Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Global Viewpoint

China vs. America: Which government model will triumph?

If the 20th century was about the competition between democracy and totalitarianism, the 21st century pits the excesses of consumer democracy against capable governance with too little democratic accountability.

(Page 2 of 2)



This new reality requires the enhanced capacity of governance and the design of better institutional filters – more checks and balances – not only against rule by the short-term tyranny of the “one man, one vote” sovereign will, but against the nearest election term of the permanent campaign, the impending retail purchase, the quarterly report, and the imperative to “monetize attention” in the new media age by supplanting democratic deliberation with partisan programming and reality TV.

Skip to next paragraph

No system of governance can endure without the consent of the governed.

But as every political sage from Confucius to Plato to Madison understood, neither can it endure when overruled by popular “appetites” (Plato’s word).

As is often the case, the extreme reveals the essence. Everyone can see that the experience of direct democracy in California, where the popular initiative reigns, has proven ruinous. California’s crisis reveals the delusions of a Diet-Coke civilization that wants sweetness without calories, consumption without savings, and modern infrastructure and good schools without taxes. California’s dysfunction is only a louder echo of American politics as a whole.

It is worthwhile in this context to aerate our assumptions in the West by examining the best practices of China, where the rulers retain a greater political capacity for governance. While the entrepreneurial energies of the population have been unleashed through a free market, the strong hand of the neo-Confucian state tempers all those liberated interests in the name of social harmony and long-term goals.

As Google and Liu Xiaobo are well aware, China’s system is, of course, marred in the opposite way of the West by the absence of personal liberty and free expression as well as the feeble rule of law and weak accountability of the authorities. All too easily the strong hand can become the harsh fist of repression or the open palm of corruption.

As these two systems, which author and historian Niall Ferguson already calls “Chimerica,” interact with each other across the Pacific Basin – the new center of global gravity – their frictions and fusions will yield the opportunity to create something new: a philosophy of governance that balances the individual and the common interest, immediacy, and the long term; a system that mitigates unmediated popular appetites without killing the dynamism of personal pursuit.

If the 20th century was about the competition between democracy and totalitarianism, the 21st century pits the excesses of consumer democracy against capable governance with too little democratic accountability.

Nathan Gardels is the editor in chief of NPQ and the Global Viewpoint Network of Tribune Media Services. He is also a senior fellow at the Nicolas Berggruen Institute.

 

© 2010 Global Viewpoint Network. Distributed by the Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

---
Want to join the conversation? Find us on Facebook!

Permissions