Why American Democracy Sucks

Chinese Democracy Part II

This is a Part II. Part I is more general philosophy here.

I grew up thinking that democracy was A) a thing and B) a good thing. but none of this is true. Democracy is many things, none of them inherently good. The paradox is that because I grew up inside a liberal democracy, I was the last to know.

Growing up in Ohio, pledging allegiance to the flag, the idea of my own freedom was so tied to the illusion of democratic freedom that I couldn't question one without shattering the other. And I just didn't. I didn't even think of it. That's the problem with Western democracy.

America is so preoccupied with being a democracy that it's not becoming a democracy. And democracy is like a bicycle–if you're not moving forward, you're falling off. The problem is that Americans are so proud of being a democracy that they can't see that their democracy is actually shit. And so they make no attempts to fix it. And so it falls down.

The problem with American democracy is not the filibuster. It's their philosophy. Paradoxically, the best place to get a perspective on this is from China.

Wait, but China is the enemy!

"But China?" you might say, "the horror!" Hold on to your pearls. I won't try to explain the complexity of China because it's actually irrelevant. Let's start where you are. If you think China is your enemy, then that's the biggest reason to learn from them. As they say in Ender's Game, "There is no teacher but the enemy... Only the enemy shows you where you are weak. Only the enemy shows you where he is strong."

Chinese scholars are well positioned to show Americans where they are weak because A) they're outside America and B) they have a unique perspective. For example, this is Wang Huning, talking about Western democratic culture and its limitations:

The inner meaning of the modern structure is based in Western democratic culture, its ideas of natural rights, popular sovereignty, the social contract, and the separation of powers, as advocated by Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Penn, Jefferson, and others. These ideas run contrary to the spirit of China’s classical structure, and there was a long and fierce battle between them.

It is clear that after nearly 150 years of back and forth, the existence of the modern structure is well established, and at least in terms of specific components, it has replaced the classical structure. We can see that the modern structure has its historical and geographical limitations, and, in terms of higher ideas, it also has more basic, philosophical limitations, which is related to its historical origins.

As you can see, China has elements of this democratic culture within, but it's mixed with Marxism and Confucianism. This is a unique and important perspective. So when Huning* talks about the basic, philosophical limitations of Western democracy, what does he mean?

The Conflict Between Freedom And Equality

First some background on who Wang Huning is, because he's not just a scholar. Huning is a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, one of the six men (they're all men) behind Xi Jingping. His Wikipedia page is a funny collection of him lurking in the background of important photos. Huning is often called the chief idealogue of the Communist Party, and his ideas are very surprising.

In 1991 he visited America and published America Against America, a rare and important work. On his travels, he identified the tension between freedom and equality as being a basic philosophical divide within America. As he writes,

Wang Huning, America Against America

Now this isn't just a Republican/Democrat divide. In Huning's view, the entire American heart is skewed towards political freedom over general equality.

America Against America

And here we get to the core philosophical problem. The fatal flaw at the heart of American democracy. You cannot separate political and economic equality. Rich people will just completely fuck over the poor, even though they technically have the same rights. Democracy becomes a formality, a gilded cage.