Political Science

Absolutism and Democracy

The idea that capitalism and democracy are by-products of one another is one that is shared by a great number of people. In theory, the combination of a democratic form of government with a free-market economy allows the greatest degree of freedom and autonomy for the common citizen. As well as giving a great deal of freedom and self-rule to the average citizen, the inclusion of a free-market economy along with a democratic government add the chance for opportunity, advancement, and self-determination. These ideas are typically associated with the notion of emerging democracies and serve to remind us of the positive aspects of open-societies, particularly those which follow a Western-style democracy.

The underlying principles of American foreign policy have traditionally been those which advocate the global proliferation of democratic governments and free-markets. In terms of significant recent history, the Cold War era standoff between American-style capitalism and Soviet-style communism  resulted in the greater spread of democracy, even into the former Soviet Union itself. The “fall” of the Soviet Union and subsequent rise of the Russian federation would seem to indicate that democracy and capitalism have displaced the once-formidable communist empire of the Soviet Union.

While history certainly indicates a shift away from a Totalitarian state in the former Soviet union, the same is not true for China, which in the present day, exists as an even greater Communist power and a potentially much greater threat to the Western world.  China, while adopting many of the attributes of capitalism over the past decades has avoided any move toward democratization. In fact, as the following discussion will clearly show, China and Russia have established radically different approaches toward capitalism and democracy.

The Russian federation is best described as a transitional democracy. meaning that the former Soviet union is presently engaged in an evolution both socially and politically that will ultimate result in a democratic government.  By contrast, China, while embracing some capitalistic reforms, remains rooted in authoritarian rule. therefore, China is best described as “Authoritarian Capitalism.” in the former type of economic system, the idea of a free-market economy is combined with the idea of self-rule. in the latter type of economic system, the idea of a capitalist economy is integrated into the perpetuation of an autocracy.

The fact that Russia and China have experienced such drastically different paths of social and political evolution is fascinating when viewed in relation to the present and future challenges faced by these two countries. On the one hand, the decline and fragmentation of Soviet Russia indicates a lessening of the global threat to American-style capitalism. On the other hand, the rise of china as an economic power is greatly feared by many American political and economic analysts. Two big questions are associated with China and Russia and their respective evolutions. The first question is: why has China continued to rely on autocratic government while simultaneously embracing capitalism? The second question is: how will future challenges in both China and Russia shape their later evolution and how ill these developments impact, or potentially impact, the United States?

To answer the first question, it is necessary to set a groundwork of historical reference. As indicated by Kessleman and Krieger in Introduction to Comparative Politics, the developments in global politics that took place directly after World War two showed a distinct shift in the way that governments and economies were viewed at large.  The term used in the  Kessleman and Krieger book is “Collectivism” and this si a political vision that is defines as being “the consensus in politics after World War Two” (Kessleman and Krieger  57). The reason that it is important to note that the idea of collectivism was a consensus is because there is a sharp difference between collectivism and  authoritarianism that is extremely important to keep in mind when exploring the reasons for the divergent political evolution in Russia and China. If the prevailing political vision after the Second World was collectivism, this was one of the underlying principles in action for both a democratic country such as Great Britain and  a Communist country such as the former Soviet Union. However, the same can not be said in the case of China.

This historical difference is one of the underlying reasons for the different evolutions of the two countries.  As mentioned by Kessleman and Krieger, et al., there is such a  thing as a “political culture” that seems to continue throughout various historical times and in doing so gives a kind of unity to a nation’s political disposition. According to the authors, Political culture can be source of great continuity in the face of radical upheavals in the social and political spheres” (Kessleman and Krieger, 562). In general terms, the differing evolutions of Russia and China in terms of democracy and capitalism  is due to each countries particular political culture. In the case of the former Soviet Union, the heritage of collectivism is well-established in the history of Russia. The opposite is the case of China, which has historically been  ruled by autocratic governments. So it can basically be said that the transitional democratic policies that are now happening in the Russian Federation are a direct outgrowth of the region’s political culture. The same can also be said for the present moves toward  Authoritarian capitalism that are currently underway in China.

In fact, it may be each country’s particular political culture that is the greatest influence on its present development. This would explain why China has been able to successfully retain an Authoritarian government while engaging in a capitalist economy.  This would also explain why the Russian federation’s recent adoption of democratic principles has resulted in a form of gradual evolution toward a free-marker rather than a sudden and complete transition. The authors of  Introduction to Comparative Politics,  the changes in the Russian Federation are far more elemental and sweeping than those presently being experienced by china. The fragmentation of the former Soviet union has brought about a fundamental self-identity crisis in the Russian federation. According to the authors part of the reason for this is due to the fact that Russia is comprised of a wide-variety of ethnicities.

The authors note that “Russia is a multi-ethnic state and  one important of the state’s search for self-identity relates to what it means to be Russian” (Kessleman and Krieger, 562). This diversity is a more or less natural fit for the evolution of a participatory democracy, whereas the ethnic diversity in China brings with it a corresponding measure of conflict. The way that each nation deals with the notion of ethnicity is an important factor in influencing how democratic ideas are or are not embraced. In the case of the former Soviet Union, one of the present and future challenges to the Russian federation will be whether or not the Federation can construct and implement  a form of democratic government that facilitates the full participation and representation of tye disparate ethnic groups that are all part of the Federation. By contrast, one of the present and future challenges faced by China in terms of ethnicity will be dealing with ethnic rejection of the Chinese rule.

For example, as noted by Kessleman and Krieger, et al., one of the areas of China, Tibet, is a perfect example of an ethnic area in conflict with a ruling nation., the authors observe that  ‘Tibet is an example of ethnic conflict within a country, china, that otherwise has a strong sense of national identity. Therefore, China’s likely course of the future will involve bringing Tibet under autocratic control, rather than facilitating political representation for the  ethnic groups of that region or any other region. This means, of course, that China’s record on human rights will continue to be a sore-spot with other economically developed nations. This in turn means that one of China’s near-term challenges may well be striking a balance between the Authoritarian capitalism that is presently gaining a great deal of momentum in the country, and eradicating the more radical human rights abuses that, in many ways, are a factor in China’s present state of economic expansion.

One thing is certain and that is that both Russia and China will find an increased system of globalization in the coming years. This will bring about the inclusion of a greater number of the world’s nations into the global economy and that will result in a greater degree of economic competition among nations. The struggle to face a future where so many authoritarian regimes are giving way to more democratic governments will put pressure on China to embrace at least the minimum standards of labor and economic controls that are used by democratic nations. If this statement seems to suggest that a degree of democratization will be needed by China if it it intends to remain at the forefront of the global economy that is exactly what is being implied by the current evolution of the global economy.

Work Cited

Kesselman, Mark, Krieger, Joel, et al. (eds) Introductiion to Comparative Politics, Wadsworth Publishing, 2009.