Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT’s Media Laboratory and one of the early ideologists of the Internet, had predicted that the global reach of the Web would transform the way we think about ourselves as countries. The state, he predicted, will evaporate “like a mothball, which goes from solid to gas directly,” and “there will be no more room for nationalism than there is for smallpox.” In China, things had gone differently.
In the early years of reform, the word conservative</span> had still been tantamount toreactionary</span>, but times had changed; he was teaching a Straussian appreciation for the universality of the classics and encouraging his students to revive ancient Chinese thought. He and other scholars were thriving amid a new vein of conservatism that ran counter to China’s drive for integration with the world. Professor Ding had watched with satisfaction as Tang Jie and other students developed an appetite for the classics and pushed back against the onslaught of Westernization.
Tang told me, “The fact is we are very Westernized. Now we started reading ancient Chinese books and we rediscovered the ancient China.” The young neoconservatives in Shanghai invited Harvey Mansfield to dinner when he passed through Shanghai. They “are acutely aware that their country, whose resurgence they feel and admire, has no principle to guide it,” Mansfield wrote in an e-mail to me after his visit. “Some of them see … that liberalism in the West has lost its belief in itself, and they turn to Leo Strauss for conservatism that is based on principle, on ‘natural right.’ This conservatism is distinct from a status-quo conservatism, because they are not satisfied with a country that has only a status quo and not a principle.”