What if Russia and China were democratic countries? How could they have been a democracy?

I get asked to answer questions on Quora. Now I understand that it is not an indication of any special interest that people take in my answers but the way that system works. Still I try to take people’s questions seriously and respond to as many as I can. The above question was asked by someone I assumed English is not their fist language so a bit of guessing is involved. I thought I would share my speculation here and see if it was of interests to anyone.

It is a good question. The answers will be speculative.

First we have to ask what they have in common and that would be the horde. Mongolian culture is very strange. It is not tribal although to us it looks tribal. I would say it is a civilization on horseback. So what is a civilization? I would say it is an artificial form of eusociality. The only true eusocial animals as far as I know are the insects, ants, bees, etc. So eusociality in humans is easily broken and by extension the advancement of civilization.

Static civilization corrupted Mongolian culture and vice versa. Something stopped the social development of the East that was way ahead of the West until fairly recently. In the case of Russia and China I would say the horde was a major factor. They had the same effect on the Islamic culture which was on its way to losing it’s tribal roots before being devastated by the Mongols. So to answer your question maybe we should imagine what Western Europe would look like if it had been conquered by the horde. That is confused by the fact that the threat to Western Europe was the Turks who had absorbed the Eastern Roman Empire. They had already adopted static civilization. If the same Mongols that conquered China conquered Western Europe is the question.

The reason we need to look at the Mongols as a civilization as opposed to a tribal state is that they were fairly developed in terms of eusociality. So what was broken was not exactly eusociality. What was broken was the chain of technological advancement. Not only physical technologies but technologies that influence cultural evolution within the abstract world of ideas. The Moguls were completely absorbed into the cultures they conquered but they still had an influence. That influence I’m suggesting in a way stopped cultural evolution in terms of political ideas. The why is more complicated but I would suggest it is the oddity of Mongolian civilization to develop without physical culture of its own.

My assumption is that if the Mongols had conquered Western Europe liberal democracy would never have developed. Your question then is what if China and Russia had never been conquered by the Mongolians. Would they have developed liberal democracy? My guess is yes. Liberal democracy is closely tied to the economic system that evolved in the West. It isn’t exactly capitalism and capitalism in some form has always been present in Russia and China. What is important is the rise of the political power of merchants, bankers and industrialists in the West. That forced people to think about how democracy could be expanded from the traditional upper classes of every civilization to include these new groups of political players. The people that thought about it realized that you don’t just vote at the ballot box but with your money and your feet and by everything else that you do. It cuts across all classes so liberal democracy was born.

I think that without the Mongol invasion China would have had it’s own scientific revolution. Maybe not that is the problem with speculation. But the scientific revolution is a player in democracy because it cuts the tie between god and the king. There was no scientific evidence of why the king should rule by divine rights. Take that away and you had to come up with some other system.

Interesting. You may be on to something in Russia’s case. Centuries of Asian invasions definitely forced Russia to develop in a very different way from Western Europe, but I also suspect there were already some big differences in what might be called the old Slavic way of life, and those differences might have been enough to prevent democracy from developing.

China is a different story, though. Mongols were warlike horse-lords, but they could be more civilized sometimes. They ruled China for a while and that entire period was quite peaceful. It was the Yuan Dynasty. More importantly though, I don’t think East Asian culture is the right soil, so to speak, for democracy.

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I was going to elaborate on the “East Asian Soil” issue but thought it would just muddy the waters.

That part I explain by how the West is focused on rights and the East on obligations. That may also explain part of the case in Russia as well related somehow to the difference between Eastern and Western Christianity but have not worked that out. In any case to illustrate the difference I suggest divine rights of kings vs the mandate of heaven. Rights focus on the individual and mandates on the wider society.

In some ways the west is less “civilized”. If you look at the early civilization such as Sumer what stands out is that the area occupied is not very hospitable. My conclusion is that the people that first occupied that area were pushed there by more successful tribes of semi nomadic people who controlled the “good land” for hunting, gathering and low intensity agriculture. What really seemed to spark civilization is high intensity agriculture. The need for strict hierarchies of competence. That need arises when you have to be highly organized to defend intensive agriculture. Semi nomadic people don’t need strict defense because they can move around to find resources. But there is also the need for management of irrigation and the storage of food. Planting times etc. aid the development of very formal priest classes. Specialization of all kinds set in from military leaders to “engineers”. You can see the same process in the Aztecs which apparently we know enough about to know that they were forced on to the swamp land they inhabited by stronger tribes. There intensive agriculture was not based on irrigation but floating pads on which food was produced. We can move on to Egypt where agriculture produced another example of hierarchy. Where the Pharaoh was responsible for insuring the annual floods and water works that made agriculture possible in an inhospitable land. In China rice was the intensive agricultural of concern because it required dikes and flooding that had to be carefully regulated and protected. Intensive agriculture becomes the selection mechanism for the development of civilization. Once established it could spread and be copied in places that were more hospitable. The point is that specialization creates obligations.

