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The insurmountable problem facing President Joe Biden’s democratic capitalist missionaries, is that in order to fill the cups of the oppressed with freedom, they will first be required to empty their own pockets

Public Policy / opinion
The insurmountable problem facing President Joe Biden’s democratic capitalist missionaries, is that in order to fill the cups of the oppressed with freedom, they will first be required to empty their own pockets
biden-dem

By Chris Trotter*

President Joe Biden has just wound up his virtual “Summit For Democracy” and, frankly, I’m none the wiser. The underlying premise of what looked suspiciously like an anti-Chinese, anti-Russian, propaganda exercise: that democracy is threatened by the advance of authoritarianism; was poorly defended by the American President and his supporters.

Our own Prime Minister (whose participation in Biden’s summit was, for a few encouraging moments, a matter of some doubt) certainly failed to advance a credible argument that democracy was under attack. Indeed, her most serious critique was reserved for the disinformation spread by the leading social media platforms. That all of these are based in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, did little to dispel the intellectual confusion characterising the entire summit.

How much more helpful it would have been had Jacinda Ardern chosen to broaden the debate by comparing the present historical moment with that of the 1930s.

Ninety years ago, Democracy, as a political system, was unquestionably under unrelenting ideological attack. From the radical Left came the critique that the democratic system was nothing more than a smoke-screen designed by the ruling classes to hide the true power relationships of capitalist society – which were economic, not political. In the oft-quoted observation of the French writer, Anatole France: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

The Right lamented the weakening effect of democratic party politics on the expression of the national will. The unity of the people and the power of the state could only be undermined by Democracy’s relentless focus on the rights of the individual. The slogan of Benito Mussolini: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”; summed up the political objectives of the radical Right admirably.

Crucially, these anti-democratic ideas were not the preserve merely of party activists, academic authors, newspaper columnists, and radio personalities – the 1930s equivalent of today’s social media communicators. The assault upon Democracy was led by substantial nation-states.

The Soviet Union, through its mouthpiece the Communist International or “Comintern”, heaped nothing but scorn on Western “bourgeois democracy”. It was condemned for offering no credible response to the poverty and despair unleashed by the Great Depression. Against the dictatorship of Capital, the Comintern offered not democracy, but the dictatorship of the working-class. Its clinching argument: “There are no unemployed in Russia!”

Germany, under Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party – the Nazis – pretended not to feel the loss of the parliamentary democracy that had been swept away by the “National Revolution”. Gone was the vacillation, weakness and political gridlock of the hated Weimar Republic, and in its place stood the volksgemeinschaft – the national peoples community – which was credited with restoring order, unity and prosperity to the German nation.

How do Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany compare, as anti-democratic proselytisers, with Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation and Xi Jinping’s Peoples Republic of China – supposed leaders of the authoritarian crusade against which the “Summit For Democracy” set its face?

Frankly, today’s authoritarians aren’t a patch on their 1930s predecessors.

If the Russian Federation had genuinely turned it face against Democracy, deriding it as a failed experiment imposed upon the Russian people by the rapacious nations of the West, why would its leader devote so much time and energy to maintaining the pretence of leading a democratically-elected government? Would someone cast in the mould of Joseph Stalin really feel obliged to rig election after election in the manner of President Putin? Is it not more accurate to observe that the sins committed against democracy in Russia are, in fact, proof of its enduring hold upon the imagination of the long-suffering Russian people?

What about those 100,000+ troops massed along Russia’s border with Ukraine? How “democratic” is that? A better question might be: How would the Russian people react if their President did not do all within his power to keep the military forces of Nato as far from Russia’s borders as possible? If Russia and its allies had military forces ranged along both the Canadian and Mexican borders, and its navy was galivanting around the Gulf of Mexico, how bellicose do you suppose the American people would expect their president to be?

Just for the record: the last time so many foreign troops were massed along the Russian border was June 1941.

Even accepting that the Russian Federation is a deformed democratic state, the same, surely, cannot be said of the Peoples Republic of China? Is it not the case that President Xi Jinping has openly boasted the superiority of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” over the failing democracies of the West? Hasn’t he contrasted the extraordinary economic growth of China, and the dramatic improvement in Chinese living standards, with the grotesque inequality and moral disintegration of neoliberal capitalism? For those countries still struggling to join the rich nations’ club, President Xi’s characterisation of authoritarianism as the fast-track to prosperity, must be tempting.

