Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Democracy’s diplomatic shortcomings

On the CBC Sunday Edition yesterday, Karen Wells asked Paul Evans, director of the Institute of Asian Research in Vancouver, to imagine how we reconcile ourselves to China’s authoritarian policies, most recently highlighted by its cover-up of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize award, the imprisoned pro-democracy poet. He offered this answer:

If the Declaration of Human Rights was written today, rather than in 1948, there would have to be greater sensitivity to Chinese values . . . good governance rather than the West’s emphasis on democracy might be appropriate.” 

Institutes exist to have answers. But, often silence is more dignified.

The Declaration of Human Rights was neither “sensitive” toward authoritarianism nor ignorant of its existence. The declaration was a triumphant assertion of those basic conditions necessary for men and women to be free—it was the expression of small-L liberal victors; it wasn’t something the Sherpas put together after canvassing the globe.

Diplomats will make their compromises and traders will often hold their tongues. But nothing good will come from putting “democracy” on a level playing field with a concept as mischievously elastic as “good governance.” The term means as little as Canada’s 1867 constitutional clause “peace, order and good government,” which was put in place to override potentially egregious actions by the provinces. However, it could have as easily been embraced by infallible popes, Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler. China offers nothing new to our experience with tyranny to suggest that democrats reword their core values.

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