Who said the following, one of President Trump’s lackeys, or a mouthpiece for China’s new confidence and assertiveness? “The survival of the state comes first, and constitutional law must serve this fundamental objective.” I’ll bet you can’t tell.
Conventional thinking has it that America and China have two fundamentally opposing systems that are on a collision course. However the ossification Chinese communist authoritarianism coincides and complements the emergence of American capitalistic authoritarianism.
Are both systems in their death throes? And is it a matter of systems at all, or of something both systems take as a given—unexamined attributes of supposedly immutable human nature?
The underlying similarities between the dying American model and the purportedly rising Chinese model are evident to anyone who looks below the surface layer of the news and propaganda churn.
The fact that the news is nearly all propaganda in China, and now three-quarters propaganda in the United States (nearly all on the right, half so on the left) is the first underlying similarity.
It isn’t that the two systems are equivalent in their inception, or in their previous iteration with respect to the American model.
Rather, that they have shared unexamined premises about human nature at their core. In the digital world, with its steel and silk trade routes, these premises have led to a convergence, in a colliding sense of the word, of the two present political systems.
Both the American and Chinese systems extend and encompass the oxymoron of “benign empire;” of Christian consumerism and Confucian materialism; and of individualistic and nationalistic conceptions of self.
Tian Feilong, 37, is a scholar and former proponent of such “Western” ideas as universal human rights, separation of powers, and the rule of law. He now proudly promotes the authoritarian worldview ascendant under Xi Jinping, the Communist Party leader, and sings from the current Chinese hymnal:
“Back when I was weak, I had to totally play by your rules. Now I’m strong and have confidence, so why can’t I lay down my own rules and values and ideas?”
The ‘I’ here is not the American, hyper-individualized self, the autonomous and homogenous self, talking about ‘diversity’ while embracing stultifying sameness. It is the Chinese self, the ‘me’ that sees itself as the selfsame thing as the Chinese nation. In the end, it’s a distinction without a difference.
Beyond these congruencies, things get very murky. The Chinese Communist Party abandoned Marxism when it cloned capitalistic organs and musculature onto the sturdy, if ugly and ungainly skeleton of the CCP. Now, “traditional Marxism is rarely cited; the Chinese are proponents of order, not revolution.”
Demonstrating that the East is no longer East, and the West is no longer West, but ever the twain shall meet, Chinese intellectuals mimic Carl Schmitt, “the German legal theorist who supplied rightist leaders in the 1930s and the emerging Nazi regime with arguments for extreme executive power in times of crisis.”
As Fu Hualing, a professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, said of China’s new authoritarian scholars, “In a way, it’s the Carl Schmitt moment here.” That is a truly disturbing development.
Of course, Americans, having a long tradition of being overtly or covertly anti-intellectual, don’t need s superstructure of scholarship to rationalize their evildoing. Whatever works will do. And when it doesn’t, as it horribly hasn’t during the pandemic, it will undo.
In China, as many have noted, since Mr. Xi took power in 2012, he “began a drive to discredit ideas like universal human rights, separation of powers and other liberal concepts.”
Hong Kong held out, but the PRC used the pandemic as a pretext to snuff out the last roadblock to “the great rejuvenation [and desirable globalization] of the Chinese nation.”
As masterfully explained in the same NYT piece I’m citing here, Chinese see the United States, as a “dangerous, overreaching shambles, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.”
“The global financial crisis of 2007, and the United States’ floundering response to the coronavirus pandemic, have reinforced Chinese views that liberal democracies are decaying, while China has prospered, defying predictions of the collapse of one-party rule.”
In a revealing admission, Professor Tian said, “China is actually also following a path that the United States took, seizing opportunities, developing outward, creating a new world.” God save humanity if that works.
That is the question—will it work? Or are we seeing the last gasp of the grasping American model not only in America, but as its been grafted onto a rigid Communist framework in China?
The next presidential election in the USA will tell whether America can even partially recover its soul and restore its ideals under President Biden. But his election is far from a done deal, and a lot can and will happen in the next three months.
There’s tremendous urgency for insight. Wondering whether Trump represents “ignorant malevolence or malevolent ignorance” is like debating how many devils can dance on the head of a pin.
As fragmented as it is, human consciousness is irreversibly interconnected. Whether we’re in America, China, or Timbuktu, let humanity’s true revolutionaries ignite insight, alone and with others.