To come back from near destitution and bloody tyranny in one generation is a great feat, and China should be saluted for it. But China’s success story is also the most serious challenge that liberal democracy has faced since fascism in the 1930s.
This is not because China poses a great military threat – war with the United States, or even Japan, is only a fantasy in the minds of a few ultra-nationalist cranks and paranoiacs. It is in the realm of ideas that China’s political-economic model, regardless of its environmental consequences, is scoring victories and looking like an attractive alternative to liberal democratic capitalism.
And it is a real alternative. Contrary to what some pundits say, Chinese capitalism is not like 19th-century European capitalism. True, the European working class, not to mention women, did not have voting rights 200 years ago. But even during the most ruthless phases of Western capitalism, civil society in Europe and the US was made up of a huge network of organisations independent of the state – churches, clubs, parties, societies and associations that were available to all social classes. [Full text]
While Slavoj Zizek writes in In These Times:
The explosion of capitalism in China has many Westerners asking when political democracy — as the “natural” accompaniment of capitalism — will emerge. But a closer look quickly dispels any such hope.
Modern-day China is not an oriental-despotic distortion of capitalism, but rather the repetition of capitalism’s development in Europe itself. In the early modern era, most European states were far from democratic. And if they were democratic (as was the case of the Netherlands during the 17th century), it was only a democracy of the propertied liberal elite, not of the workers. Conditions for capitalism were created and sustained by a brutal state dictatorship, very much like today’s China. The state legalized violent expropriations of the common people, which turned them proletarian. The state then disciplined them, teaching them to conform to their new ancilliary role. [Full text, via A Glimpse of the World blog]
The Financial Times also weighs in on the topic, comparing the experiences of Russia and China:
Yet 19 years after the “end of history”, Russia and China are not falling into line with the confident predictions of the liberal, democratic determinists. On the contrary, their political elites are pursuing an alternative to the prevailing western model. The new Russo-Chinese model is authoritarian rather than democratic. It attempts to marry capitalism with a large state role in the economy. It holds out the promise of western consumerism for a rising middle class, while rejecting western political liberalism. American rhetoric about human rights and democracy is dismissed as naive – or a deliberate effort to sow chaos. Rather than relying on democracy or communist ideology to create loyalty to the political system, the Russian and Chinese elites increasingly stress a combination of economic growth and nationalism. The two ideas are related because rising prosperity not only offers individual citizens new comforts – it also holds out the promise that the nation will be more respected around the world. [Full text]