Not least because so many of those aspiring nations are only too aware that the phenomenal growth experienced by China was set in motion by the enthusiasm of Western investors for a nation state that did everything within its power to crush “bourgeois democracy”. The fact that this prime destination for foreign (especially US) capital did not permit a multi-party system, free and fair elections, a free and outspoken news media, or, most importantly, an independent trade union movement, was precisely the reason why they were so keen to relocate their factories in Chinese territory.

China’s great sin isn’t that it maintains rigid control over the lives of its people; or that it represses the Uighurs of Jinjiang Province. (After all, the United States, the UK and Australia invaded, mangled and economically crippled Iraq in the same cause – i.e. combatting “Islamic terrorism”.) No, China’s great sin is that she refuses to allow contemporary Western capitalists to dictate her future in the same way as their nineteenth and twentieth century predecessors.

Viewed from this perspective, President Biden’s “Summit For Democracy” (to which, confusingly, the Philippines were invited, but Singapore was not) begins to look like those great evangelical gatherings of two hundred years ago, where one distressed clergyman after another rose to speak of the unfortunate millions of Africans and Asians dwelling in the darkness of religious error, their souls in peril, and urgently in need of the liberating word of God – followed, after a decent interval, by the not-so-liberating instruments of Mammon.

The great advantage of the Christian missionary movement was that the paradise it promised lay not in this world, but the next. The insurmountable problem facing Biden’s democratic capitalist missionaries, is that in order to fill the cups of the oppressed with freedom, they will first be required to empty their own pockets.

And where’s the profit in that?


*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. He writes a weekly column for interest.co.nz. His work may also be found at http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com.

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32 Comments

Nothing new but modernisation of the old. The Greeks gave birth to the democratic system but while administering to its structure, scarcely followed its principles and then too, and even more so, the Romans that adopted it, ending up with an Emperor just like Napoleon, thousands of years later. Churchill said something like democracy with all its problems is still better than any alternative. In the old days a “palace revolution” took weeks if not months to organise, today the instantaneous speed of global communications applies instantaneous opportunity for pressure groups, media moguls, lobbyists and on to ply their trade. As the good old King of Id might well remark, hard to keep the Hun on the run outside the walls, when already in the room.

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Yes the challenges of democracy are very real for New Zealand and Ardern was certainly not able to claim any high ground.

I think the issue relates, as it does in business, to a lack of appropriate information and the paradox of needing time to create well-formed plans while at the same time present and control an attractive narrative to the populace (stakeholders).  Policy is therefore a list of wishes rather than anything that is any danger of being born into being in reality.

By any measure, excepting the incredibly low bar of free and fair elections, democracy has been a failure in NZ.  The reliable and consistent apathy of our population in concert with a very established (never more so - to the tune this year of $150M) public media propaganda machine has mean this is unlikely to change.

However it might be noted that Labour, who clearly campaigned on lowering house prices, ending child poverty and improving our social services has failed on all fronts.  Some cursory attempts were made by incompetent and inept politicians and what meagre progress that may have been made was further restrained by our deep bureaucracy (or market realities).

I am not proposing an autocratic regime change (our "army" of 5000 full time soldiers would struggle to mount a coup) but it may not do worse than our current system.

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Is democracy under threat? Perhaps by design CT maintains a very narrow focus against authoritarian regimes, but perhaps the process should be initially to provide and simple, but blunt response - "YES", and then explore from whence?

I would suggest the discussion should be about the "from whence?" and which poses the most immediate, and biggest threat? These two may be different too. Is the most immediate threat to democracy, the authoritarian regimes CT talks about, the overt threats, or is it the covert corruption of self-interested politicians in the so called and recognised, democracies? The physical threat of Russia's or China's ambitions are increasingly immediate, and a failure to front them, and win, could mean a total loss of democracy, bluntly and directly. But the covert corruption of politicians, while slower, less direct and a lot harder to prove and stop will in the end be no less destructive to those on the street.

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the western style democracy is certainly dying and being surpassed and replaced by China defined whole procedure democracy.

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Whole procedure democracy?  Are the Uighur Muslims part or subject to the procedure?

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I must say the Uighur in Xin Jiang and in China enjoy using far more rights, experience far more population growth, and being far more respected than the American Indians in the US, the Inuit in Canada, the Aboriginals in the AUS, and the Maori in New Zealand.

 

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:) that is an epic Tui moment but for kicks, I assume this means you have a disputes resolution process similar to the Treaty Settlement process we have in NZ that has resulted in $ Billions of settlement payments to Maori?  And of course are bi-lingual in the Xin Jiang region etc?

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Xing,

Basically, you are just spouting outright CCP propaganda. As Goebbels knew, the bigger the lie the better. What is happening to the Uighurs is a crime.

