Last week China’s Communist Party politburo appeared on stage dressed in nearly identical Western suits and presiding over a prosperity fueled by Western economics and trade, while perpetrating an ongoing autocracy of course at odds with Western governance and biblical political principles.
The Washington Post reported on the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th conference at which Xi Jinping was elected to another five years as general secretary, along with an elevated additional status:
On Tuesday, the Communist Party amended its constitution to insert Xi Jinping Thought as a guiding principle for the party, elevating Xi to the same status as its most important historical figures, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
That means Xi is likely to wield ultimate authority in the party as long as he is alive, experts say, and it makes any challenge to that authority tantamount to an attack on the party itself.
The next day the Post also reported:
A day after thousands of Communist Party delegates voted to have President Xi Jinping’s thought included in the official party dogma, one of the country’s elite universities immediately opened a research center dedicated to his ideology.
Within the next few days around 40 universities followed suit, scrambling to set up their own centers for “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era.”
It’s the latest example of the narrowing space for independent thought in modern China, and the ever tighter ideological controls being imposed under Xi’s rule, foreign and domestic experts said. It is also at odds with China’s ambitions to be a global power in academia, and undermines the chances of constructive debate over government policy.
Heirs of the Anglo–American tradition cannot easily comprehend this level of spiritual authority invested in a national magistrate. Even English monarchs at the height of their power did not have schools of thought reverently named for them or obeisantly inscribed into the (unwritten) constitution. Such grandiosity would have centuries ago struck an Englishman as symptomatic of Far Eastern despotism alien to most of Christendom, at least in the West, and certainly in Britain.
Of course, in more recent centuries, a prime minister or president in the Anglosphere would have been mocked and hooted out of power for even suggesting a self-named school of thought inscribed into law and mandated into education. Very few Anglo-American statesmen even have adjectival versions of their names to describe their thought and legacy.
Notable exceptions include Burkean, Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, Churchillian, Reaganite. Each of the named persons had robust self-regard but did not presume to foist their perspective or legacy on their nations as a mandatory school of thought, which would have reduced their memory to absurdity.
Western Civilization, when not corrupted into caesarism, disdains cults of personality, the Anglo-American tradition arguably the most. Old English historians sometimes claimed this resistance was rooted in the ancient folk ways of the pagan tribes that originally settled Britain. True or not, Western Christianity and particularly British Protestantism have resisted political projects resembling personality cults.
The Lord is no respecter of persons, even the high and mighty, their tradition taught. Each ruler no matter his station is under divine judgment and has no purported mandate from heaven beyond a call to serve the public with justice and equity. Few Anglo-American politicians have been considered philosophers, beyond Burke and Jefferson, and they wisely did not tout their unique talent, realizing the electorate doesn’t typically appreciate politicians who are intellectuals much less philosopher kings.
Tyrants often claim unique intellectual authority as part of their aspired complete rule over mind and matter, giving hours-long speeches to captive audiences and publishing dense mandatory books everyone must pretend to read. How many Chinese will really take seriously “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era?” Beyond feigned applause, likely not many.
China is hailed as a nation on the rise. But societies that don’t really believe their own official national narrative but must pretend otherwise needlessly hobble themselves. Societies that disdain this pretense and embrace more honest discourse are for the long-term, whatever the short term appearance of division and chaos, more robust, dynamic, and stable.
In the biblical political tradition government is both ordained and constantly challenged, respected but never fully trusted, empowered but also constrained. It serves God provisionally, not indefinitely. Xi Jinping Thought will have a short shelf life compared to the Word that endures forever.