Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Was Marx wrong again?

Marx thought that socialism was the inevitable end point of political and cultural evolution. There's a lot of doubt about that idea. But, the idea that politics and culture is evolving toward some ultimate result is still popular. It's just that everyone seems to think that the system they're part of is closest to that final culture.

A Canadian thinker casts doubt on the Western assumption that liberal democracy is the model for the evolutionary goal.

(Of course, all that wishful thinking about a goal of evolution — cultural or biological — is based on a very non-Darwinian assumption that there is some ideal goal. Darwin was very clear about biological evolution: success went to the most adaptable creatures, not to those that were most like us. And to claim that human inventions like government and economics have some ultimately perfect form is downright Platonic.)

Russia and China, Challenges for Liberal Democracy
Liberal democracy faces a new and decisive challenge — figuring out how to deal with the “post-Communist oligarchies” of Russia and China. These regimes — authoritarian, capitalist and eagerly integrated into the global economy — are without precedent. Figuring out how to deal with them is the greatest strategic and moral question the West faces today. How we answer it will determine the shape of the 21st century, much as the struggle with Communism and fascism shaped the 20th.
Michael Ignatieff
This is the assertion Michael Ignatieff, the Canadian intellectual and former leader of the Liberal Party…
Central to Mr. Ignatieff’s argument is his insistence that [history]… isn’t marching toward any particular destination, including liberal democracy. “As late as [the 1930s], liberals still thought of their creed as being the wave of the future and thought of history as the story of liberty.” …

“It is a cliché of optimistic Western discourse on Russia and China that they must evolve toward democratic liberty,” Mr. Ignatieff argued. Sadly, though, we’re wrong: “But we should not assume there is any historical inevitability to liberal society.”…

Believing that the duo [of] “post-Communist oligarchies” are on the liberal capitalist path is comforting for the liberal capitalist companies that do business with them, too. After all, for all the kowtowing required to do business in Russia and China, the rewards are vast…

The optimistic cliché of inevitable liberal evolution is convenient and comforting. But that doesn’t make it right.

If Russia and China really are not marching inevitably toward liberal democracy, as Mr. Ignatieff argues, that is a problem not just for their repressed people, but also for us.

Mr. Ignatieff says that our attitude toward Russia and China is a question of such great import because both countries “are attempting to demonstrate a novel proposition: that economic freedoms can be severed from political and civil freedom, and that freedom is divisible.”

He is right that this is the fundamental operating proposition of Russia and China, and he is right that it poses the most serious challenge that the very idea of liberal democracy faces anywhere today.

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