Eric X. Li, whom both YinYang and I know personally, recently gave this TED presentation on the ideological worship of two political systems – communism … and electoral democracies. As usual, I find Li’s perspective insightful and interesting. It certainly takes guts to stand up and speak against the predominant religion in the world! Now I appreciate even more how Galileo must have felt in confronting the Catholic Church!
I do want to make a quick note about one of the two questions the host at Ted asked of Li at the end of the talk. The host asked about how a non-elected government can legitimately set the agenda without feedback in the form of contested elections. Li talked about how the Chinese government – at all levels – takes surveys of the people on all types of issues, from what people think of the garbage collection at a local level to what people think about the direction of the nation on a national level.
This exchange reminded me of the adversarial vs. inquisitorial approach to resolving legal controversies. In the adversarial system, the judge is the passive party, resorting to hearing the parties fight it out and then making a decision based on evidence and theories put forth by the parties. In inquisitorial system, the judge takes an active role in assessing the nature and scope of the controversy, and making a decision based on evidence it gathers and theories it confers.
Democracy is like the adversarial system, with the government waiting to hear the people to sort out a “people’s voice” and then forming policies based on “mandates” that the elections supposedly confer. Meritocratic democracies like China is more inquisitorial, with the government going out to gather facts and listen what the people needs, and then formulating policies based on its efforts at reaching out. The legitimacy here – the heaven’s mandate if you will – comes from the government’s actions and performance, not electoral ideology and games.
Now neither Li nor I will argue one is universally necessarily better than the other, but just as one is willing to hear the pros and cons for adversarial vs. inquisitorial approach to resolving legal controversies, people should not be afraid to hear the pros and cons for electoral vs. meritocratic democracies. I don’t understand why it takes an Eric Li to stand up to say something similar.
Anyways, without further ado, here is the video to his talk.