Out from China comes the repeated argument that it can handle its own internal affairs without meddling advice from foreigners about democratization. True, China will likely evolve a unique mode of government that fits its needs and aspirations. But, to the extent those aspirations include global leadership, that government better be a democracy.
This is because of the kind of exceptional individuals China will need, not just in politics, but in all areas, if it sets out on this course. As regards exceptional individuals, we turn naturally to the work of psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, who made a study of these, and who believed that to those nations most successful in producing them belongs the future.
Maslow tells us that the fullest development of human potential requires a good society, which he defines as one that is anti-authoritarian and anti-controlling. It places a greater stress on spontaneity and autonomy than on stability and external control. Healthy and superior people, Maslow found, do not like to be controlled. They can make their own choices and need to be free to do so in order to bring out their full potential.
For China to be global leader it must lead the way in solving some tough problems that face all nations ' the erosion of human trust, the destruction of the environment, the persistence of poverty, exploitation, and inequality of opportunity. Problems of such magnitude only stand a chance of being solved to the extent we mobilize all of our individual and collective inner resources, and bring out in our societies, our communities, our families, our individuals ' and our approach to problems ' more of the whole human capability that we all have within as a latent potential. These farther reaches of our human nature await the right environment to emerge and to express themselves. That environment is an open and free democratic society; where corruption, mismanagement, greed, and waste can be challenged; and where ordinary people can organize in ways of their own choosing and disseminate whatever ideas they want.
Democracy is not for China. It's not for the Chinese. It's for every country, every people. To lead, China will have to become its champion because democracy is more urgently needed at this time in history than ever ' not for outer reasons, but for inner ones: to call up the human intelligence, creativeness and sensitivity required to solve the really big problems ahead.
William R. Stimson is an American writer who lives in Taiwan.