It is not just that seeking to placate the public at home with braggadocio overseas will make it harder still for China to garner allies and respect. There is a deeper problem. Many countries around the world admire, and would like to emulate, the undemocratic but effective way that China has managed its decades of growth. If China’s domestic politics look less stable, some of that admiration will wane. And even if things can be held together, for the time being, admiration for China does not translate into affection for it, or into a sense of common cause. Economically and militarily, China has come a long way towards regaining the centrality in Asia it enjoyed through much of history. Intellectually and morally, it has not. In the old days it held a “soft power” so strong, according to William Kirby of Harvard University, that “neighbours converted themselves” to it. Now, Mr Xi may know how to assert himself and how to be feared, at home and abroad. But without the ability to exert a greater power of attraction, too, such strength will always tend to destabilise.
The grotesque and fearful nature of the ancient Celtic and Druidical gods helps to explain the wild and drunken Celtic culture, particularly in Ireland, where prior to a fight the men would paint themselves blue and tear off their clothes. Wearing only sandals and a golden torc around their neck, they ran naked into battle, shrieking and enraged to such an extent that they were no longer recognizable. Celtic warriors spoke of the warp-spasm which came over them in battle and supposedly transformed them into awesome fighting machines before whom their enemies fled. In order to sleep they would drink themselves into a stupor to avoid the horrible nightmares of the gods who called them to dismember their enemies in extreme acts of rage and cruelty. It is said that some warriors died of fright from these alcohol-induced nightmares even before the battle started. Each Celtic tribe continually warred against and pillaged the others, and they routinely went on slaving raids, entering coastal villages at night or near dawn, stealing women for use as sex slaves and children for household and farm work.
The sun was now low beneath the horizon. Darkness spread rapidly. None of my selves could see anything beyond the tapering light of our headlamps on the hedge. I summoned them together. "Now," I said, "comes the season of making up our accounts. Now we have got to collect ourselves; we have got to be one self. Nothing is to be seen any more, except one wedge of road and bank which our lights repeat incessantly. We are perfectly provided for. We are warmly wrapped in a rug; we are protected from wind and rain. We are alone. Now is the time of reckoning. Now I, who preside over the company, am going to arrange in order the trophies which we have all brought in. Let me see; there was a great deal of beauty brought in to-day: farmhouses; cliffs standing out to sea; marbled fields; mottled fields; red feathered skies; all that. Also there was disappearance and the death of the individual. The vanishing road and the window lit for a second and then dark. And then there was the sudden dancing light, that was hung in the future. What we have made then to-day," I said, "is this: that beauty; death of the individual; and the future. Look, I will make a little figure for your satisfaction; here he comes. Does this little figure advancing through beauty, through death, to the economical, powerful and efficient future when houses will be cleansed by a puff of hot wind satisfy you? Look at him; there on my knee." We sat and looked at the figure we had made that day. Great sheer slabs of rock, tree tufted, surrounded him. He was for a second very, very solemn. Indeed it seemed as if the reality of things were displayed there on the rug. A violent thrill ran through us; as if a charge of electricity had entered in to us. We cried out together: "Yes, yes," as if affirming something, in a moment of recognition.