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Not really the USA and Britain went into Iraq for no reason and killed a couple of hundred thousand civilians but you never hear about that on the news for years. No different from many countries in the West, wrong religion and your in the minority it pays to get out. Basically you just need to declare its a war then its perfectly fine to start killing people. The USA is shitting its pants and is looking for every possible avenue to drag down China.

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Worth noting the deaths caused by the violent military invasion of Iraq were 11,000 to 15,000 Iraqis, including approximately 3,200 to 4,300 civilian noncombatants (fairly reputable source - other sources have 30,000 and 45,000) but whatever the correct figure that is when civil war, occupancy and insurgencies started and the numbers dying are in the hundreds of thousand - Carlos67 is quoting a low number and maybe a million would be more accurate. Modern warfare is efficient, kills fewer and avoids civilians better than past wars.  The problems occurred because having easily won a war they hadn't a clue what to do.  Simply disbanding the Republican Guard probably resulted in more deaths than any other act.  They should have read their history books and learned the local languages. 

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Māori population has grown from 50,000 in the late 1800s to 800,000 now.

From a report in the Guardian "" Xinjiang births plummeted after crackdown on Uyghurs. Birthrate fell by almost half between 2017-2019, research finds, adding to evidence of coercive fertility policies ""

 

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Power corrupts and Absolute Power corrupts absolutely  !

Look no further...Best example is in NZ.

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Politicians who are full of themselves will blame everyone but themselves. Forgetting that it was the same social media that make them what they are today and because of their failure, it is the same social media that will take them apart.

Democratic system is good but often misused by politicans as have become expert and blatantly arrogant  in lying and manipulating with their Holier-than- thou attitude.

Mr Orr despite scream could not hear that Transitory Inflation is BS and ignored all data / news ...Why ?

Jacinda Arden, when she said that NO KIWIS want the house price to fall ....for the same attitude ( what I feel and say is universal truth)  was wrong as recent data suggested that 43% are not with her but again current Democracy where to get power have to please 50% even if 49% are not supporting is not helping and need an overhaul to make politicians accountable and not just in election. Otherwise once elected can dictate for one full term - Dictatorship only with term attached to it.

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what kind of democracy is it when elected PM is trying to kill you and your kids with a jab?  [This clearly false comment has not been removed to show just how distorted social-media echo-chambers can mess with some people. Ed  Further investigation shows that this 'reader' is using a Russian email server. Disinformation from there is reaching into our comment threads. ugh Ed]

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alexil,

With over 90% of the population vaccinated, just how many have died? Certainly not me or any of my family, one of whom is 12. my other 3 grandchildren under 12 will get it as soon as it becomes available.

Out of interest, why would the PM be trying to kill most of the population? Wouldn't that have some effect on her popularity?

Just guessing but are you way right of centre? 

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lol I think your mistake here is to use logic.  In Soviet Russia you infect COVID.

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The same kind of democracy that decides what is a crime and who gets imprisoned. As per abortion and homosexual law reform and abolition of the death penalty all you have to do is vote and persuade others to vote. 

I would prefer a true democracy to our standard representative democracy but it would make no difference - if the majority are in favour of vaccination then they will nudge or coerce the minority as they do with tobacco and heroin.

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Undemocratic authoritarian governments whether under a left or right wing have the allure of reducing complexity. There is significant literature (see Tainter's "The Collapse of Complex Societies" or earlier Toynbee) placing growing societal cost associated with complexity as the reason for collapse. We seek to do more without doing anything. Arguably, NZ's case and point can be seen with the Treaty of Waitangi, and associated regulation seeking to improve representation and wellbeing of Maori. If we look at child poverty rates for Maori over the last 30 years, despite all the goodwill these measures appear to have had negligible impact on the well being of the poorest maori. Do we have clear reported and monitored goals today about lifting education and poverty in Maori, no but many govt departments do have clear goals about representation in their workforce. Is Maori representation more important than bringing in the best international expertise, or evidence based policy? The same can be said for much environmental regulation. We accept achievable proxies in favour of fixing problems. The associated cognitive dissonance creates the space for authoritarianism.

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Democracy is under threat for a country like the USA with 330 million people, when the best they can come up with is either Trump or Biden. Its pretty clear that the best of the best don't want the job, its no different in New Zealand.

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If there is anything worse than "bourgeois democracy " it's bourgeois communism and bourgeois socialism plenty of both exist today .

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"Is it not more accurate to observe that the sins committed against democracy in Russia are, in fact, proof of its enduring hold upon the imagination of the long-suffering Russian people?"

