Observations on a recent Essay by 梁文道


梁文道's recent Essay on 人民民主--prompted, as it is, by the CE's comparing extreme democracy to the Cultural Revolution--is no doubt an interesting exercise in political philosophy, taking as its object the rehabilitation of a notion that is destined to have no market in HK. The thrust of the Essay is to unsettle our dominant tendency "對任何其他種類的民主理念都嗤之以鼻,覺得它們都是掛羊頭賣狗肉的假民主,比如說中華人民共和國一度標榜的「人民民主」"; but to unsettle is not yet to overthrow, which would require a much stronger case as to why that other notion be indeed superior.

It is a grave error, I believe, to think and speak of democracy in modern polities paying well-nigh exclusive attention to what happens or does not happen most spectacularly in the legislature, even though there be where media visibility tends to concentrate. Courts, the Monetary Authorities, and many other technocratic-administrative bodies which are needed to support the well-functioning of modern social life, and which often cannot fulfill their mission without a certain degree of independence from the vagaries of popular sentiments, pose, in their totality, a deep question as to whether the time-honored discourses on democracy might not as well be time-bound to their historical contexts.

If political philosophers and legal philosophers are ready to face the challenge put to notions of democracy by technocratic-administrative bodies and courts, economists, in their more philosophical moments, are equally delighted to point out, that commentators in favor of more direct forms of democracy routinely pass over the un-democratic nature of monetary policy-making which, so far as the average citizen's pocket is concerned, is no less consequential than changes in the tax schedule. Few commentators, even enthusiastic supporters for more direct forms of democracy, would be so rash as to demand that monetary policy be subject to popular control. Yet any change in the interest rate, if we give it a little more thought, will affect the distribution of wealth in very concrete and immediate ways, between the debtor class and the creditor class, between those who are burdended by home-mortgages and those who are holders of interest-paying bonds. If it be suggested, that good and effective monetary policy-making requires so long a horizon into the future as rarely to be had if the people are in control of it, the same argument--no doubt a well-rehearsed one in its general form--seems equally applicable to matters of taxation, of adjudication, etc. The vagaries of popular sentiments are, in all these areas, properly to be distrusted.

Ignorace and Inconsistency seem, then, to be two major causes why the people is to be feared. Both causes are admittedly relative: ignorance is relative to the amount of information and experience required for good judgment; inconsistency, to the degree of precision and stability required for a certain sort of policy to be effectively carried out. But developments in modern social life tend to cry up the demand for all four: more information, more experience, more precision, more stability. Now of course there is a typical answer to these demands: more education on the part of the citizenry. The question set up this way, however, the desirability of more direct forms of democracy will no more be a matter of legitimacy or such-like, but a relative and empirical matter, dependent upon how likely the citizenry, composed of ordinary people, might win the race. In the domain of monetary policy, the outcome is for the most part a foregone conclusion.

There are a few remarks in 梁文道's Essay that I think are not entirely correct or palatable. Of which let me take three to task.

1. Rousseau. "法國大革命的思想導師盧騷就很反對代議民主,他覺得選一幫專業政治人代表全民執政議政根本不足以體現人民的意志,頂多只是「加總式的意志」(will of all)而非更民主的「全體意志」(general will)。" I am not sure from what writing of Rousseau's has the writer derived such a proposition. Rousseau spoke of the general will--which, as a notion, has more a genealogy in the Roman republican tradition of the common good--but he also conceded, more than once, that in practice the general will was mostly to be known by counting heads in the legislature, which of course was what he (sometimes contemptuously) meant by the will of all. Many subsequent political writers rejected the general will as too metaphysical, if not outright totalitarian. In fact, the general will, in Rousseau's scheme of things, can, in the ultimate, over-rule the will of all; which is to say, he who is said to have discerned the general will--the common good--is allowed, in fact required, to regard the majority of the people as in ignorance of what is best for them. This is, for some, patently the highest form of contempt of the people. In brief, the distinction between the general will and the will of all is not, as 梁文道 would have us believe, about the relative merits of representative and direct democracy--that is never Rousseau's real concern; but about, in a deep sense, the tension between knowledge and politics--a tension which archeologists of knowledge might delightfully trace back to Plato's Republic and Laws.

