In the latest issue of National Review, the usually sound John Derbyshire goes off the deep end in defending a double standard for the US and China in the matter of surveillance operations (aka spying). According to Derbyshire, whose rhetoric is reproduced with tremulous flattery in WFB’s otherwise predictably unreadable column of April 18, it is unreasonable to insist that the same rules be applied to us and them. After all, the US is “a democracy of free people whose power derives from the consent of the governed so that the wider America’s influence spreads, the better for humanity.” By contrast, China is a corrupt, brutish and lawless despotism, the close containment of which is a pressing interest for the whole human race.”
Presumably since Americans like their regime better than they do the Chinese government, although Derbyshire doubts that he would find the same preference among the Chinese, the American military has a right to spy on the Chinese and take steps to “contain” their political influence. Needless to say, the Chinese enjoy no such reciprocal right, inasmuch as Derbyshire, the Weekly Standard, and the talking heads on Fox News have declared the Chinese government to be wicked. It is also presumably unnecessary to consult the rest of the “human race” to determine whether it shares Buckley’s and Derbyshire’s judgment about what is good or bad for them.
Reviving the formula of the Roman Inquisition and applying it to whatever behavioral model the U S represents at the moment, we are made to believe that “error has no right against truth,” or that those regimes that we don’t much care for have any right to exist in the same world with ‘the democracy of free people” that we incorporate for the American war party.
But even getting beyond the staggering chutzpah of such claims, there is the problem of misrepresentation attached to this unconditional right to American bullying. As a scholar in such matters, I do not believe that the U S is any longer what Derbyshire describes. It is on the political level a bloated bureaucratic state that pays little attention to the constitutional limits once placed on centralized power. Federal agencies and courts do pretty much what they want to modify social behavior, and throughout America’s Anglophone and Western European satellite empire, one finds the same dismal enforcement of political correctness.
If the US were truly interested in having democracies of free peoples, we would be criticizing European countries for throwing lots of people into jail for “insensitive” scholarship or for expressing views critical of Third World immigration. The parlous state of civil liberties in Germany, England, France, and other European countries are the real links to the Third Reich, as is the bureaucratic smothering of European peoples by the socialist, politically correct European Union. Derbyshire would do well to remember what Jesus said about searching for motes in the eyes of others.
As for China, I’ve no doubt it is an unpleasant society, because of its soaring population problem as much as because of any “brutish despotism” that has been established there. Allow me to note that China is a remarkably weak state in comparison to the US and our pc social-democratic empire. According to OECD Survey figures published in Economic Outlook (June 1998), the “Marxist” Chinese government collects under 11 percent of Chinese GDP, unlike most Western democracies that swallow up between 30 and 51 percent of the yearly wealth generated in their countries.
According to Arms Control and Disarmament Agency figures that by now have been widely circulated, the US spends more money on “defense” than the next ten military-spending countries (including China) combined. China is a primitive and inefficient despotism, unlike the relentlessly centralized, heavily taxed managerial regime that Americans now increasingly confuse with a liberal, constitutional republic. There are undoubtedly political prisoners in China but such can also be found in Western Europe, although those jailed by “democracies” as “rightwing” extremists do not elicit the same sympathetic hearing. As for the Western media, it is hard to imagine that Chinese journalists and t v commentators can be any more tasteless. At most they may be as contemptible as their Western counterparts that slobber over centralized bureaucracy and demand that state officials take further freedom away from local authorities.
Although there are well meaning, authentic conservatives hanging around from the Cold War who take the present Chinese regime for an aggressive Maoist dictatorship engaging in world revolution, their perceptions have become glaringly anachronistic. The most strident revolutionaries are on the “American” side, and their doctrine of perpetual ideological meddling may be as dangerous as what the Marxist-Leninists once peddled. And this new triumphalist doctrine comes with far more varied and expensive military resources than the old Commies could muster—and without another superpower standing in the way of the spread of our virtue and bombs.
Paul Gottfried is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.