Monday, August 9, 2010

Confucian meritocracy as an alternative to democracy

The following extracts are from a pair of decent articles about how Chinese rule is changing. Understanding that China is heading along the path of an all powerful, albeit meritocratic, state clothing itself in Confucian ideals makes me deeply uncomfortable. I am certainly in favour of competent and moral politicians but believe that the best state is accountable to its citizens through balances to its power. Whether that be a strong constitution or a democracy ready to throw the bums out. The failed IPCC and ensuing climate hyperbole has shown how a steady stream of intelligent scientists have been willing to sacrifice scepticism and honesty for the benefit of their careers and sticking to the accepted mainstream. The Sanlu debacle posted by Adolf highlights how a state will do what looks best rather than what is right.

Communism has lost the capacity to inspire the Chinese, and there is growing recognition that its replacement needs to be grounded at least partly in China’s own traditions. As the dominant political tradition in China, Confucianism is the obvious alternative.

The party has yet to re-label itself the Chinese Confucian Party, but it has moved closer to an official embrace of Confucianism. The 2008 Olympics highlighted Confucian themes, quoting The Analects of Confucius at the opening ceremonies and playing down any references to China’s experiment with communism. Cadres at the newly built Communist Party school in Shanghai proudly tell visitors that the main building is modeled on a Confucian scholar’s desk. Abroad, the government has been symbolically promoting Confucianism via branches of the Confucius Institute, a Chinese-language and cultural center similar to the Alliance Fran├žaise.

Of course, there is resistance as well. Elderly cadres, still influenced by Maoist antipathy to tradition, condemn efforts to promote ideologies outside a rigid Marxist framework. But the younger cadres in their 40s and 50s tend to support such efforts, and time is on their side. It’s easy to forget that the 76-million-strong Chinese Communist Party is a large and diverse organization. The party itself is becoming more meritocratic—it now encourages high-performing students to join—and the increased emphasis on educated cadres is likely to generate more sympathy for Confucian values.


the key value for realizing global political ideals is meritocracy, meaning equality of opportunity in education and government, with positions of leadership being distributed to the most virtuous and qualified members of the community.


Drawing on extensive empirical research, Bryan Caplan’s book The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies shows that voters are often irrational, and he suggests tests of voter competence as a remedy.

I also referenced this earlier article about Chinese presentation of itself. Ignore the laughable reference to Obama inventing smart power for America.

The Chinese government began to take the idea of “smart power” seriously years before the Obama administration made it an official premise of U.S. foreign policy. Unlike the American variety, however, Chinese “smart power” diplomacy does not shift investment from the projection of military power to foreign aid and public diplomacy, but deploys both of these at once—strategically, aggressively, and with increasing sophistication. As China has moved to extend its military influence from Asia, where it has dominated in a regional way, to parts of Africa, India, the Middle East, and beyond, it has also worked to convince the world that peaceful development is at the heart of its foreign policy.
The Chinese leadership has pledged an eye-popping $6.8 billion for this endeavor. By comparison, the United States currently spends about $750 million annually on international broadcasting; similar U.K. funding for the BBC World Service runs about $400 million.


Anonymous said...

Drawing on extensive empirical research, Bryan Caplan’s book The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies shows that voters are often irrational, and he suggests tests of voter competence as a remedy.

Of course. Which is why - when NZ was first established - real tests of competency, of private success were enforced in NZ's franchise - and there was of course no welfare state.

Similarly, the US was designed to work only with strict tests of competency at both state and federal levels.

The leftist ideas of a universal franchise led directly to the welfare state and to the ruination of the West.

Anonymous said...

Its simply replacing one belief system with another but a central control style has been part of China's make up for centuries and that won't go without a fight.

The thing to watch is Christianity. Its booming, the communists hate it but its got too big to put down and there will be a clash (more than there is at present) at some point.

sagenz said...

anon 8:26. I see your point but we must agree to disagree. I believe strongly in a universal franchise but there have been a great deal of poor policy since.

anon 8:43 Christianity is on the wane but it the western civilisation it represents has a very strong headstart. Personally I believe the clash of civilisations has started. The idea that China is moving towards Confucian values gives me a great deal of reassurance that there will be no East West conflict but I think there will be a great deal of conflict bringing Islam to it's enlightenment

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

sage, I doubt Christianity is on the wane. It might appear to be in some western democracies but it certainly is on a roll in the African continent and in Asia.

You might find also that in the western democracies it is some of the institutions of Christianity which are on the wane rather than the faith itself. Many people are leaving the churches but they are not leaving God.

sagenz said...

adolf - fair point. The institution declines rather than the faith.

Anonymous said...

"The idea that China is moving towards Confucian values gives me a great deal of reassurance"

What do you mean 'moving towards'? Conficianism has always been apart of the fabric on china irrespective of the ideology of the day. Even the more modern chinese version of socialism led by a vanguard of enlightened technocrats has echos in confucianism and the system of obedience and control in the school of legalism.

Socialism was simply imposed on an already existing ideology of rule so this is no surprise that the CCP is seeking inspiration to justify it's rule from another source.

sagenz said...

anon 2:52 I was not clear enough. I meant the chinese government moving away from communism towards confucianism, you are correct about basic chinese values not having changed.