李世默：西方民主正在走向灭亡最后更新: 2020-06-15 12:48:44
（朱新伟 / 译）
DEMOCRACY’S COMING DEMISE
SHANGHAI -- As the U.S. presidential election shifts into high gear, this week Washington hosts China's Vice President Xi Jinping, heir apparent of the emergent super power. The world's most powerful electoral democracy and the largest one-party state meet at a time of political transition for both. Many have characterized the competition of ideas between the two giants as one between democracy and authoritarianism. This false perspective needs to be dispelled.
In the long history of human governance, spanning over thousands of years, there have been only two meaningful experiments in democracy, as the term is understood in the modern West. The first was Athens, which lasted a century and a half from sixth to the middle of fourth century B.C, - a quick failure, really. The second is the modern West. If one defines democracy as one-person-one-vote, American democracy is only 92 years old. In practice it is only 47 years old, if one begins counting at the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- far more ephemeral than even China's shortest-lived dynasties.
Why, then, do so many boldly claim they have discovered the ideal political system for all mankind and that its success is forever assured?
The answer lies in the spiritual source of the current democratic experiment. It began with the European Enlightenment, which gave birth to modernity. Two fundamental ideas informed its core: the individual is rational and the individual is endowed with unalienable rights. These two beliefs are in essence based on faith, not empirical evidence. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "All men are created equal...and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." And who was that Creator with a capital "C"? God, of course. To further emphasize the divine nature of the claim, the "R" in rights was capitalized as well. Along with claims such as "liberté, egalité, fraternité", they form the basis of a religious faith called modernity of which the ultimate political manifestation is democracy.
In its early days, democratic ideas in political governance facilitated the industrial revolution and ushered in a period of unprecedented economic prosperity and military power in the Western world. Yet, at the very beginning, those who led this drive were aware of the fatal flaw inbred in this experiment and sought to contain it. The American Federalists made it clear they were establishing a republic, not a democracy, and designed a myriad of bells and whistles to constrain the popular will. But as in any religion, faith would prove stronger than rules. The political franchise could only expand resulting in ever more people participating in ever more decisions. As they say in America, California is the future. And what is that future? Endless referendums, paralysis, and insolvency.
With the advent of television and then the Internet, whatever excuses the founders of the American republic came up with to contain democracy, such as an ignorant public and a lack of information, fall by the wayside. After all, if the people are rational and divinely endowed with rights, and all knowledge is at their fingertips, why shouldn't they be allowed to decide on everything? In Athens, ever-increasing popular participation in politics led to rule by demagoguery. Public fervor whipped up by Alcibiades' oratory sent its powerful fleet on that fateful mission to Syracuse, and its defeat there by Sparta started Athens' decline. Fast-forward to the present, money is now the great enabler of demagoguery. As the Nobel economist Michael Spence put it, America has gone from "one-propertied-man-one-vote to one-man-one-vote to one-person-one-vote, trending to one-dollar-one-vote."
By any measure, America today is a constitutional republic in name only, and an Athenian democracy in practice. Elected representatives have no minds of their own and respond only to the whims of public opinion as they seek re-elections; with the abundance of information and the most efficient communication ever known to man, the public believes it knows everything; special interests manipulate the people into voting for ever lower taxes and higher government spending, even supporting self destructive wars. Elections become the game through which disparate groups seek rents from the system. Such is the vicious cycle that is in the DNA of the current experiment in democracy based on the faith of rationalism and rights. A similar version of the same movie is showing in theaters everywhere in Europe. In contrast the Roman republic survived much longer because it never pretended or aspired to be a democracy.
The West's competition of ideas with China is not between democracy and authoritarianism, but between two fundamentally different outlooks on political systems. The former sees democracy as an end in itself; the latter sees any political system as barely means. It is indeed a commonly held faith in America that democracy is a good in itself and the more democratic the better. Is there a politician in America who would dare say otherwise? Western democracy is inherently incapable of becoming less democratic even when its survival may depend on such a shift.
The Chinese, on the other hand, would allow greater popular participation in political decisions when it is conducive to economic development and favorable to its national interests, as they have done in the past 10 years, but would not hesitate to curtail it if the conditions and the needs of the nation change. The 1980s saw a decade of expanding popular participation in the country’s politics that helped the nation loosen the ideological shackles of the destructive Cultural Revolution. But it went too far and led to a vast rebellion at Tiananmen Square.
That uprising was decisively put down on June 4, 1989. The Chinese nation paid a heavy price for that bloody event, but the alternatives would have been far worse. The resulting stability ushered in a generation of growth and prosperity that propelled China to its position as the second largest economy in the world. As the national polity matures, political adjustments are becoming more sophisticated and pro-active, further narrowing the swings to avoid violent extremes.
The fundamental difference between Washington's view and Beijing's is whether political rights are considered as God-given and therefore absolute or should be seen as privileges to be negotiated based on the needs and conditions of the nation.
In this framework, the Americans today are not dissimilar to the Soviets of the last century in that both see their political systems and their underlying ideologies as ultimate ends. The Chinese are on a different path. History does not bode well for the American path. Their faith-based ideological hubris will soon drive democracy over the cliff.
Eric X. Li is a venture capitalist in Shanghai.标签 旧文资料
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