The Civilisational State

A text by Andreas Faludi

 

Raya pointed me to a Dutch article about the civilisational state, with China the paradigmatic example. 

I am not really knowledgeable about China, but once there were plans for a session on what was then called OBOR: One Belt One Road. I was convinced that the EU would not be up to the challenge. The idea of a session never got much traction. However, since then I read what’s coming my way on the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, evidence or not of China‘s hegemonic ambitions. I also pricked my ears when hearing about China as a civilisational state. One Haroon Sheikh of the Dutch ‘Scientific Council for Government Policy’ (WRR) is looking more deeply into the matter. An evening and early morning spent on the internet taught me about a book with the civilisational state in its title by Zhang Weiwei (2012). 

But first I looked at Sheikh’s PhD defining a civilisational state as a country representing, not just a historical territory, people or government but a civilisation larger than a single nation. As such, it stands for historical continuity and cultural unity across a large geographic region, with China, but also Russia, India and Turkey as examples. Which was enough of an incentive to go back to Zhang Weiwei. 

I started with China Daily Online (2019) reporting on his speaking about the matter at a forum in Germany as early as 2007. Western scholars attending had wanted to grill him on democracy in China. With him more widely travelled and knowledgeable about the nexus between democracy and development, it had been a rout. From there I proceeded to a comprehensive summary of his 2012 book in a lecture in Berlin. It was subsequently published. (Zhang 2017)

The reason why the civilisational state caught my eye should be obvious: In ‘The Poverty of Territorialism’ (Faludi 2020 [2018]) I voice reservations about what I call the ‘production of democratic legitimacy‘ by way of elections per territory. According to Rosanvallong (2020) a contemporary political theorist, Alexis de Tocqueville called these, the first elections held under universal (male) suffrage a ‘question of arithmetic’. Nobody’s fool, in said lecture Zhang (2017) quotes no less than Abraham Lincoln and his famous definition of democracy as government of the people, by the people, for the people. The Chinese put ‘for the people’ first, he says, and with good results. Judge for yourself. 

But Zwang denies any pretence of imposing the Chinese model. Which made me think of China seeing the protests in Hong Kong as attempting to do the opposite: force upon them a different model. For long, the espoused idea has indeed been that engaging with China will make ‘them’ appreciate Western-style democracy and human rights. But to defend its superiority, you would have to do better than simply assuming that you have the moral high ground. 

References

China Daily Online (2019) Zhang Weiwei: ‘What is China’s development model?’Available at:   http://en.people.cn/n3/2019/0321/c90000-9559135.html, last accessed 23 Augustus 2020.

Faludi, A. (2020 [2018]) The Poverty of Territorialism, Cheltenham: Elgar. 

Rosanvallon, P. (2020) Le siècle du populisme: Histoire, théorie, critique, éditions du seuil; Paris.

Sheikh, H. (2011) Embedding Technopolis, PhD Thesis, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Available at: https://research.vu.nl/en/publications/embedding-technopolis-modernity-amp-tradition-in-the-human-condit, last accessed 23 August 2020.

Zhang Weiwei (2012) The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State, World Century Publishing Corporation, Hackensack, NJ.

Zhang Weiwei (2017) ‘The China wave: The rise of the civilisational state’, EIR, August 18. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f62d/f5fec0325ee73195f869831c6066da699208.pdf, last accessed 23 August 2020.

Andreas Faludi
 
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