Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Two Great Political Lies

In the past I have questioned the seemingly universal (at least in this country) appeal of democracy as the most effective form of government when the reality seemed lacking. Strangely, in polls we typically have low satisfaction ratings for our actual government, but perfect satisfaction with the idea of our government system. This should raise doubts for any scientist or empirical thinker.

Not being a political scientist nor very knowledgeable on the whole topic, I can never offer alternatives. Typically, when the question is raised, the response is the old canard from Winston Churchill, "Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst from of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." However Churchill also said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

In any case, it's nice to learn something about alternative forms of government.


Big Myk said...

Mr. Li has something to say worth listening too, if for no other reason than as a corrective to the typical American dismissiveness of all things foreign.

But I must nevertheless confess that I have been hopelessly seduced by the American meta narrative. This is a much bigger topic that I am prepared to fully address today, but I suggest a few things.

First, I prefer western style democracy because it expressly places responsibiltiy for the quality of a society where it is implicitly and necessarily lies: the citizenry. George Bernard Shaw had it right when he said that "Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve." Like it or not, we are our brother's keeper, and democracy takes away all excuses for failing to meet that obligation.

Second, I'm not so sure that our democracy assumes a society made up of autonomous individuals who will rationally vote their own self-interest, and which has no other measure of the public good other than what the majority wants. That was certainly not the view of our founding fathers. In the Federalist Papers, Madison wrote that "the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no government has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object." Madison also said, "Is there no vitrue among us? If there be not, no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue is a chimerical idea."

So, at least for Madison, democracy was not a license to simply vote your own interest.

The one-party Chinese system is hardly a model for a diverse population like our own. It doesn't really work for the non-Han people of China either. Check with the Uighur, Mongol and Tibetan people of China and see how enthusiastic they are about the one-party system. These folks have been subject to mass arrests, torture and executions by the Chinese government. I'm also not so sure what benefit they are seeing from China's economic expansion.

I think that it's too early to pronounce China an economic success. It has achieved amazing things, but I have also read that it has overextended itself in building infrastructure (much of it ill-advised) and still has the piper to pay. No amount of competence or intelligence can protect one against one's own arrogance.

Finally, I agree with Mr. Li that America faces a particular crises: that one-man-one-vote has given way to one-dollar-one-vote. I do not see this problem as insurmountable, however.

James R said...

I think your first line is all that Eric Li is asking. It was the reason I posted the video.

As for the two forms of government, the U.S. will rise or fall with democracy. There is no other way given our background. China will rise or fall with meritocracy and the one party system. If Li's message is anything more than educational, its political value is that the citizenry of both systems understand the other enough not to buy into one of the two great lies, and do not force a political system onto countries and cultures which are different from themselves.