Note: Update electoral map to 2012 [h/t Robert Pollock]
I do not usually post a political message on my weblog. However, I read a BBC article that was so divergent with my viewpoint on governance, that I am writing this post. The BBC news article is
A Point Of View: Is China more legitimate than the West?
The article is by Martin Jacques. In the article he is described as
Martin Jacques is an economist and author of When China Rules the World
The book listed in this short bio has the full title
When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order
The news article includes the following statements by Martin Jacques [and I recommend you read the entire article] – highlight added
Now let me shock you: the Chinese state enjoys greater legitimacy than any Western state.
Take the findings of Tony Saich at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In a series of surveys he found that between 80 and 95% of Chinese people were either relatively or extremely satisfied with central government.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese have a quite different attitude towards government to that universal in the West.
True, our attitude depends in part on where we stand on the political spectrum. If you are on the right, you are likely to believe in less government and more market. If you are on the left, you are likely to be more favourably disposed to the state.
But both left and right share certain basic assumptions. The role of the state should be codified in law, there should be clear limits to its powers, and there are many areas in which the state should not be involved. We believe the state is necessary – but only up to a point.
The Chinese idea of the state could hardly be more different.
They do not view it from a narrowly utilitarian standpoint, in terms of what it can deliver, let alone as the devil incarnate in the manner of the American Tea Party.
They see the state as an intimate, or, to be more precise, as a member of the family – the head of the family, in fact. The Chinese regard the family as the template for the state. What’s more, they perceive the state not as external to themselves but as an extension or representation of themselves.
The fact that the Chinese state enjoys such an exalted position in society lends it enormous authority, a remarkable ubiquity and great competence.
Even though China is still a poor developing country, its state, I would argue, is the most competent in the world.
And the state’s ubiquity – a large majority of China’s most competitive companies, to this day, are state-owned. Or consider the one-child policy, which still commands great support amongst the population.
As Americans go to the polls today, they are reenforcing our over 200 years of history that the government is not the “head of a family” but serves only at the pleasure of the citizens.
The politics have always be rough, often much more so than in today’s election, as discussed, for example, in excellent books I have read such as
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (Oct 5, 2010)
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (Mar 29, 2005)
John Adams by David McCullough (Jan 29, 2008)
Abraham Lincoln by James M. McPherson (Feb 1, 2009)
Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 by Robert Dallek ((Oct 21, 1999)
The rancorous election process in the USA, including the added layer of the Electoral College, is part of the checks and balances which limits the power of the political leaders. The federal system with states adds to the diversity of power.
This certainly is not true of China, as is so effectively presented in detail with respect to Mao Tse-Tung and his associates in the well-written and documented book
Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Nov 14, 2006)
In Russia, a similar history of concentrated power has existed, as clearly described in the books
Young Stalin (Vintage) by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Oct 14, 2008)
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Sep 13, 2005)
Thus, today, in the USA we celebrate a political process that has been a beacon for the world in how the people of a country can rule themselves.