2. The Cultural Revolution. "再回到「文革」的問題,沒人可以輕易否認它出自於毛澤東奪權鬥爭的個人目的,更沒有人能夠否定「十年浩劫」帶來的災難和痛苦。但是單純地在文革和獨裁之間畫上等號,就太過輕視當時受鼓動的百姓的自由意志了。直到今天為止,都還有部分內地「新左派」的學者和外國的激進思想家如巴迪烏(Alain Badiou)以為文革在早期確實是場「真正的革命」、「民主的實驗」。你可以說毛澤東講的「大民主」只是煽動人心的說詞,但是你不能說那些佔領學校的學生和衝進政府單位奪公章的人全都不是「人民民主」的真誠信徒。對不少當時的參與者而言,文革真正是從根本改造人性,徹底打倒官僚體制,達成「沒有黨派也不再有國家機器」之革命理想的「偉大鬥爭」,是「人民民主」這個理念的終極落實。" It is not clear whether the conclusion the writer drew from his description of the Cultural Revolution is meant to further his case for "people's democracy" or in fact to destroy it. It is certainly true, that many people who were attracted to the Revolution and hence mobilized for its alleged goals did, at least in the beginning, entertain a certain ideal which might, even in hindsight, be called noble. But that ideal, as the writer himself conceded, was purely utopian, sustained throughout by the belief that modern social life could be had in a state of nature, so to speak; in, that is, a state of constant mobilization, accompanied by a constant resistance to entering the state of civil society, where things must needs be cooled down. It is this cult of the permanent revolution, this desire to keep going back to square one, that is, not anti-modern (for some would say that this cult and this desire, born no later than in the French Revolution, are precisely what distinguish the modern view of politics from the ancient--again a Western genealogy, I admit), but truly anti-civilizational, if civilization be taken to mean the attempt and need, collectively, normatively, and practically to settle down.

3. The Genealogy of Democracy. "說了這麼半天,我的意圖絕非是要平反文革的惡名,也不是要替中共的極權體制塗脂抹粉,更不是想為曾蔭權開脫錯誤;恰恰相反,我是要提供一個現代中國官方民主概念的系譜,循此才能看到曾蔭權的真正問題。" This large claim is I think largely illusionary. The CE's spectacular remark has little to do with views of democracy, direct or otherwise, in the Mainland; nor do we need to learn those views in order to make sense, or fun, of the said remark. It is rather with the effort, among certain social activists--or, as some would call them, new leftists--to promote more direct forms of democracy in HK, that certain intellectual responses to the remark have to do. This time the writer has refrained from discoursing on de-colonialization; but he could well have linked that sort of discourse to direct democracy, Alain Badiou, and all that. He could even have subsumed the two discourses under the same grand rubric: Empowerment . Of the people, of course, this empowerment, which will indeed be a very honest translation of the word democracy. But all this, I repeat, would be quite independent from the so-called genealogy of democracy in the Mainland. The fear of the people, be it found in HK, in the Mainland, in the United States or in the Euroland, has its origin in the same sort of intellectual and practical concerns, in the context of modern polities and in the history of power distribution therein. To explain it simply in terms of a distrust of the people, without further explaining why, and when, the people are, and are to be, distrusted, is to end a long fugue on a very trivial coda; but the coda is just too sonorous for 梁文道 not to repeat it as such.

HK Mingpao. Oct 25, 2007.

- 梁文道





法國大革命的思想導師盧騷就很反對代議民主,他覺得選一幫專業政治人代表全民執政議政根本不足以體現人民的意志,頂多只是「加總式的意志」(will of all)而非更民主的「全體意志」(general will)。後來的馬克思主義傳統也繼承了盧騷的想法,認為人民選出的代表久而久之會淪為一群脫離群眾的專業政客,使得政治成了一幫有錢又有勢的資產階級的玩物,竊取了人民的授權,尋求自己的利益,最後反過來奴役大眾。最明顯的例子莫過於英國前首相貝理雅可以在主流民意反對的情形下斷然出兵伊拉克,和美國政壇習以為常的游說政治使一些有利於大商家的政策得以順利通過。



再回到「文革」的問題,沒人可以輕易否認它出自於毛澤東奪權鬥爭的個人目的,更沒有人能夠否定「十年浩劫」帶來的災難和痛苦。但是單純地在文革和獨裁之間畫上等號,就太過輕視當時受鼓動的百姓的自由意志了。直到今天為止,都還有部分內地「新左派」的學者和外國的激進思想家如巴迪烏(Alain Badiou)以為文革在早期確實是場「真正的革命」、「民主的實驗」。你可以說毛澤東講的「大民主」只是煽動人心的說詞,但是你不能說那些佔領學校的學生和衝進政府單位奪公章的人全都不是「人民民主」的真誠信徒。對不少當時的參與者而言,文革真正是從根本改造人性,徹底打倒官僚體制,達成「沒有黨派也不再有國家機器」之革命理想的「偉大鬥爭」,是「人民民主」這個理念的終極落實。





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