Andrew Nathan: Resilient Authoritarianism in China

Yesterday marked the first Rohatyn Center for International Affairs lecture at the Robert A. Jones house in Middlebury. As a possible International Politics and Economics (IPE) major, it is always intellectually stimulating to go hear the various lectures on global issues, even if it is almost always some old white professor talking (which is a topic I’ll save for another day).

Today’s Topic: Resilient Authoritarianism and Globalization in China

Andrew Nathan of Columbia University argues that continued and persistent authoritarianism will prevail for China into the future. This contrasts with many scholars who believe that the Chinese regime will either 1) collapse or 2) democratize. Why? Nathan believes that China really is an exception to pretty much every historical conditions of democratization, that I so thoroughly studied last semester in Comparitive Politics. The Chinese authoritarian regime isn’t going anywhere (excepting an exogenous shock of a war with Taiwan, war in the Korean penninsula, aliens at the Beijing Olympics) unless its leaders make a conscious effort to change politics. There will be no “popular upsurge” of the masses because the intent is not there: the middle class is content that they are in a better position than they were five years ago and will be in a better position fives years from now, the peasants have been allowed to migrate to the cities if they choose with too few left in the countryside to start anything there, the media controls political thought but allows freedom for everything else including sports and entertainment. The transition of power within the Chinese regime is particularly smooth because the Chinese make a conscious effort to cultivate young leadership talent in the party. Most interesting, though, is Nathan’s view that the Chinese regime has somehow convinced its people that any attempt of the West to tell China how to do something is really just an attempt to weaken China. The Chinese are headstrong people. They don’t want to be told how to do things because the Chinese civilization has always known how to do things. Nathan uses the term, “alternative modernity” to describe what the Chinese are looking for in globalization: not a copy of the world around them, but rather a unique way of going about achieving prosperity. This is really what dictates Chinese policy: they want to prove to the world that they are strong and that they don’t bow to any pressure.

Fun stuff for a Monday afternoon.