One recalls Francis Fukuyama’s famous argument. Namely that, at the end of the twentieth century, liberal democracy had emerged as the crowning glory of civilization, the ne plus ultra of governmental systems, the victor over all other forms of government. When Communism collapsed of its own internal contradictions—everywhere but in the minds of American graduate students—liberal democracy was the only system left standing.
Since Fukuyama included free market capitalism in the broader category of liberal democracy, he covered himself against the chance that someone would find a better political system. Or that the public would sour on liberal democracy. Or that democratic elections would promote leaders who had no use for democracy. Or would discover that no system can function when it is run by incompetent self-interested people who do not believe in the system.
As you know, Fukuyama was reading from a Hegelian chapbook. One recalls that Marx was doing the same. In itself this tells us to be skeptical of his conclusions. He believed that the movement of the World Spirit had produced liberal democracy. We have a right to doubt his conclusions.
And one must recall, because everyone overlooks it, that America was founded as a Republic, not as a democracy. As you know, the American president is not elected by a raw majority. The Electoral College is not proportional to the population. And the balance of powers that is fundamental to the American constitution guards the people against spasms of democratic madness.
Fukuyama could not have known it at the time, but the rise of China has influenced the way people around the world see the current civilizational conflict between liberal democracy and authoritarian capitalism. One remarks that, countries like the United States and France have far more bureaucrats per capita and far more regulations than do the putatively Communist Chinese government.
And yet, China takes a decidedly negative view of free expression, of the free press and even of student revolutionaries. Recall the way the government treated the pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Yet, the prognostications of Nick Kristof notwithstanding, China is prospering. Its leaders maintain their power, because the system is producing prosperity. Thus, Chinese leaders still have what they call the Mandate of Heaven. It is not quite the same as the will of the people.
Given a choice between authoritarian capitalism and debates over transgrendered locker rooms, the Chinese people prefer the former. Given the choice between working to prosper and entering into a seemingly endless game of whack-a-bigot, the Chinese prefer the former. They did not vote, but they are not feeling aggrieved either. We Americans vote and we feel aggrieved all the time.
Americans believe in democracy, but they have not been doing a very good job of selling it to the world. Or even to their own people.
Americans love their unruly democracy. But, they no longer understand that if they want to have other nations emulate it, they need to make it work. And, let us not forget, whereas the idea and the practice of democracy goes back to Attic Greece, it has no such roots in Chinese culture or thought.
Undoubtedly, the clash between Chinese and American civilizations is the story of our times. And, for now, the Chinese system is looking better and better to many Americans.
Here we need to be careful. The students who especially dislike democracy and free expression are not militating for authoritarian capitalism. They are clamoring for socialism. After all, it has failed everywhere it has been tried, so students, idealistic to a fault, want to try it again.
Other Americans are also being attracted to more authoritarian rule. In particular they seem more comfortable with rule by the military than with rule by politicians. Why is this so? Perhaps it shows that people understand that soldiers are less motivated by self-interest, whereas politicians, led by Hillary and Bill Clinton, seem motivated by nothing but self-interest.
Young people are not as much of a mystery as you might imagine. They have known one president and they have seen that president run roughshod over the separation of powers and American constitutional law. They have seen him rule by executive decree, lie to the people systematically, get away with the lies, and prefer his golf game over a show of concern for the people of flood-ravaged Louisiana. Self-interest and self-indulgence… quite the combo.
Today’s young people have also, and this is more important, lived under a president who has no real commitment to American exceptionalism, who does not believe that America is a great country, and who does not want to win out in the clash of civilizations. They have seen a president disparage his nation and surrender to its enemies.
If you are young and impressionable, if you have been brainwashed with political correctness from the time you were out of diapers, if you see life as a therapeutic project, you are not going to like free competition in free markets. You will feel entitled to get what you have not earned.And you are not going to have any real use for the marketplace of ideas, either.
Today’s college students are more likely to believe in socialism, in receiving more benefits for working less. They want to shut down free speech and free markets. They are more like the Red Guards than like the current leaders of China.
The young Americans who flocked to Bernie Sanders are surrender junkies. They wish to surrender to Islamist terrorism, to surrender to a massive wave of immigrant refugees, and to surrender to newly empowered capitalistic China. They believe that competition is yesterday's game.
When so many of your countrymen and women have been indoctrinated to the point where they can no longer think, what do you do?