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The Totalitarian Temptation

Chinese style.

1:30 PM, Mar 31, 2010 • By GABRIEL SCHOENFELD
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First we have Thomas Friedman singing the praises of post-Mao communist China in the New York Times:

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.

Now we have Harold Meyerson playing a similar—if more sophisticated—version of the same game in the Washington Post:

 Do Senate Republicans realize that we now have a rival superpower, China, that mocks the inability of our democracy to create the jobs that would restore our economy, which they adduce as evidence of the superiority of authoritarianism? Do Supreme Court conservatives realize that China disparages our elections as controlled by big money?

Friedman’s point is that China’s superior system is going to eat our lunch in the global economic competition and the “only way for us to match them is by legislating a rising carbon price along with efficiency and renewable standards that will stimulate massive private investment in clean-tech.” We also need to turn health care upside down, despite our  “one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today.”

Meyerson’s point is, “In our intensifying contest with China, with much of the world still at stake, our first task is to demonstrate that democracy works.” 

Meyerson is obviously right that the Chinese model of economic growth and political control holds appeal in certain quarters around the world. But so what? Hitler resuscitated the German economy amid the Great Depression. Mussolini made the trains run on time.  And there were admirers of both men around the world, including in the United States.  

Did we need to remake our society to demonstrate what was wrong with the fascist boot in the 1930s ? Do we need to remake our society today a la Meyerson, and denigrate our democracy a la Friedman, to demonstrate what is wrong with Chinese brutality and oppression? 

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