China in Transition: Communism, Capitalism, and Democracy

By Ronald M. Glassman | Go to book overview

Introduction: A New Beginning for History

There are moments in history when everything seems to change, epochal moments wherein a new world is created--a world in which humans then live for centuries, until the processes of change sweep over society again, altering everything in their wake. Today, we are living in one of those significant moments that signal the arrival of a new, long-term era. For the decline of communism preceded by the cataclysmic demise of fascism has left parliamentary democracy with free-market capitalism as the primary model for "modernity" in the contemporary world. (Even the social democracies of Western Europe, it must be understood, are grounded on a capitalist economic base.)

Monarchy--the epochal structure of the prior historical era--after centuries of unquestioned legitimation, has evaporated into the magical, enchanted past. Unmasked by the rational scientific worldview, the divine kings faced an educated citizenry that saw only the man beneath the crown. As the divine kingships receded, market economics and representative democracy emerged as a second coming, the first occurring in ancient Greece. However, the messianic optimism of Enlightenment Europe soon faded as industrial capitalism engendered poverty and unemployment, and as the full enfranchisement of the citizenry remained limited, restricting democratic participation to a privileged few.

With these issues unresolved, and with market economics and representative democracy only partially institutionalized, socialism and fascism arose as alternative models for modern society--models that claimed superiority over capitalist democracy in both the economic and political spheres. However, the brutality of fascism and its eventual military failure and the inefficiency of state socialism and its inherent authoritarian tendencies have discredited these systems, refocusing the attention of the world's educated citizenry on capitalism and democracy.

-vii-

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