Why Democracy Sucks

Chinese Democracy (Part I)

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I’ve been reading writers in China and they talk about democracy a lot. These are mainstream, mainland writers. These aren’t dissidents, they’re deciders. For example, this is from Wang Huning, a member of the Politburo:

The overall goal of China’s political system reform is to follow the world trend of constitutionalism and establish a constitutional democracy. (1986, revised in 2012)

Also you get people like Professor Wang Shaoguang asserting that China is a democracy already, and in many way superior:

This article’s basic argument is that representative democracy is a gilded-cage democracy, which should not be nor can be the only form of democracy. Conversely, though the representational democracy that China is practicing has many flaws, it has tremendous untapped potential, signifying that another form of democracy is possible. (2014)

WTF is going on? Is China really becoming democratic? Is China democratic already? Before I even get to the Chinese sources, we’ve got to go back to the source.

Aristotle and Greek Democracy

Democracy is a Greek word meaning people (dēmos) and power (kratia). In places like Athens this was quite literal. Any citizen could attend the popular assembly (ie Parliament) and major offices were assigned by lot (ie randomly).

The Origins of Citizenship in Ancient Athens, Philip Brook Manville

You could say this was power to the people, but the definition of ‘people’ was violently circumscribed by a minority of dudes. Panels of demesmen decided who counted (male, not enslaved, child of citizens). If you were proposed as a citizen and somehow got rejected, the consequences were pretty dire. It’s quite probable that you got sold into slavery.

ibid

We think this sounds batshit, cruel, and unfair today, but this is still how democracies are run. Everyone gets to vote, but someone gets to decide who ‘everyone’ is. You still have to have the…

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Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at www.indi.ca, or just email me at indi@indi.ca.