Elites and their privileges are under attack throughout the world, and not just in the West. While here in the US the security clearances of former national security officials are being revoked to the howls of the #TheResistance, in China the Communist Party “nobility” is facing a similar challenge:
“Elite privileges for retired high-level cadres should be eliminated. The system of the present ‘dynasty’ allows for the state to provide inclusive retirement-to-grave care for high-level cadres according to a standard that is far and away above that allowed to the average citizen. These cadres retain the privileges they enjoyed during their careers …
“This system continues the kinds of prerogative given to the Imperial Zhu Family Lineage during the Ming dynasty [founded by Zhu Yuanzhang in 1368CE] and the emoluments permitted to the families of the Eight Banners [exclusive Manchu military and administrative groups that contributed to the founding and rule of the Qing dynasty in 1644; the privileges continued until the end of the dynasty in January 1912].
“This is not merely a betrayal of the self-advertised ‘revolutionary spirit’ [of the Communist Party], it is also in breach of modern standards of civic life. What’s all that talk of ‘the remnants of feudalism’? This is a perfect example of it! People are outraged but powerless to do anything about it; it is one of the main reasons people hold the system itself in utter contempt.”
So writes Xu Zhangrun, a distinguished law professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, on the web site of the Unirule Institute of Economics, which the New York Times describes as an independent thinktank operating out of Beijing. The professor emphasizes the material privileges enjoyed by the Party elite, and yet the same principle – and the economic reality – is equally applicable right here in the good ol’ US of A: the political class arrogates special status to itself, and this is routinely monetized. How much does John Brennan get for slandering the President on MSNBC?
The populist eruption that has swept the West has its Far Eastern incarnation: the ousting of South Korean President Park Guen-hye, the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, and the peninsula-wide movement toward peace and even reunification, is one aspect of this global upsurge. Over on the eastern shore of the Yellow Sea, the burgeoning rebellion against Chinese President Xi Jingping is gearing up to pose a formidable challenge to the Communist Party’s authority. The insurrectionists have found a finely tuned acerbic voice in Professor Xu, whose rhetorical bomb has scored a direct hit on the puffed up would-be Mao-figure of President Xi “An emergency brake must be applied to the personality cult,” writes Xu:
“The Party media is going to great lengths to create a new idol, and in the process it is offering up to the world an image of China as Modern Totalitarianism. Portraits of the Leader are hoisted on high throughout the Land, as though possessed of some Spiritual Mana. This only adds to all the absurdity. And then, on top of that, the speeches of That Official, formerly things that were merely to be recorded by secretaries in a pro forma bureaucratic manner, are now carefully collected in finely bound editions, printed in vast quantities and handed out free throughout the world. The profligate waste of paper alone is enough to make you shake your head in disbelief.”
The difference between their media and ours blurs into a distinction without a difference as we contemplate the journalistic arm of #TheResistance and its openly coordinated campaign of political propaganda. A key aspect of this propaganda is not only the demonization of the President, but also the glorification of his most prominent enemies. These just so happen to be prominent figures in the “intelligence community” – i.e. unelected bureaucrats, the American version of the Communist Party nobility.
Brennan, who spied on the Senate, and presided over a regime at the CIA which combined the sinister with the inept, is now a hero and martyr to alleged “liberals.” Fired FBI official Peter Strzok, a key figure in the Russia-gate hoax campaign, raised $350,000 in a single day on his “go fund me” page. Former FBI chief James Comey, another key figure in the anti-Trump high command, is also sitting pretty: his book sales have him set for the rest of his life. And we are treated to hours upon hours of these losers pontificating on television, protesting the revocation of their perks and privileges, in a seemingly endless loop of spittle-spraying vituperation.
Here, as in China, the media is an instrument in the hands of an entrenched oligarchy, a bludgeon wielded by a very visible hand. Professor Xu’s merciless description of China officialdom’s journalistic camarilla sounds very familiar:
“All of this reflects the low IQ of the Concerned Official and his craving for fame. More importantly, we need to ask how a vast country like China, one that was previously so ruinously served by a Personality Cult, simply has no resistance to this new cult, and this includes those droves of ‘Theoreticians’ and ‘Researchers’. In fact, they are outdoing themselves with their sickeningly slavish behavior.”