What proof does he have that democracy has 'an enduring hold' on the imagination of the Russian people? Very little I suspect. Democracy as we understand is not part of Russian history. Yes they had Gorbachev and the disastrous few years of Yeltsin during which most of the country's wealth was either corruptly given to or stolen by a few men. Most Russians welcomed Putin as a strong man, though he is the biggest kleptocrat of them all.

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Why is the mainstream media protecting Biden so much?   
If Trump had done & said anything like what Biden has in the last 10 months the media would be in full ridicule mode.  

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So many reasons but Trump was his own worst enemy and the bullying style that got him the local government money to build his properties set the liberal media on edge.  

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I haven't heard just about anything from our local media on him one way or the other, which is good as I began to get quite tired of hearing non-stop American news since their 2016 election campaign. For international media, I've seen some negative articles on Biden's policies regarding Afghanistan, Covid or inflation. Not quite the same sort of controversy Trump stirred up.

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Apparently lying politicians aren't a threat to democracy, but conspiracy theories on the internet are.  Funny that.

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Today's (NZ) leaders are a product of their educational limitations. Once upon a time educators used to teach people how to think. Today, education teaches you what to think. Our current political leaders show all the signs of much education but no signs what-so-ever of any practical experience in today's world. In effect, they are applying their educational knowns (which is not much) to their roles as our political leaders, which as we can all see, is not working out too well. They all need a decade of real life experience out there somewhere in real land, before they can come back to lecture us on how to live our lives.

This Labour Govt is fearful of just about everything. They fear us getting sick & having to go to hospital. They're frightened of finding new sources of mineral energy in our own waters. They afraid to let the children go to school. They're frightened about people living their own lives their own way, including telling us what we can & cannot say. This Labour Govt is fearful of it's own democratic existence. God help us.

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https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/nz-house-prices-hit-new-record-9250…

 

Jacinda Arden Democracy in danger as people like you are working to support speculators and killing the aspiration and dreams of average Kiwi of even having a home of their own for their family with attitude take it or leave it.

Silent Crime committed by elected representative to please elite to get vote and power.

No accountability..though outside world may not be aware of the inequality you have and are creating.

Smile to outside world is smirk to average Kiwi.

 

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The insurmountable problem facing Biden’s democratic capitalist missionaries, is that in order to fill the cups of the oppressed with freedom, they will first be required to empty their own pockets.

Indeed -  Rupert Murdoch Buys Sprawling 340,000 Acre Montana Property, Mansion, For Reported $200 Million

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There's a problem with 51/49% democracy. Take a rugby field and put 510 people with green shirts on one half and 490 with red shirts on the other half. Almost impossible to see who has a majority.

Now go for 2/3 and 1/3. Quite clear. Easy to see a clear majority. A combination of 2/3 and 1/3 real democracy which if it fails on a particular issue then gets passed onto the representatives where a 51/49 holds.

A variation would be 85% of the electorate (15% don't care) need a 60% yes. This gives a 51% of eligible voters a majority.

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I agree with you yet again, Chris. You are none the wiser.

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Democracy. Majority rules. Nothing more. Nothing less. any form of government that does not do this, is not a democracy, but something else.If the majority choose to look after any minority other than this majority, that is their perogative, but any minorities being looked after in a democracy is not actually their right, but dependent on the goodwill of this majority.

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Democracy is threatened by the widening wealth gap between rich and poor, the reduction of the middle class and the taking over of more and more of a society's institutions by wealthy elites.

It doesn't matter what country you are talking about or what system, the greater the concentration of wealth in fewer hands the more unstable the country becomes.

The Anglo-Saxon countries have a problem - their middle classes are reducing and the perceived prospects of their younger people are not as good as the two generations before them.

Which countries are on the way up right now? Which countries middle classes can look forward to an increase in their cohort? China is turning down demographically and their middle classes don't have the security of public healthcare or retirement pensions for all. If this isn't fixed then China will have failed to build a big enough sustainable middle class to ensure stability in the long term.

The US has failed to develop a system that can provide it's middle class affordable health care and pensions sufficient to maintain it's middle class. The US will therefore become more unstable.

The EU has failed to build an internal economy with aggregate demand sufficient to maintain itself without export returns from the rest of the world.

Unequal democratic societies will be replaced by police states if the elites of those countries chose control and asset sharing amongst the elite rather than solving problems of income distribution, access to housing and income, sustainability of their country's resource base etc.

The Ukrainians and the Uyghurs deserve the right to have some say in their own affairs as long as they don't make trouble for their neighbours. So do the Belarussians. 

Power, Greed and Drama - these seems to be much more important qualities in today's world than Balance, Fairness and Consideration for others.

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