Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What Happens When the Will of the Majority Is Not Moral?

Preaching at Faith Bible Church in NYC,
Tony Shen translating from English into Mandarin
To understand China and the Chinese one must understand Confucianism. In this regard "A Confucian Constitution for China" by Jiang Qing and Daniel Bell is helpful.

The U.S. wants China to become a democracy. This likely won't happen. "The political future of China is far likelier to be determined by the longstanding Confucian tradition of “humane authority” than by Western-style multiparty elections. After all, democracy is flawed as an ideal. Political legitimacy is based solely on the sovereignty of the people — more specifically, a government that grants power to democratically elected representatives. But there is no compelling reason for a government to have only one source of legitimacy."

Qing and Bell point out that, as fine as democracy is, it has its flaws. A democratic state can look like "America's Got Talent," where the people determine who has the most talent. But what if the people cannot determine such things? What if the people cannot recognize talent? What if the people "get it wrong?" Analogically, what if, e.g., the people get it wrong about morality? What if a majority of voters are amoral or immoral, and their vote determines things in America?

Qing and Bell write:

"Democracy is... flawed in practice. Political choices come down to the desires and interests of the electorate. This leads to two problems. First, the will of the majority may not be moral: it may favor racism, imperialism or fascism. Second, when there is a clash between the short-term interests of the populace and the long-term interests of mankind, as is the case with global warming, the people’s short-term interests become the political priority. As a result, democratically elected governments in America and elsewhere are finding it nearly impossible to implement policies that curb energy usage in the interests of humanity and of future generations."

What happens when the will of the majority is not moral? It could happen, right? And, it could be that we are heading in that direction in America (if not already there).

For me, as a follower of Jesus, it is instructive to note that the early church was not a democracy, but was led by leaders ("elders") who were in touch with God and led by the Holy Spirit. In the early Church there was no voting. When the democratic voting model came into the churches, churches that vote on things began to have a different set of problems. I am aware, for example, of a church that recently voted on whether or not its pastor should leave. Before the vote some people who wanted him to go got on the phone and called people who haven't been part of their community for years. But they were still "members." A bunch of them showed up just to vote. They voted the pastor out. Where is God in something like this?

China's political Confucianism is ore like this, minus of course God and the Holy Spirit. It intends to be led by a "humane authority." I doubt this will work, either, since without God there's no real reason to be humane. So I don't see Confucianism as some great solution. There is much political, controlling oppression in China. But, again, to understand the superpower that is China, we must understand its Confucian worldview.

For a nice primer on Confucianism, see Stephen Prothero's God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World.