I heard the tale end of NPR's "On Point" tonight. Tom Ashbrook was interviewing Clay Christensen, a religious and business leader.
He recited an anecdote about a Chinese Marxist and economist who studied with him at Harvard. You can find a similar retelling here. The main thrust was that in order to create a stable and prosperous culture, there were two ways about it. You could go the way of Singapore, and have clear rules and clear ramifications for those who broke them, or you could go the way of democracy, which Christensen sweetly stated through the mouth of his Marxist friend was far harder.
But in democracy, the only way people would behave in a just way was that they believed they would be punished or rewarded according to a higher power. The PDF I link to makes the religiosity much clearer, though even the radio statement (toward the last 10 minutes) was blunt as a hammer.
Personally, I am not surprised that an economist from the PRC would believe that people are weak and require some kind of authority to "hold them accountable"--or, in other words, make them do what is "right." I am sure Christensen saw this as some incredible validation--"Look, even the Marxist thinks we need rules, and that democracy needs religion!" But for me, this is no surprise. An authoritarian and an authoritarian will likely agree on the people; it's the nature of authority on which they differ. It is no surprise that authoritarian socialism gave way to monarchy, state religion, and cults of personality. It is no surprise that Juche and Maoism resemble ancient despotisms, complete with supernaturally gifted leaders. It is no surprise that Guevara became a Castroist Jesus and Stalin was painted with happy children in the same tacky style I see in Adventist portraiture. Man as he is is unimportant to these doctrines. Man is to be molded, recreated, and perfected. They are all Procrustean exercises, all self-demeaning faiths. As valuable as Marx is to deconstructing capitalist economy, he despised anarchists and believed in a rule by elite. He and his heirs ushered in a new priesthood and a new liturgy which has only given way to new Marxian philosophy with great effort and the fall of the Soviet Union.
This is the same as Democrats being trotted out by Republicans when they personally agree. I am not impressed that Lieberman agreed with Bush, no more than I am that Republicans voted for Obama in droves. What is presented as an alternative is not often that significant a difference. Those who are presented as opposites may share great similarities in many areas, especially when the range of discussion is so very small.
In the past, it was much easier to spot this kind of false choice, though people were still ignorant and distracted. Have you ever seen the faces of the Kings of Great Britain, Germany, and Russia at the eve of the First World War? The inbred fools could be practically brothers. Now the appearances are greater among our options, but we still have much the same choice as then: this empire or that, this thug or that, this master or that. And yet we have not improved on the Marxists of a hundred years ago. We do not reach outside to the rest of the world. For all our technology, we have dwindled to myriad disparate homebodies and provincialists. I am all for home rule, and yet I do not believe in being divided and being conquered. And if it is not obvious right now, despotism is as strong as ever it has been. After all, the Mormons and the Maoists talk when they are at the highest levels of power. We commoners cannot say the same. We libertarians and anarchists and resisters have yet to answer the authoritarians. And as a result they continue to choose our alternatives, and control our fates.