Monday, 10 October 2011

Reflections On The R.O.C. Centennial

Today* is the centennial of the R.O.C State - a hundred years since the New Army rebelled against the Qing government in Hubei province in 1911 following a dispute over the Qing's attempt to steal expropriate privately built railways. Although Sun Yat Sen (孫逸仙) was not present at the time, he had been the leader of previous attempts to oust the Qing government.

Today, every city in Taiwan (to my knowledge) has roads named after Sun Yat Sen's "three principles of the people": minzu (民族), minquan (民權), and minsheng (民生), or in English: nationalism, democracy and socialism. Taken together as meaning a democratically calibrated national-socialism (or "fascism"), the R.O.C. is no different in its' operating principles to any other modern State such as Britain, France or even the U.S.

In the West, the subject of politics is typically taught with a now almost axiomatic distinction between "democracy" on the one hand, and the early twentieth century "extreme" ideologies of socialism, national-socialism, fascism and communism on the other.

Yet the distinction between democracy and these other ideologies is dangerously misleading on two counts, the first of which is that from an individualist pespective (which is the true "human rights" perspective), there are no substantive differences between socialism, national-socialism, fascism and communism because all of them necessarily trample the rights of the individual human being underfoot. The second point is that, rather than being a substantive contrast to these ideologies, democracy is actually nothing more than a procedural method for calibrating their operation.

The common misconception that democracy does represent a substantive alternative occurs because of the tacit association of democracy with both constitutional and cultural restraints on the State - which is a major premise of liberalism, properly understood. To be sure, modern States - including the R.O.C. - do have constitutional limits on government, but these are as honoured in the breach as in their observance. The notion of strictly limited government is often elided today when politicians, academics, editors and other commenters sermonize about "democracy" without prior critical reflection.

What Sun Yat Sen (孫逸仙) did in the years leading up to 1911, was to agitate for a revolution in the institutional form in which political power was to operate. The sad, and worrying fact is that today's China under the PRC is still trying to catch up with him a century later in a world in which the ideas of nationalism, socialism and democratic calibration have been undermined not only by increasing participation in global market exchanges (and a good thing too), but also by the hubris and stupidity of their application, the collapse of constitutional restraints and the ongoing failure of democratic mechanisms to prevent this collapse.

What is necessary for the 21st Century is not a further application of Sun Yat Sen's revolutionary premises such as democratic calibration of the Chinese State, as in accordance with some of Liu Xiaobao's (劉曉波) prescriptions, but the application of devolutionary ideas. Political power ought to be devolved to the level of the individual such that it is extinguished and replaced entirely by the "soft power" of civil society and free, voluntary market exchange.

A century of depoliticized society would be a far superior achievement to that of the R.O.C. or any other modern State.

*I'd have liked to get myself up to Taipei today to take pictures, but without having prepared a couple of months in advance, it's just not practical.

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