Watching the coverage of the New Orleans flood I was reminded of the 1998 Yangtze floods, and it occurred to me that this is yet another example of how China is becoming a liberal (or maybe Confucian) nation state. In the Yangtze floods the state made a big deal about the work done by the PLA to help people. Although I can’t find them now, there were pictures of PLA soldiers locking arms to hold back the floodwaters with their bodies. From this point of view, the flood was a godsend to the state, as it gave them yet another chance to show how deeply they were concerned with the well-being of the people. On top of that, the PLA got into the act, Maoist-style enthusiasm was in, and no matter what the state did the problem was sure to get better.
The New Orleans floods are an example of state incompetence, of course, but also of how deep the new libertarian, post-liberal state has gone in the U.S. Yes, there has been outrage from the likes of Kevin Drum about the new dispensation, but the people who think the U.S. government should leave things like disaster relief to private charities have won pretty much all the elections in my lifetime. (Yes, Dems win on occasion, but only those who look as conservative as possible.) 9/11 was an example of something that was able, for a while, to pull together an atomized society, but apparently the Big Easy is not. I suspect that this will become even more apparent as reconstruction starts. The current American administration would of course find any sort of technocratic, state-led role in reconstruction ideologically unpalatable, but most imaginable American governments would find it hard to win support (and money) for a visionary plan to rebuild a city full of music and black people.
I assume that were a historic Chinese city to be wiped out there would be a strong, state-led effort to rebuild it just like before only better, in part because (Suzhou, Xian, whatever) is a sacred symbol of the national culture and in part because the state has a strong desire to be seen as leading the nation into the future, and to be seen as competent technocrats. The U.S. is looking very post-national right now.
* Either a line from Bob Dylan’s Crash on the Levee, or advice to flood victims from the director of FEMA. Take your pick.