Europe has a completely different agricultural heritage. The conditions there lent themselves to small independent farmers. What they needed was for private property to be protected and from there you get individual rights.

One thing that amuses me is the Greek propaganda that they were the civilized people and the Persians the less so. The evidence strongly suggests that the Persian civilization was more sophisticated in many ways than the Greek’s. What Persia didn’t have was a tradition of individual rights.

The link between private property and democracy should be self evident but apparently it isn’t. That has to do with how we see civilization as a top down process requiring sophistication. Democracy is a very odd concept that employs the bottom up design that mimics evolution. Many people still don’t see the beauty of bottom up design. That is a complicated story I will leave for another time.

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I gave Quora up because it’s not a reliable source of information. It’s no better than any other social media, but it’s not interesting either.

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It’s huge, there is a lot of practical information on the platform for just everyday problems. A lot of that will show up even if you are not a member from Google searches. Overall you are right but some small amount of social media helps me keep up with what people around the world are thinking unfiltered by “official” narratives.

I will make a difference between Russia and China.

Mongols did not change the culture of the Chinese empire. The Chinese civilisation was old when Mongols conquered it, and very conservative and hierarchic.

The turning point was the Ming dynasty.

Before it, the Chinese had a strong tradition of traveling and trading far away, and were scientifically advanced.

From 1405 to 1433, large fleets commanded by Admiral Zheng He – under the auspices of the Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynastytraveled to the Indian Ocean seven times. This attempt did not lead China to global expansion, as the Confucian bureaucracy under the next emperor reversed the policy of open exploration and by 1500, it became a capital offence to build a seagoing junk with more than two masts.

[Chinese exploration - Wikipedia]

I think that the strength of the social structure inhibited any change.

Western democracy results from the meeting of the north and Greek traditions, in anglo-saxon laws and of the religious revolution of the 16th century, by Catholics and Protestants.

Printing and freedom of thinking in Netherlands were a factor.

Another factor was the development of capitalism which destroyed feudalism and the traditional social structure, opening windows. The merchant needed another social system and another way of thinking, free of religion.

Mongols let Russian princes rule. When Russia freed itself from the Mongol rule, only in 1552, it was a backward country and stayed it.

In fact Russia was a colonial country conquering Siberia and, for instance, the serfdom was extended up to the end of the 18th century.

Freedom of thought and capitalism never became dominant.

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Well said. Your point about rights vs obligations might be the best way to describe the East-West differences.

To go a little deeper on this topic, one big source of that difference is the Asian attitude towards elders and people who are of a higher status; they are always deferred to no matter what. It’s tempting to say that stems from Confucian philosophy, but is not only seen in East Asians, but all Asians from Turkey to Japan.

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The history of China is very turbulent. What do you see as the weakness of the social structure?

15 years ago or so I read instructions for business people going to China. The point was that the culture might confuse some people. The key thing that the instructor wanted to talk about was a story of a Chinese town that was under siege. The accuracy of which I can not attest to but the point was pretty straight forward. To prevent the defenders from starving the town decided it would be best to let the children starve. He suggested that that level of cooperation would never happen in the West. That such a decision would horrify Westerners. Was it selfish or self sacrifice to let the children starve?

Greeks have always had a very high opinion of themselves and things haven’t changed much. I don’t know if ancient Persians had that view of themselves, but modern Persians definitely do!

As for Persians being more sophisticated – I have no idea. Personally, I’m glad the Greeks won the war.

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I’d say self-sacrifice. No doubt that would be unthinkable with Westerners.

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A pretty good account of the time of the Shoguns is depicted in the series “Shogun”
based on the original book and movie.

It touches on the entire culture that existed in those times and how it evolved into today’s authoritarian socialist (communist) state.

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I don’t really understand the question, but i try.

Roughly, from year 0 to year 1900, Europe went from empire, to feudalism, then to absolute monarchy, then to democracy.

During the same time, the structures of the western societies changed also, and an oligarchy was changed to an aristocratic society then to a merchant society.

