The "Bad Things" About Democracy

(  The "Bad Things" About Democracy.  By Li Yehand.  February 18, 2008.

[in translation]

Everybody knows that democracy is a good thing.  So why is it that democracy has been an unattainable dream [in China] since the late Qing dynasty up to now?  Could it be that we have something unconsciously inside us that is working against the dream of democracy?  This is something that we must think hard and dig deep about.  After some investigation, I have discovered that democracy has many "bad things" for the majority of the people.  Furthermore, we can't deal with these 'bad things.'  But if we don't recognize these 'bad things,' then it is futile to chant the slogan "Democracy Is A Good Thing."

In a previous essay, I spoke about an ancient western fairy story.  In that story, God promised to fulfill three wishes from a poor man.  The first wish that the poor man wanted was for a sausage.  The poor man's wife was mad and she cursed that his sausage should grow on the poor man's nose.  Of course, her curse was granted [for the second wish].  The third wish was for the sausage to be removed from the nose.  So all three wishes were granted, and all the poor man got was a sausage.  This is a highly meaningful story.  It means that when we couldn't get what we wish for, we must have something within us that works against our wish.  Since we have wished for democracy for more than a century without getting it, doesn't that mean that we must have something deep inside us that works against democracy?

I may have found the answer to this question through my attendance at the church activities organized by a certain person who claims to be a "warrior" for freedom and democracy.

On one occasion, I spoke about "God's dialectics" during a church meeting.  But my viewpoint was immediately interrupted by this church leader who claims to be a "warrior" for freedom and democracy.  He said: "Dialectics is the work of Satan."  This leader did not explain why dialectic was the work of Satan.  Of course, I did not abandon my independent contemplation of "God's dialectics."  Later on, a certain writer was invited to participate in a church activity.  Unfortunately, this writer also rashly mentioned "God's dialectics."  Our church leader quickly interrupted him and said: "This is how it is.  We have reached the consensus here that dialectics is the work of Satan."  So that was how I came to be "represented" by the "consensus" fabricated by this leader who fights for "democracy and freedom."  At the time, I did not approve.  I wondered to myself just why the "three represents" should be happening with a social circle that cares about "democracy and freedom."

Later on, I thought about it more and I concluded that the "three represents" by this leader within the church was not unreasonable.  Why is that?  First of all, how was this house church able to attract people to attend in the first place?  That is because many people could not deal with the infinite and complex possibilities of the world and therefore they are anxious.  They need someone to provide them with a simple and definitive answer about the world.  The rigid religious doctrinairianism eliminates the infinite possibilities and provides a simple, stable social network system that assuages their anxiety.  The new fundamentalist style of religious worship fulfills their needs.  Therefore "house churches" came to be founded.  You want certainty?  Let me tell you that the answer is to believe in Christ.  That is the truth, and no further elaboration is necessary.  It is that simple.  Therefore, deep thinking and studying of religious issues are not permitted among the religious activities of the house churches, because that would damage the basic motive by which people joint these activities.  A smart leader would never tamper with the most basic reason why people came here.

Next, it is uneconomical and costly for a leader in charge of the church affairs to have democracy.  When the believers place their full trust in the leader, the various affairs of the church become a lot simpler.  Conversely, it would be a lot more difficult otherwise.  For example, let us suppose that the church needs to obtain donations or impose a "tithe" levy.  If this was left to a democratic vote, the leader will surely encounter opponents and doubters.  Therefore, as a leader, the more economically efficient way to manage the church is not to have democracy.  Instead, the exact opposite should happen in the form of dictatorship.  All he has to do is to justify the dictatorial command as the "will of God."  Under these circumstances, the church members won't mind this dictatorship.  On the contrary, they will welcome this dictatorship.  Precisely because this is a dictatorship, they will find the repressed feelings to obey the father figure as well as attaining the sense of childhood security in their subconscious.

So what would happen if a church leader were to promote an operational model based upon democracy and freedom out of idealism?  First of all, this group won't have any cohesiveness.  Instead it will degenerate into a social community good only for chatting.  Since the members are allowed to think independently for themselves, this group will find it hard to reach a consensus (even superficially).  When the group affairs must be decided democratically, things will move slowly and inefficiently.  Therefore, the leader will often not use this idealistic, romantic style of doing thing.  Everything here can be traced back to a well-known and undeniable fact -- there are two types of people who get actively involved in a group: (1) Those who are seeking practical advantages; (2) those who are seeking ease of mind.  The former will surely follow the principle of efficiency to reach their goals, while the latter will surely seek to relieve their unbearable mental and material burdens -- only by handling off their "sins" and "ills" to others can they obtain a relaxed enjoyment.  As Jesus said: "Healthy people don't need to see doctors; only the sick do ... I have not come to seek the righteous, but the sinners."

So this is the inner reason why social groups that say that they stand for "democracy and freedom" end up becoming a dictatorship.  These common practices with the house churches can also be found in society at large.  The Reverend Yuan Zhiming once said something like this in a sermon: "Certain practices among the Christian churches in China are actually identical to the practices during the Cultural Revolution.  Except for the fact that the former waved the Bible while the latter waved the Little Red Book, everything is the same."  Therefore the lack of democracy within a church is not just a problem for the church, but it is an expression of a human problem in other domains.  In other words, there is no fundamental difference between people's need for a "Christ" and their need for a "Great Leader."  Both seek a powerful figure to adore and hand over their own "democracy" and freedom" along with their own unbearable anxiety altogether.

This leads one to think about the meaning of the so-called democracy for human nature.

The so-called democracy is not just a vacuous political concept and it is not a social system that is being yearned for.  It is really about the various choices in life being made by people who have independent wills and rational minds and who are willing to come forth and bravely assume their responsibilities.  These responsibilities are bound to be painful, solitary and perilous.  Very few people are willing to assume those responsibilities.  They must be people who have certain characters and civic qualities.  When you hand democracy to those without these qualities, they will only give it away to those who stand on the opposite side of democracy.

Whether you are willing to admit it or not, democracy is a "yoke of Babylon" that the majority of us won't be able to bear.  In fact, it may be something that the majority of us don't even like unconsciously.  But democracy is ultimately worth pursuing, because we have to build up our character and our society has to advance.