Saturday, April 17, 2004
Scott Simon had an essay "The joys of adoption", on Weekend Edition Saturaday today; he had recently adopted a little girl from China.

Simon makes the remark China is an authoritarian state which do not value so many of its daughters. This is shamefully, true enough; but Simon's subtext seems to be: if China becomes a Democracy, girls will be valued more. But girls and women are not valued in China not because the state apparatus is undemocratic, but because China's paternalist Confucian culture and the economic discrimination against women together devalues the lives of women and girls. The oppression of Chinese women is not entirely, or even largely, by the state.

It is an illustration of the limits of Democracy that the status of women was far better under Mao, when state control was absolute; and that Indian women, living under a democratic government, are not much better off than their Chinese counterparts. Democracy, when not laid upon a foundation of civil society and the rule of law, will as often entrench oppression (against women, religious & ethnic minorities, &c.) as to ease it. The difficulty is undemocratic governments rarely have an interest in promoting civil society and the rule of law. The notion of The People collectively rising up and throwing off their Oppressive Yoke, is untenable when taken outside of Western Europe and North America. Orwell is right: Dictatorships can last a long time, provided it is sufficiently all-encompassing & brutal; Hitler, Stalin, and Mao comes to mind, or even relatively small tyrants such as Saddam. The instances, South Korea, South Africa, perhaps others, that do exist of democracy succeeding dictatorship, outside the Western Humanist cultural orbit, do encourage hope; but the small number of such instances do not encourage much.

Have started reading John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. His remarks on China and the "despotism of custom" is particularly acute. It is a view of worth examining, particularly by the Left with its often collectivist visions of Democracy.