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February 08, 2007

China's "Authoritarian Resilience"

In the February & March issue of Policy Review, Ying Ma maks a series of observations regarding Chinese "authoritarian resilience" (great coinage) that closely paralell an essay on Chinargh that was noted briefly on this site. The money quote:

While current U.S. efforts to promote democracy in China are necessary and important, they do not always counter the sources of Chinese authoritarian resilience discussed here. Certainly, American actions will not and cannot eliminate all of these sources. For instance, the United States should not wade into the quandary of slowing Chinese economic growth and cannot stop the Chinese government from institutionalizing itself or co-opting its rival political groups. Nevertheless, Washington should and can do more to combat other sources of authoritarian resilience by strengthening China’s political opposition and countering the regime’s restriction of coordination goods that range from press freedoms to the ability to organize. In addition, the United States should begin a serious effort to confront the Chinese government’s aggressive ideological indoctrination of its citizens against democratization.

She goes on to outline her proposals. Must reading.

Posted by stevemack at 03:44 PM | Comments (1640) | TrackBack

January 30, 2007

China and Democracy

KL over at Chinargh has written a chilling assessment of the typical Western optimissim about China's democratic "path." It is, KL claims, a dangerous delusion--part wishful thinking, part projection of Western values on a culture we treat as a quaint fetish. What we don;t see, KL asserts, is that china has been able to neatly fold Western technology into it's own brand of authoritarianism:

This unrealistic dream has come to haunt Sino-US relations, as it has become so embedded in Americans perspective of China, it no longer seems only a fantasy, but instead a definite future. This misperception continues to grow as China modernizes and increasingly incorporates western aspects into Chinese society. However, China’s future democratization is a delusion. China manipulates western technology as well as American’s misperceptions in order to further their authoritarian regime .

It's a disturbing analysis if true--and, we really have no sure basis on which to say it isn't. Still, it's difficult to dismiss entirely the connection between an exploding capitalist market (which must be fed information and innovation) and the Western Enlightenment values that legitimize intellectual freedom. This is precisely the point Will Hutton makes in an essay in the Observer:

All societies are linked to their past by umbilical cords - some apparent, some hidden. China is no different. Imperial Confucian China and communist China alike depended - and depend - upon the notion of a vastly powerful, infallible centre: either because it was interpreting the will of heaven or, now, of the proletariat. In neither system have human rights, constitutional checks and balances or even forms of democracy figured very much. As a result, China has poor foundations on which to build the subtle network of institutions of accountability necessary to manage the complexities of a modern economy and society. Sooner or later, it is a failing that will have to be addressed.

And Hutton seems to think that day of reckoning will come sooner rather than later:

Western values and institutions are not being blown away. The country has made progress to the extent that communism has given up ground and moved towards Western practices, but there are limits to how far the reformers can go without giving up the basis for the party's political control. Conservatives insist that much further and the capacity to control the country will become irretrievably damaged; that the limit, for example, is being reached in giving both trade unions more autonomy and shareholders more rights. It is the most urgent political debate in China.

The tension between reform and conservatism is all around. For example, the party's commitment now is no longer to building a planned communist economy but a 'socialist market' economy. The 26,000 communes in rural China, which were once the vanguard of communism, were swept away by the peasants themselves in just three years between 1979 and 1982, the largest bottom-up act of decollectivisation the world has ever witnessed. Hundreds of millions of peasants are, via long leases, again farming plots held by their ancestors for millenniums. China's state-owned enterprises no longer provide life-long employment and welfare for their workers as centrepieces of a new communist order; they are autonomous companies largely free to set prices as they choose in an open economy and progressively shedding their social obligations.

This is one dispute I really can't decide on. My problem is my own competing assumptions about the world. For me, democratic libety has always been more than a transcendent moral value; it is also, I believe, something like a force of nature (please assume all the postmodern caveats it's possible to make). So of course, I am disposed to believe Sutton. That said, I also recognize just how deep run the roots of culture. Indeed, most of my criticism of the Bush war policy is based on a frustration with the Administration's failure to understand that it is waging a cltural fight it cannot win.

Perhaps the important question is "does it matter which side we bet on?" Does the adoption of one side or the other determine a set of policy choices that matter in the real world?

Posted by stevemack at 05:22 PM | Comments (3636) | TrackBack

"A Whitman for our Time."
- Jerome Loving,
"Stephen John Mack's The Pragmatic Whitman: Reimagining American Democracy, [is] The most thoroughly informed philosophical reading of Whitman to appear in decades. Mack develops the premise . . . That Whitman shares with John Dewey a vision of democracy as a 'civic religion' in America, a profoundly secularist and progressive perspective.

- M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Texas A & M University
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