Church power increased then became very great, supreme in some instances and waned.

An European born in year 0 would be totally out of place in 1850.

During the same time, China knew a succession of dynasties, but Chinese society did not change much.

Philosophy, society and so stayed very similar even if technology changed.

The social order was maintained and resisted.

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What you are saying is that the strength of the social structure is the weakness. You are right. We can compare Russia as an example.

Why does Russia remain autocratic while the rest of Europe is “democratic”?

The down side of liberalism is chaos. The up side is the utility of randomness. You have to understand the order of things. First randomness and then the order of life. Evolution starts with random events and as life evolves it gains reproductive fidelity. Countries with little diversity can tolerate a lot of chaos because they have built in reproductive fidelity. Russia is extremely diverse compared to other countries in ways that are somewhat hidden. It is a mix of Eastern and Western cultures that are a receipt for chaos. If you compare them to the Nordic countries which have very little cultural diversity you can get a hint of what I’m talking about. Liberalism works in Nordic countries because of a lack of cultural diversity. You can apply this principle to almost anything. Take science for example it has a mono culture with high reproductive fidelity that is tolerant of new ideas. Right now that culture is under attack by postmodernism and is losing it’s reproductive fidelity.

The secret to life is just the right amount of chaos. Russia has produced brilliant scientist and authors and that is where their chaos lies. In a way democracy in Russia lies outside the governmental structures. That is why it so seamlessly switched from communism to capitalism. I expect the Nordic countries to have massive problems as they become more culturally diverse. There democracy is in the government structure but they are weak in non government democracy.

Once you understand these processes everything falls into place.

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Well, you can. Others don’t

That’s an argument used by racists. Not saying you are one. I said, it’s an argument that racists use.

Yes that is why after WWII biological and cultural determinism fell out of favor. The Nazis had actually praised progressives such as Margret Sanger for their Eugenics.

Sanger also believed in eugenics — an inherently racist and ableist ideology that labeled certain people unfit to have children. Eugenics is the theory that society can be improved through planned breeding for “desirable traits” like intelligence and industriousness. Margaret Sanger was so intent on her mission to advocate for birth control that she chose to align herself with ideologies and rganizations that were explicitly ableist and white supremacist. In doing so, she undermined reproductive freedom and caused irreparable damage to the health and lives of generations of Black people, Latino people, Indigenous people, immigrants, people with disabilities, people with low incomes, and many others.

It has even been argued that part of the motivation for Stephen Jay Gould’s punctuated equilibrium was to undo the damage done to the progressive movement by Sanger’s “determinism”.

Dennett argues that Gould alternated between revolutionary and conservative claims, and that each time Gould made a revolutionary statement—or appeared to do so—he was criticized, and thus retreated to a traditional neo-Darwinian position.

The scientific debate itself is extremely complicated. What isn’t as complicated is the threat that scientific determinism poses to traditional moral values such as the value of human life. Dennett makes a good argument that there is a lot of confusion over “freewill” and its role in the moral structure of a society. When asked about scientific determinism and its role in racism and similar social ills his response was simply to ask the question “why do people engage in racial research”. Dennett’s stick is intentionality, how what makes an action moral or not is tied to intention. For example what makes a person a racist or not isn’t the observation of “racial” differences but the intention behind the observations.

The best argument I have heard against racism is that there is more genetic diversity in Africa than anywhere else in the world. A direct result of more time for that diversity to arise than in the places that humans migrated to from Africa. It is an interesting observation insofar as how inbreed are the groups that left Africa? Are there more genetic diseases in isolated groups that left Africa? That does take us back to Gould’s theory. How isolated were groups that remained in Africa?

In any case what is important in the West right now is how much of a threat to scientific determinism are the ideas behind movements such as Diversity, Inclusion and Equality or post modernism itself? Has there actually been an overreaction to “Sanger’s determinism”.

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It could of been done with Genghis Khan, he would of made one nation in asia and Europas. He could of a democracy but like all democracies it would of not worked. And it will failed but the promblem would be how long it will last and perhaps corruption will grow in a form that could not be controlled.

China would of been a greek government with too much corruption and Russia would of been liek any other european government. Corrupt and would not of advance. The real way democracy,fascism, kingdoms advance and we remember them is technology. Simply the television and computer lets us know who is wrong by modern standards. Really they will do good but an end like all empire, civilizations, and boxes full of your grandmother’s jewely they will leave you and just you can sell but people find other things to replace them.

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