China’s Communist Party paper the People’s Daily published a critique of democracy on Tuesday in which “experts” complain that “Western political parties are nowadays being kidnapped by votes.”
Underneath the shocking revelation that politicians do not always keep their campaign promises is a more serious critique of democracy as hypocritical, inefficient, and more difficult to purge of corruption than modern Chinese Communism.
The thesis statement of the article, and the message China will attempt to sell both emerging countries and Western youth over the coming decade, is stated right up front, “A slew of jaw-dropping political incidents in the Western democratic system have exposed that Western democracy is no longer able to coordinate all social efforts and that it is losing its function of guaranteeing the future development of relevant countries.”
The primary example provided is Britain’s Brexit vote, celebrated as a populist triumph and the rejection of a bubbled elite by supporters. On the contrary, from the Chinese perspective, it was an embarrassing failure of state power in which lowly voters were permitted to make a decision that never should have been left to them.
“Entrusting such a crucial political issue to the will of the voters who had limited and imbalanced information about the situation and that were easy to be blinded by short-term interests was undoubtedly an example of political gambling,” the Communist paper lectures.
The editorial also chastises Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for “pledging to end austerity” but moving forward with austerity measures instead. It does not seem to have occurred to the People’s Daily that Tsipras truly wanted to discard “austerity” programs, but learned the hard way it was not feasible for a debtor nation to keep spending other people’s money in perpetuity.
Greece’s creditors gave Tsipras very little choice in the matter. When he announced the latest round of austerity measures in January, the prime minister presented them as a final round of belt-tightening necessary to put Greece back on its feet after its third massive international bailout runs out this summer. Tsipras’ political opponents wanted to double down again on the strategy of telling creditors they cannot afford to let Greece fail, so they have no choice but to keep forking over bailouts forever.
Carping about politicians who do not keep their campaign promises is the prelude to an argument that representative democracy is an illusion because the people are constantly manipulated with slick political marketing, emotional manipulation, and outright lies.
It is a dangerous line of ideological attack that Western nations should be on guard against because it is not entirely illogical or untrue. False choices are not free choices. The point of having strong constitutional protections for individual liberty and delicately balanced branches of the federal government is to make it harder to bamboozle or stampede the public. Entrenched incumbency has made it too difficult to use elections as a corrective measure to “throw the bums out.”
China will argue that its authoritarian system is better at organization national effort than messy free-market democracy. Perhaps, more importantly, they will claim it is more accountable, as well, because all-powerful corruption-hunting agencies are more effective than leaving political justice in the hands of fickle and easily fooled voters. It is a message that can be cleverly packaged and sold in ways that appeal to both the left and right, especially if the younger generation comes to view their democracies as unreformable. Those who believe their votes are futile will be more willing to believe that democracy itself is worthless.