negative consequences, including repressive measures, but democracy as such is not a focus of anxiety. There had been an eruption of protest at the time of the Tienanmen massacre in 1989, but this was more a matter of outrage about the brutality of the repression rather than of frustrated democratic aspirations.

One Hongkong businessman summed up his view of the matter in a rather elegant syllogism: "We know that every society that has a welfare state declines economically. We have to stop the welfare state. In order to stop the welfare state, we have to stop democracy." One member of our project team was a South African, still flush with pride about the democratic transformation in her country; as these conversations in Hongkong proceeded, she went into a sort of political culture shock.

It is possible by now to envisage a new brand of Asian capitalism, with China rather than Japan at its core. This is the vision evoked by the phrase "the Singapore model." The model is of an unreservedly capitalist economy, its society highly efficient and meritocratic, its polity authoritarian and not overly concerned with the rights of individuals over against the collectivity. There is the question of how such a regime would legitimate itself. In all likelihood, the legitimation would be nationalism, buttressed by some form of Confucianism (scholars might call it pseudo-Confucianism, but that will not bother the political types in charge). Westerners and Asians with democratic convictions will, of course, characterize this model in morally pejorative terms. The advocates of the model are already reciprocating in the exchange of moral recriminations. The West, according to them, is decadent, enfeebled by mutually contradictory claims to entitlements, plagued by an individualism gone berserk and a political system that can no longer govern. Under this burden of cultural, social, and political pathologies, Western economies are bound to decline. The face of the twenty-first century will be an Asian face-or, more accurately, an East Asian face, since the plausibility of the model runs into difficulties in the parts of Asia untouched by Sinitic civilization.

The leaders of present-day Hongkong business probably provide a good picture of the future. To be sure, they have some attractive features. These are people who are smart, sophisticated, unsentimental, yet very much devoted to their families. Their self-confidence at first seems attractive too, especially when compared to the whining culture prevalent in America today, but it is also brash, aggressive, with a touch of brutality. Those features are captured in the joke told by an astute British observer of the city: "What is the Hongkong definition of a pervert? It is a man who loves women more than money."

As a description, this is not altogether fair. These businessmen certainly love the women in their own families. In the larger society, though, they exhibit an ethos that has little use for extra-familial loyalties and that has little capacity to inspire the creation of a civil society. The acquisitive urge and the sheer passion for doing business predominate. There are important differences here between Chinese and Japanese culture, and it is conceivable that in the long run the former may discover that these differences put them at a disadvantage. Gordon Redding, the Dean of the Business School at the University of Hongkong and author of The Spirit of Chinese Capitalism, has argued in a recent article that China will not become the next Japan precisely because it cannot generate wider circles of trust and loyalty without which, supposedly, an advanced capitalist economy cannot function. Perhaps he is right. It is also possible, however, that China is creating a new model of successful capitalism that will differ from both its Western and Japanese predecessors.

Long ago Ibn-Khaldun, the great medieval Arab historian, distinguished between hard and soft cultures; he also theorized about the process by which hard cultures become comfortable and consequently softer. The assumption is that hard cultures win out in history and that they start losing when they soften. There is much to be said for this theory of history, though one might object that the theory weakens when applied to technologically advanced societies. Put alongside Western societies, the new Asian capitalism is indeed hard. The sixty-four-billion-yuan question is whether it too will eventually soften. Not only Japan but also the democratizing societies of South Korea and Taiwan would suggest a positive answer. Again, though, China may turn out to march to a very different drummer. Its sheer size might insulate it against the softening cultural influences, most of them Western in provenance, that have affected smaller Asian societies.

Claudio Veliz, in his new book comparing the economic cultures of North and Latin America (The New World of the Gothic Fox), has argued that Anglo-American civilization is now in its "Hellenistic" phase. When Greece had lost political power, its culture conquered the entire Mediterranean world and its language become the lingua franca throughout that world. The modern world was born in England, the home of both capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. The British empire is gone and American imperial power may also be in decline, but Anglo-American culture and the English language enjoy virtually worldwide hegemony. Veliz believes that this cultural hegemony must necessarily carry with it a set of institutions linked to it historically-including the institutions of democracy. China will provide a hugely significant test of Veliz's theory.

We visited an Italian motorcycle factory in Guandong province, in a rather dismal town called Foshan. (The Italian manager, when asked about the size of the town, said, "Oh, it's not big. Less than a million people.") The Italian staff told us about their training program for Chinese skilled workers. We asked in what language the training was conducted. The Italians laughed. Another Italian company had tried to teach their Chinese employees Italian (not out of national chauvinism, but because Italian training manuals could then be used in China, perhaps also because Chinese workers whose only foreign language was Italian could not so easily be lured away to work for other foreign companies). The Italianization experiment failed; the Chinese refused to learn Italian. So now this Italian factory operating in China is teaching English to its Chinese employees. Needless to say, this also means that only English-speaking Italians are eligible for company jobs in China.

In Hongkong we met a businessman who distributes Hallmark greeting cards throughout China. The business is going very well indeed. Valentine cards are especially favored. The distributor explained: "You know, Chinese men have difficulties expressing their emotions. It is much easier for them if they can send a card to a girl that says, 'You are my Number One,' or 'I love you.'" We asked whether there were problems translating messages on the cards into Chinese. "Oh no," said our interlocutor, "we don't translate anything into Chinese. They want the messages to be in English."

Is there a necessary link between English manuals of motorcycle maintenance, English expressions of romantic affection, and such historically English ideas as democracy and human rights? The answer will not be forthcoming for some time. Much will hinge on it. One way or the other, the new Chinese face of capitalism will impress itself more and more on the world's consciousness. A few weeks after these conversations I was in Frankfurt. My German colleagues who were picking me up said: "You know, your hotel is full of Japanese." They were wrong. The hotel was indeed full of East Asians, evidently businessmen with their families, loud, self-assured, extremely well-dressed, and giving peremptory orders to the hotel staff. But they were not Japanese. They were Hongkong Chinese. Germans, Americans, and everyone else will have to take note of the difference.

Peter L. Berger, a member of the Editorial Board of First Things, is Director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University.