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Politics & Law

The emerging illiberal Eurasia with which China is growing


Eurasia (picture from Wikipedia)

By using the ‘Hofstede dimensions’ (index scale 0-100), a group of Sri Lankan scholars conducted a cultural comparative study on 20 Asian communities. Here is a quick look about China:

[A] From strong Collectivism = 0 to strong Individualism = 100
China = 20
Singapore = 20
Taiwan = 17
Israel = 54 (highest in this study)

[B] Power Distance (0 – 100): high index points indicate that the people there accept a hierarchical order, expect and accept power is distributed unequally
China = 80
Singapore = 74
Taiwan = 64
Israel = 13 (lowest in this study)

A Polish scholar, Saidbek Goziev, also noticed that heavier emphasis on collectivism is common in the eastern European communities. With similar cultural bases — high power distance and strong collectivism — in Eurasia, numerous cases, incidents and norms are forming a foundation for a rising regional order different from the Liberal Order of the West. Before we look forward to understanding more why and how China would reshape the world order, let me explain, further to my CDM article published on June 27, in a longer essay about the background – a new Eurasia of which China is a part.

You may not like it, and if so, it may be an inconvenient reality. Here is the essay:

The South Korean news of “banning the sales of all coffee and caffeinated products — typically available for adults and teachers — in schools” with effect from Sept 14 appears to be nothing special to politics since schools there have already been “prohibited from selling soda pop, fruit juice and dairy products if they contain caffeine” to children [Note 1]. However, this time, even adults are not allowed to exercise their ‘freedom’ to consume any caffeinated drinks according to the new policy. Why? It is because the teachers are expected to be the role model for students and therefore for the overall interest of this school community the caffeine consumption has to be shut down.

Adults’ freedom to enjoy alcohol has also been under scrutiny in Eurasia. In 2015, by “banning alcohol sales near universities and technical colleges, Thailand is putting the nation at the forefront of efforts in Asia to curb booze consumption … Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, China and some states of India have also introduced policies over the past few years to sap alcohol demand …” [Note 2]. In Poland, further to the already-in-force rules forbidding alcohol consumption in public areas, TV ads promotion and etc, “President Andrzej Duda has signed new laws which allow local governments to limit alcohol sales” in Jan 2018 [Note 3]. Control over alcohol consumption is also taking place in Turkey (Burdur province), Sri Lanka … Obviously, the cancellation of the American Prohibition 1920-33 has not generated dissuasive effects on them, nor do these Eurasian governments have any worry about being accused of throttling freedom by the Western critics.

Restrictions on playing video game may become a new terrain, too. While the US Supreme Court in 2011 ruled against a California law banning the sale of ‘violent’ video games to children and the British people are still quarrelling among themselves whether they should prevent children from becoming additive to the game ‘Fortnite’, China assertively “steps up its crackdown on the world’s biggest online gaming market” [Note 4] through a number of new measures including age limit, time quota, real name registration and reportedly a 35% tax per game.

The emergence of such an illiberal form of civil order can be sensed firstly from, at the west end of Eurasia, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s milestone speech in 2014, and lately, in the east of Eurasia, Korean scholar (at Rutgers University) Suzy Kim’s insightful article. Orbán proposed to replace the Western liberal order by establishing a “work-based society” — “the Hungarian nation is not simply a group of individuals but a community that must be organised, reinforced and in fact constructed. And so in this sense the new state that we are constructing in Hungary is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state” [Note 5].

Suzy Kim signalized that what the mainstream American apprehensive reactions to the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit indicate “is the crumbling of the so-called liberal order under the weight of its own contradictions” by highlighting a difference: “… focus on the individual is one of the very tenets of liberalism, and in that sense, Trump is the very product of the liberal order. By contrast, Kim Jong Un’s first words at the summit — that few in America noticed — focused on the collective past … He said: ‘It was not an easy path to get here. The past held us back, and the mistaken biases and habits shielded our eyes and ears, but we have overcome all of these to come here’ (emphasis by Suzy Kim)” [Note 6]. The over-emphasis on individuals over the community’s long term interests, as pointed out by both Orbán and Suzy Kim, is one of the major reasons for the West’s failure to convince the Eurasian nations to accept the liberal order.

Though reluctantly, more and more Western scholars have come to acknowledge the liberal order’s decline. New books including “How Democracies die” by two Harvard professors, “Why Liberalism failed” by P.J. Deneen of Notre Dame University, “How Democracy ends” by Cambridge political theorist David Runciman …… as well as numerous essays such as The American Interest’s “The Liberal Democratic Order in Crisis” by Larry Diamond, New York Times’ “The USA is decadent and Depraved” by James Traub … all have shown such a new trend. The most striking admission is Graham Allison’s two articles published by Foreign Affairs that the Liberal Order has never been really truly a world order in place after WWII because of the inconvenient existence of the Soviet Union and the Communist China. It is more or less in line with the leading Offensive Realism theorist John J. Mearsheimer’s view that the US is a regional hegemon dominating the Western Hemisphere [Note 7].

