Qin Hui (秦暉) on Democratic Government and Civic Society РXiao Shu (笑蜀)

 Img 200409 14102201 26 From Southern Weekend, translated by EastSouthWestNorth:

Q: The Forum on Chinese Rural Development organized by Southern Rural News recently published the “Guangzhou

Consensus” to call for local governments to amend their regulations within the existing framework to remove the various unfair restrictions against the development of peasant associations. The call is getting louder for the peasants to get organized, even as doubts persist. One of the doubts that I heard about was that the village committee is organized spontaneously by the villagers. Since the village committees already exists, why start some other peasant organizations such as peasant associations?

Qin Hui (Professor at Tsinghua University): Indeed, some of the people who are calling for peasant associations think that there are problems with village-level elections and therefore the peasant associations are needed to realize the democratic rights of the peasants.

But the problem is this: If the village organizations are truly elected by the peasants, then do we need peasant associations? Under the same logic, if a government is democratically elected, then shall we eliminate labor unions, chambers of commerce and similar civic organizations? The whole problem can be boiled down to one question: “If there is a democratic government, then do we need a civic society?” Since the democratic government is elected by the people and represents the people, then shall all civic organizations be discarded? This is an all-too-simple issue, so why has it become a problem?

There is some controversy about whether the village committee are government organizations or autonomous

organizations. But I don’t think this debate is meaningful. How is that? In a true constitutional political system, as long as there is local or community autonomy, the base-level government is an autonomous organization no matter what. But this autonomous organization is a special kind of organization which is formed by civic power. First of all, it cannot be diversified. In the western world, the leftists and the rights can compete for governing authority, but only one of them will be elected. A single place cannot simultaneously have a leftist government and a rightist government. So how would the leftists present their collective demands to a rightist government? Secondly, the democratic government is still a territorial government. In theory, it ought to represent the interests of all the people within the territory instead of representing the special interests of certain groups. These special interests include the interests of the workers, the interests of the peasants, the interests of the commercial and industrial groups and so on, and they will have to be represented separately by people from those groups.

Therefore, a democratic government is not the same thing as a civic society. Furthermore, I believe that the civic society is the foundation of a democratic government. A democratic government is there to realize public rights, whereas the civic society is there to satisfy the public interests, especially the right to organize. Without this right, the people cannot bring up their demands with respect to their rights. In the face of a powerful authority, every person is atomized. Atomized individuals cannot counteract agianst the authorities. This will lead to the emergence of the “unfree false democracy,” in which the majority decision method is used to deny freedom to others. This is the “tyranny of the majority.” In recent years, quite a few people have talked about the “tyranny of the majority,” but they often identify the so-called tyranny of the majority with “direct democracy.”

This is wrong. Direct democracy is usually infeasible, but it has nothing to do with this “tyranny.” “The tyranny of the

majority” is unrelated to direct or indirect democracy. The various cantons in Switzerland are direct democracies, but they don’t have any “tyranny of the majority.” During the Nazi era, the anti-Jewish campaigns by the Germans are usually referred to as the classical example of the “tyranny of the majority.” But the first Nazi government was formed under a parliamentary system and not a “directly elected democratic” government. The so-called tyranny comes from the public power created by the “majority” (either directly or indirectly) overstepping its limits to attack civic freedom.

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