Even before I began working for its competitor three years ago, I was never a big fan of the English-language China Post newspaper. Not only did its pan-blue political line not coincide with my preferences, but the quality of its copy, and dearth of local reporters, made alternatives more obvious choices to stay informed about what’s going on in Taiwan.
This said, I cannot but help encourage my readers to check out the editorial it published on Wednesday, titled “Time to think the unthinkable on system of government?” I urge readers to give it a try not because they will learn something, but because it is so irreparably bad. After all, what else should we expect from an opinion piece that opens with the following: “Democratically elected former President Chen Shui-bian [陳水扁], some would argue, has turned out to be the most corrupt head of state in modern Asian history,” which is followed by a similarly risible, albeit dishonest, attempt at political balance: “Democratically elected President Ma Ying-jeou [馬英九], others would argue, has turned out to be the most incompetent head of state in modern Asian history”?
Most corrupt? Most incompetent? Where was the China Post when Ferdinand Marcos, Thaksin Shinawatra and Suharto, to name just a few, were in power, amassing billions of dollars illegally while mismanaging their countries, sometimes bringing them close to civil war? What about Kim Jong-il, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong (毛澤東), for that matter, who all engineered widespread famine, dislocated and displaced entire segments of society, and executed untold many of their own people?
The gist of the editorial is that Western liberal democracy “is nothing more than a political system riddled with defects,” and that democracy can do no better than offer voters a choice between the lesser evil. It argues that Francis Fukuyama, who announced “the end of history” soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was wrong (in that regard, the Post isn’t entirely off the mark) and that former British prime minister Winston Churchill, in all his wisdom, was equally mistaken in saying that “Western liberal democracy may be a system riddled with defects, but it is nevertheless the best form of government mankind can ever hope for.”
The China Post argues that “the rest of us” — that is, not Churchill, Fukuyama and those who are foolish enough to place their hope in democracy — do not have to accept that flawed Western liberal democracy is our best option. The alternative, we are told, is “an entirely different political system, one that isn’t riddled with defects.”
Fair enough. So what is this new political system? The Post: “something unfamiliar to most of mankind, and which most of mankind has yet to try. Perhaps the final form of human government, the one that will replace Western liberal democracy, is ‘self government.’”
Ok, now we’re getting somewhere: “self government.” That form of governance, the Post tells us, is not the US model, which is “elective government,” whereby an influential minority, or self-interest groups, govern and “coerce” the majority. Sadly, by the time we reach the last line, which wisely advises us that “perhaps it is time to think the unthinkable,” we are no closer to knowing what “self government means.” In fact, I’m not sure the Post knows either. The wording is nevertheless chillingly reminiscent (though probably more banal) of Standing Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea member and Khmer Rouge Vice Premier for Foreign Affairs Ieng Sary’s reference to socialism “without reference to any existing model,” which quickly became the nightmare of the killing fields in Cambodia soon after Phnom Penh fell in April 1975.
Whatever system of government a country chooses, it will always be flawed, as human beings are by their very nature flawed. The few experiments in history where groups of people attempted to scientifically engineer a flawless, or Utopic, political system, led us collectively into the heart of darkness and cost tens of millions of lives: communism, fascism and all the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in between. “Thinking the unthinkable,” the Post’s prescription for a better Taiwan, is just empty words, hot air that altogether fails to propose anything.
In its dirge for Western liberal democracy, furthermore, the editorial completely fails to contrast this undeniably flawed system with that which defines governance across the Taiwan Strait — a non-liberal, non-Western and certainly non-democratic system that brooks no opposition, silences, locks up and kills dissidents, and corrupts whoever comes in contact with it, even Taiwan. Is this silence an apology for that system? Is this the “unthinkable” the China Post would have us ponder?
Yes, democracy is flawed. But Churchill (and many others who came after him) was right: It is the “least bad” system we have at our disposal and the one that is most likely to impose checks and balances on power and the few who wield it in our name. A good criticism of democracy is healthy. But to discard it out of hand while proposing an undefined “unthinkable” is an insult to our intelligence and invites social experiments that had better be left alone.