Aleksandr Dugin is not alone on the way towards a new Eurasia. In Dec 2017, German Council on Foreign Relations and Istanbul Policy Center co-hosted a forum on “The Role of Eurasia in a Multi-Polar World”. Bruno Maçães, the Portuguese Europe Minister 2013-5, published a book after his extensive travel across Eurasia, namely, “The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order” (Yale University Press 2018). A Turkish scholar at Dumlupinar University sees Eurasia as an “emerging Historical Bloc” in Gramscian sense [Note 8].

If Eurasia is rising as a meaningful political entity, and the Liberal Order is not Eurasia’s cup of tea, what shall be the alternative? Logically speaking, it has to be something ‘illiberal’, so what are its form and substance?

With reference to a 2017 study on International Relations (IR) by two Danish scholars who suggest neo-Gramscianism as a perspective alongside neo-Realism and neo-Liberalism [Note 9], the illiberal order can be built up in a ‘form’ of neo-Gramscian civil order for at least three considerations. First, Eurasia’s rise should better be a peaceful one, thus avoiding wherever and whenever possible making a war against the trans-Atlantic West. No one should be forced to fall into the neo-realist Thucydides Trap.

Second, a number of multi-national organizations on political, economic and cultural fronts have been taking shape steadily to hammer out a solid and functional international platform for a collaborative Eurasia, thus fulfilling the Gramscian requirements in respect of agents and superstructure to build a Historical Bloc. Its foundation is the win-win ideology. Orbán illustrates this win-win framework with a simple sentence — “one should not do unto others what one does not want others to do unto you” — in contrast to the Western liberalism’s brutality that wherever there were conflicts originating from a recognition of mutual freedoms, “the weak were trampled over” because “the stronger party is always right”. In China, Confucius called it “benevolence” — “Not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself (Analects: Yan Yuan #2)”.

Third, it would be cultural harmony, not military forces, nor economic strengths, going to knit Eurasia together whereby the inter-state relations are defined by the ‘consent’ among the members of this Eurasian civil society as a new IR mode of dynamics.

The substance of this illiberal civil order will be up to the Eurasian nations to work out on a long time horizon. Two features, however, have been salient.

One is the heavier weight of collectivism than individualism. In a study on “Western individualism versus the Eastern spirit of community” (Jan 2018), Saidbek Goziev, a Polish Academy scholar in Warsaw, finds that, by comparing the European Enlightenment values to the Polish and Tajik cultures, the difference is distinguishable — “People in collectivist communities, in contrary to individualism, work and think not about themselves but about other members of community” [Note 10]. Another comparative research on 20 Asian communities conducted by a group of Sri Lankan scholars in 2015 also showed that, by measuring with a 100-point Hofstede scale (from collectivism at 0 to individualism at 100), as many as 19 of them recorded below point 50 (from 14 to 48) while only Israel stood at 54. “Singapore, with a score of 20 is a collective society. This means that the ‘We’ is important, people belong to in-groups who look after each other in exchange for loyalty” [Note 11].

Another salient feature is ‘high power distance’. By using the Hofstede 100-point scale again, high index points indicate that “people accept a hierarchical order …… the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat, challenges to the leadership are not well-received.” In the same Sri Lankan research, all surveyed communities recorded points above 50 (from Japan’s 54 to Malaysia’s 100) except Israel (point at 13). Democratic governments can easily be found in Eurasia, such as South Korea, India, Pakistan, Romania, Czech Republic … but a new type of ‘illiberal democracy’ has been emerging in Duterte’s Philippines, Erdoğan’s Turkey and Orbán’s Hungary … which are more or less the same as the late Lee Kuan Yew‘s Singapore. Although illiberal democracy may not be intrinsically the same as China’s experimental rotational meritocracy, the power succession mechanics in Eurasia as a whole have shown various significant deviations from the trans-Atlantic standard.

Cultivating an illiberal mode for developing a society and an IR civil order does not represent a regression back to pre-modernity. Certain modernization processes including urbanization, bureaucratization, replacing monarchy by constitutional governance, mass production and consumption, digitalization and so on are universally inevitable. Nevertheless, “a number of varieties of modernity exist,” as what Canadian sociologist Matthew Lange found from his in-depth study of the history of ethnic violence, “we must avoid equating modernity with unfettered progress … In large parts of the world, modernizing processes had indigenous roots … local conditions interact with global forces to create different forms of modernity” [Note 12] .

