Does China’s Autocratic Capitalism Pose A Challenge To Democracy?

Democracy is facing challenges throughout the world – most visibly seen in the anti-capitalist protests of the Occupy movement. Public opinion polls reflect a disconnect among many citizens in the US and Europe with their government and the business community. But does this movement signal a continued decline in the democratic system or is it merely temporary?

In his latest book, “Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government,” writer and Council on Foreign Relations scholar Joshua Kurlantzick reflects on the shifting global political winds and the increasing movement of developing nations to walk away from democracies and toward a political model based on China’s autocratic capitalism.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he expounds on this theory when asked whether the Occupy protests reflect a decline in support for democracy or for capitalism. H responds that “different social strands have been brought together by the Occupy movements. A lot of the protests are against inequality, against poor governance or the failure of democracy to prevent the economic benefits of a free society from being captured by a very small percentage of the population.”

Authoritarian Capitalism Gaining Ground In Developing World
If democracy is less attractive, Kurlantzick sees the blend of authoritarian government and capitalist economics gaining momentum. In the previous periods in which democracy was being challenged, he argues that no real alternative existed, except for communism. Today, the Chinese model offers a viable alternative.

“In many ways, their systems pose the most serious challenge to democratic capitalism since the rise of communism and fascism in the 1920s and early 1930s. And in the wake of the global economic crisis, and the dissatisfaction with democracy in many developing nations, leaders in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are studying the Chinese model far more closely — a model that, eventually, will help undermine democracy in their countries,” he writes in The Atlantic.

Kevin Rafferty counters those who are enamored with the Chinese model are misguided. He does, however, acknowledge that it does possess a strong allure in contrast to the political dysfunction on display in the US and Europe. In particular, Rafferty responds to a recent essay written by Eric X Li in Foreign Affairs magazine [subscription required] in which Li contends China’s leaders will consolidate the one-party model and challenge the West’s conventional wisdom about political development and the inevitable march toward electoral democracy.

In response, Rafferty states that in making his argument Li “plays fast and sometimes very loose with facts,” namely that “a supposed meritocracy that is neither as open nor as merit-based as he assumes.”

Will The Chinese Model Work In Other Nations?
Could the Chinese model be duplicated throughout the world? Rafferty is not convinced because China’s Communist Party rule is unique, the culmination of victory in a long and violent struggle.

He concludes: “The problem for the world is that there is a growing nationalist edge to the Chinese political view, sometimes through a fog. This is especially dangerous when the world needs leaders who are capable of looking beyond their own boundaries at the repercussions and damage that their policies may bring.”

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