Thursday, September 29, 2016

Graham E. Fuller — Democracy, the “Great Debates,” and China

Graham Fuller talks some sense.

Now let’s look at the other end of the spectrum. It’s interesting that China today is actually quietly touting to the rest of the world its own evolving system. Of course we recoil from the terrible catastrophes of Chinese regimes over most of the past century. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that China has been concerned with principles of good governance going back some three thousand years, including Confucian principles of the responsibility of “cultivated” or educated people to govern wisely; that was probably as good as it got in that era. More important, the state bureaucracy was selected through massive nation-wide examination systems to choose the most qualified. The system had its good periods and bad, almost on a 300 year cyclical basis—breakdown and restoration.
Today China is creeping back again, this time from the disasters of Chairman Mao towards a semblance of order and rationality in governance. It has implemented a series of often unusually effective policies that are slowly bringing an ever rising percent of the rural and urban poor into the middle class and a slightly freer life.

Now, I don’t want to live in China particularly. But consider the daunting challenges of running this country: one that was left behind in the last century or so, invaded by English and Japanese imperialists, massively misruled under fanatic communists (not all were fanatic) for fifty years, and now presides over a population approaching 1.4 billion people. China’s leaders operate on the razor’s edge: meeting pent-up demand after decades of deprivation, managing the transition of millions of peasants who want to come to the cities, feeding and housing everyone, maintaining industrial production while trying to reverse the terrible environmental damage wrought in earlier decades, to maintain stability, law and order while managing discontent that could turn violent, and to maintain the present ruling party in power to which there is no reasonable alternative as yet. That’s quite a high-wire act.
So if you were running China today, what would you advocate as the best policies and system to adopt? Chances are few of us would simply urge huge new infusions of democracy and rampant capitalism. The delicate balance of this frail recovering system needs to be guided with care. But it is basically working—as opposed to looming alternatives of chaos and poverty.

China today suggests to developing countries that China’s own model of controlled cautious light authoritarian leadership—where leaders are groomed over decades up through the ranks of the party— may be a more reliable system than, say, the bread and circuses of the US. That’s their view.
No one system has all the answers. But it’s worth observing that by now the US probably lies at one extreme of a political spectrum of bread-and-circus “democracy.” Can the system be reformed? Ever more serious questions arise about the present system’s ability to meet the challenge of this century—along multiple lines of measurements.
And, as world gets more complex, there is less room for radical individualism, whistle blowing, and dissent. Vital and complex infrastructural networks grow ever more vulnerable that can bring a state down. The state moves to protect itself. The strengthening of the state against the individual has already shifted heavily since the Global War on Terror and even more so under Obama.
I’m not suggesting that China is the model to be emulated. But we better note how it represents one rational vision of functioning governance of the future—under difficult circumstances—at one end of the spectrum. The US lies at the other. Is there anything that might lie somewhere between these two highly diverse systems of governance?

Just sayin’.
In the spirit of disclosure, this is a view that I have espoused previously so I am biased in its favor. I am happy to see someone "on the other side of the fence" putting it forward for consideration in the policy establishment.

Democracy, the “Great Debates,” and China
Graham E. Fuller, former senior CIA official


Ryan Harris said...
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Kaivey said...

Yes, our system with everyone grabbing what they can doesn't work. We need a more collective system. I'm sure many people are like me and are fed up with the long hours culture and the empty materialism. This is why I wrote my article on Eastern spirituality and Western mindfulness based therapies.

I was listening to a Counterpunch podcast the other day by Rob Urie, who wrote the book Zen Economics, and he was saying how our consumer society was pushed upon us.

I guess we tend to live like everyone else does and if we spent less hours at work and did more voluntary work we would have been a lot happier. Having friends and close loving relationships is what makes us happy. This leads to a spiritual life that is fulfilling. I'm doing some voluntary work now.

The Chinese are going through a good period, we need to nurture it and learn from it.

Bob said...

We don't have democracy in the West. We have an electoral process.

Kaivey said...

You're right.

Tom Hickey said...

We don't have democracy in the West. We have an electoral process.

Exactly. They are not there same and the electoral process is used to claim democracy.

Actually, the electoral process sort of worked in the US with Bernie challenging HRC, with the possibility of his having won, had the Democratic establishment not rigged the process, and with Trump taking the GOP nomination, to the dismay of the establishment.

The establishments of both parties will fix that in time for the next election.

commentsongpe said...

I have to strongly disagree with this article. The operation of our democracy is of course a huge problem but why is that? I'd say it's because a tiny fraction control all material power and are existentially motivated to suppress majority rule. They fear that the people will take away their power, (as was the case for the Romans and the Founding Fathers). The Romans didn't have it right - it was a tyranny. The answer can't be to give up on democracy and officially hand power over to an elite; it can only be to attack the forces that are holding democracy down. And China is certainly no model for that. The author is a former high official of the CIA and his views therefore don't surprise me in the least.


Bob said...


We've observed this sentiment before, following the Brexit vote. We see it in terms like "the deplorables". The peasants are too ignorant to govern themselves, too naive to understand the big picture. They need an elite to guide them, to lead the way, and to ensure progress.

That is their ideal. In practice, corruption eats away at the institutions of power until reform or revolution become necessary. In that regard, China and America face similar symptoms.

Bob said...

The establishments of both parties will fix that in time for the next election.

Assuming there is one.

Matt Franko said...

"China today is actually quietly touting to the rest of the world its own evolving system"