Eurasia has great potential to carve out a stable and feasible illiberal civil order at least for itself. A new wave of regulating hate speech worldwide, for instance, has brought down the holiness of the liberalists’ freedom of speech and put the liberal ‘common sense’ in question (as what the post-modernist and critical theorists suggest [Note 13]). The 2000s financial crises in Wall Street and PIIGS reminded the world of Plato’s disapprovals of democracy (557a-560d) and individualism (561a-e) in ‘The Republic’. Some trans-Atlantic theorists may still retain their wishful thinking of constructing a liberal universe, but the Eurasians should better delve into Voltaire’s precept stipulated at the end of his acclaimed satire Candide: “we must cultivate our garden” (1759 [Note 14]).

This longer essay “Eurasia’s illiberal ‘Civil Order’ as an alternative to the Trans-Atlantic Liberal Order” was first published by The 21st Century on 17 Sep 2018.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

Reference
[Note 1]
The Korea Herald , “Sales of caffeinated drinks to be banned at schools in South Korea”, August 29, 2018.
http://www.nationmultimedia.com/detail/asean-plus/30353251

[Note 2]
Bangkok Post, “Thailand leads Asia in reducing drinking & alcohol”, July 23, 2015.
https://www.bangkokpost.com/learning/learning-news/632604/thailand-leads-asia-in-reducing-drinking-alcohol-with-videos

[Note 3]
Radio Poland, “Poland’s health ministry to tighten laws on alcohol”, Sep 28, 2017.
http://www.thenews.pl/1/11/Artykul/327818,Poland%E2%80%99s-health-ministry-to-tighten-laws-on-alcohol
Radio Poland, “Polish president signs into law powers to limit alcohol sales”, Jan 31, 2018.
http://www.thenews.pl/1/12/Artykul/346863,Polish-president-signs-into-law-powers-to-limit-alcohol-sales

[Note 4]
The Telegraph, “China to crack down on children’s video gaming time amid fears over addiction”, Aug 31, 2018.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/31/china-crack-childrens-video-gaming-time-amid-fears-addiction/
Metro, “What is the age restriction for playing Fortnite?”, May 30, 2018.
What is the age restriction for playing Fortnite?

[Note 5]
Hungarian Government, “Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Speech at the 25th Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp”, July 30, 2014.
http://www.kormany.hu/en/the-prime-minister/the-prime-minister-s-speeches/prime-minister-viktor-orban-s-speech-at-the-25th-balvanyos-summer-free-university-and-student-camp

[Note 6]
Perspectives on History, “Rip to the Liberal Order” by Suzy Kim, Aug 13, 2018.
https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/summer-2018/rip-to-the-liberal-order-american-mourning-after-the-us-north-korea-june-summit

[Note 7]
Foreign Affairs, “The Myth of the Liberal Order”, June 22, 2018; and “The Truth about the Liberal Order”, Aug 31, 2018.
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2018-08-28/truth-about-liberal-order
John J. Mearsheimer, “Structural Realism”, July 31, 2006.
http://mearsheimer.uchicago.edu/pdfs/StructuralRealism.pdf

[Note 8]
Wikipedia: “Foundations of Geopolitics”.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundations_of_Geopolitics

DGAP and IPC, “The Role of Eurasia in a Multi-Polar World”, Dec 6, 2017.
https://www.stiftung-mercator.de/media/downloads/2_Termine/2017_12/Program_December6_The_Role_of_Eurasia_in_a_Multi-Polar_World.pdf

Hoover Institution, “The New World Order” — a book review of “The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order”, Apr 25, 2018.
https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300235937/dawn-eurasia

[Note 9]
Goda Dirauskaite and Nicilae Cristinel Ilinca, “Understanding ‘Hegemony’ in International Relations Theories”, May 31, 2017, Aalborg University.
https://projekter.aau.dk/projekter/files/260247380/Understanding__Hegemony__in_International_Relations_Theories.pdf

[Note 10]
Journal of Eurasian Affairs, “Western individualism versus the Eastern spirit ofcommunity”, Jan 18, 2018.
http://www.eurasianaffairs.net/western-individualism-versus-the-eastern-spirit-of-community/

[Note 11]
D.M.S.B. Dissanayake, W.W.A.E. Niroshan, M.H.Nisansala, M.L.D. Rangani,
S.K.R.A. Samarathunga, S.E.I. Subasinghe, D.N. Wickramaarachchi, Kalani
Nirasha, D.N. Wickramasinghe and W.W.M.E.G.P.M.B.Wickramasinghe,
“Cultural comparison in Asian countries: An Application of Greet
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions”,
University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka 2015.
http://repository.kln.ac.lk/bitstream/handle/123456789/13596/3%20%281%29.211-224.pdf

[Note 12]
See p. 39-45 in Matthew Lange (2017), “Killing Others: a natural history of Ethnic Violence”, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

[Note 13]
See p.114-129 in Peter Sutch and Juanita Elias (2007), “International Relations: The Basics”, New York: Routledge.

[Note 14]
Wikipedia, “Candide”.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candide

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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