NEW YORK -- Five years after Richard Nixon resigned as president, I did a long interview with him in his hideaway office in a downtown federal building. We were talking about the travels and writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French author of "Democracy in America." I was then seeking out the current counterparts of the Americans who talked with Tocqueville during his nine-month journey through the new and democratic United States in the 1830s.
Nixon was my John Quincy Adams, an unhappy ex-president Tocqueville had met here. The French aristocrat asked the former president what he considered America's greatest problem. Adams answered: Race.
So did Nixon, though the view he gave of race and ethnicity was international rather than national. He told me he believed that the history of the 21st century would be a confrontation between East and West -- with the United States and China as the principal adversaries. The struggle, he thought, would not necessarily be military but, more likely, economic and ideological.
Moreover, Nixon thought the East -- Asia, led by China -- would win. Holding the racial and genetic views of his generation, he argued that Orientals were simply smarter and superior to Caucasians, as he thought Caucasians were superior to Africans and African-Americans. The job of Western leaders, he told me, was to hold off that East-West confrontation and defeat for as long as possible.
Remembering that conversation, I was struck hard, to say the least, by a front-page story by Chris Buckley, writing from Hong Kong, in last Tuesday's New York Times under the headline: "China Takes Aim at Western Ideas."
Well. Here we go. Quoting from that article:
"Communist Party cadres have filled meeting halls around China to hear a somber, secretive warning issued by senior leaders. Power could escape their grip, they have been told, unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society.
"These seven perils were enumerated in a memo, referred to as Document No. 9, that bears the unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China's new top leader. The first was 'Western constitutional democracy'; others included promoting 'universal values' of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market 'neo-liberalism,' and 'nihilist' criticisms of the party's traumatic past.
"'Western forces hostile to China and dissidents within the country are still constantly infiltrating the ideological sphere,' says Document No. 9, the number given to it by the central party office that issued it in April. It has not been openly published, but a version was shown to The New York Times and was verified by four sources close to senior officials, including an editor with a party newspaper.
"Opponents of one-party rule, it says, 'have stirred up trouble about disclosing officials' assets, using the Internet to fight corruption, media controls and other sensitive topics, to provoke discontent with the party and government.'
"The warnings were not idle. Since the circular was issued, party-run publications and websites have vehemently denounced constitutionalism and civil society ... 'Promotion of Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to negate the party's leadership,' said Cheng Xinping, a deputy head of propaganda for Hengyang, a city in Hunan."
Obviously, on one level, Mr. Xi is concerned first about the survival of the Chinese Communist Party. Expanding on that, he and other party leaders are afraid that ideas, not nuclear weapons or drones, are the real danger to the country as well as the party.
The Times focused then on what has happened in Guangzhou (formerly Canton), where the regional and official newspaper has editorialized against the deep corruption that has made rich men of party leaders.
"'Western anti-China forces led by the United States have joined in one after the other, and colluded with dissidents within the country to make slanderous attacks on us in the name of so-called press freedom and constitutional democracy,' said Zhang Guangdong, a propaganda official, citing the conclusions from the meeting of central propaganda officials. 'They are trying to break through our political system, and this was a classic example,' he said of the newspaper protest."
Some have gone further, saying that "constitutionalism and similar ideas were tools of Western subversion that helped topple the former Soviet Union -- and that a similar threat faces China," Buckley reports.
So, it seems that the East-West war, in both Muslim and Asian totalitarian countries, has begun. This may well be the story of our new century.