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U.S. & Chinese Communist Party — Legitimacy, Chinese and American

President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

From Charles Horner’s essay, “China’s Democratic Future,” in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books:

Xi…described the Communist Party “as a defender of ancient virtues, epitomized by Confucius and his collected teachings.” He praised Confucius and encouraged study of the Analects alongside subsequent commentaries on the classic. A year later, Xi gave the keynote address at an international symposium in Beijing marking the 2,565th anniversary of Confucius’ birth. It was the first time a Communist Party head had attended such an event. “Confucianism, along with other philosophies and cultures taking shape and growing within China, are records of spiritual experiences, rational thinking, and cultural achievements of the nation while it strived to build its identity,” Xi proclaimed. The next step was to link Mao and Confucius, the world’s two best-known Chinese people. Xinhua, China’s official state-run news agency, reported that on the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth, “Chinese top leaders including President Xi Jinping visited Mao’s mausoleum, making three bows toward Mao’s seated statue and paying their respects to the remains of Mao.”

Horner deftly explains the Chinese Communist Party’s synthesis of ancient Chinese thought and Communist “emancipation.” He and others argue that after China’s integration into global markets, Mao’s revolutionary principles became an increasingly shaky foundation for Chinese government. Members of the Politburo deliberately cast themselves as carrying on the Confucian tradition in order to bolster their legitimacy.

For too many reasons to explain in this post, that project is patently incoherent. I’m inclined to agree with Horner’s argument that the CCP is destined to suffer a crisis of authority in the not-too-distant future. But one wonders whether American politicians could learn from the CCP’s careful cultivation of legitimacy.

The American government derives its power from consent of the governed — stronger ground than a nebulous ancient philosophy or a failed revolutionary project. But a lot of the current discourse — on the “Deep State,” the electoral college, and the influence of money in politics — indicates that a growing number of Americans feels their government is not quite “by the people, for the people.” Most of these arguments are essentially the howls of disgruntled groups upset by lost elections. But American leaders should do more to communicate where they stand.

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