Yesterday the New York Times ran an op-ed by Jiang Qing and Daniel Bell, Sinologists who offered up a fairly startling defense of the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule. They posit a new systems they call Humane Authority and assert that China may (or may not) be moving in that direction instead of democracy. First, there’s no evidence that this new system of government is one that China is moving towards. The authors just want China to be excused from any critiques of their failure to move towards democracy.
But more important and objectionable is the total lack of understanding of why people would suggest China would benefit by letting their citizenry participate in governance.
“Democracy is also flawed in practice. Political choices come down to the desires and interests of the electorate.”
Yes, that is exactly the point – the electorate chooses! That’s the virtue of the whole system – that it isn’t a monarch or an oligarchy that runs a country, but the people who make choices democratically.
“This leads to two problems. First, the will of the majority may not be moral: it may favor racism, imperialism or fascism.”
This is true. There have been times when democracies chose all of these things. Of course, this is also the exact set of choices that have been consistently made by the Chinese Communist Party and their long-standing Han chauvinism. It’s seen in Tibet, in East Turkestan, and in Southern Mongolia on a daily basis, over a half century after they were violently colonized by China’s imperial army.
“Second, when there is a clash between the short-term interests of the populace and the long-term interests of mankind, as is the case with global warming, the people’s short-term interests become the political priority.”
This is not unique to a democracy – it’s a common thread for all sovereign governments. Global crises like global warming may require fundamental re-evaluations of how governments set their priorities, but that is true regardless of what political system a government has in place. It’s not as if China’s communist system has allowed them to confront global warming significantly more directly than Western democracies.
The rest of the op-ed is just a thinly disguised argument in defense of authoritarianism, particularly the authoritarianism that allows China to maintain its colonial empire. It’s pretty disgraceful to see this sort of crap in the New York Times.