That “low IQ” remark is positively Trumpian, don’t you think? And all too true on both sides of the Pacific.
Not to take the comparison too far. The Chinese political landscape is, naturally, a far cry from our own. The liberal intellectuals and urban sophisticates who might be sympathetic to Xu’s assault on the Chinese kakistocracy are hardly the Middle American Radicals of flyover country whose desertion of the Democrats brought us the Age of Trump. Indeed, they are in many ways polar opposites. Yet there is a unifying theme in both camps: built up resentment against the regime of the entitled. Describing the insurrectionary possibilities, Professor Xu writes: “Every iota of this bottled up anger may, at some unexpected moment, explode with thunderous fury.”
That fury has been unleashed in the West, where the forms if not the spirit of democratic rule persist. China is a different story.
To begin with, much of the liberal-reformist critique of President Xi is framed in a semi-pacifist stance, which seeks to avoid conflict with the West, and specifically the United States, at all costs. Such rarified sentiments are limited to the urban intellectuals whose main audience is the New York Times. Whereas in the US, the populist revolt has taken on a nationalist aspect, in China the regime has grasped at nationalist sentiment as a riposte to its critics — albeit cautiously, lest things get out of hand.
Yet this maneuver is wearing thin. While the great masses of Chinese people are more likely to agree with Xi’s relatively hard-line position, they are more concerned with the slow-but-certain collapse of the Chinese bubble. The end of the long boom is in sight, and the lords of Beijing are bracing for a fall. Whether they will be able to get up again is, in my view, an open question.
As I have said repeatedly in this space, Mao had it wrong: China is the paper tiger, not the US. The hold of the Chinese Communist Party over the billion-plus people supposedly under their command is tenuous, at best. The conundrum faced by the Party recalls what Rose Wilder Lane, citing a Russian peasant, said of Soviet rule:
“’It is too big,’ he said. “Too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one-hundred heads together do not make one great head. No. Only God can know Russia.”
Faced with a Muslim insurgency in the far west provinces, and the prospect of an epic economic downturn with the potential to pull down the regime, the Communist Party can only pretend to control the vast repository of discontent that is China today. This is a country with a long history of periodic orgies of instability culminating in violent upheavals. Religious and ideological manias sweep through the teeming cities like an epidemic of madness with some regularity: the last one was the “Cultural Revolution.” The next one is about due.
This is why I have to laugh when I hear the Trumpists, and their fellow travelers, like Tucker Carlson, babbling on about the new “threat” to America’s hegemonic pretensions. It’s not Russia, they cry, it’s China! These people have zero understanding of – and respect for – the laws of economics, which long ago decreed the unraveling of the Chinese Ponzi scheme. Nor have they the slightest interest in Chinese history: all they care about is scoring partisan points against the Russophobic Democrats while still maintaining the requisite belligerence.
Efforts to portray China as a military threat are bound to crash against the rocky shores of reality: Beijing spends a fraction of what we lavish on our military. Furthermore, the Peoples Liberation Army is focused more on internal control of the country than on any expansionist project. The standoff with Taiwan shows no signs of going kinetic, and the vaunted expansion of Chinese bases on man-made islets in the South China Sea is simply a defensive measure comparable to our own control of the Gulf of Mexico.
There is no need to poke at the paper tiger. Left to its own devices, it will go up in flames soon enough. The heat of populist rage will see to that. The one arrow in the regime’s quiver is to play the nationalist card, which has so far trumped demands for radical reform. If our “Asia-lationists” – ostensibly anti-interventionist Trump fans who nevertheless portray China as a dire threat – succeed in ginning up a conflict with Beijing, they may yet save Xi Jingping’s bacon. As in the case of Iran, our hard-liners have a symbiotic relationship with theirs.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard(Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.