Sometimes the obvious eludes us – yet there it sits, in plain sight. Chinese influence operations are like that. We swim in water inked by their presence, do not see them. Central to China’s insidious threat are two themes: Communism is legitimate, and democracy fails by division. Both are utterly false.
Communist China suppresses individual liberties to an extreme by impairing, confining, restricting, torturing, and extinguishing lives that interfere with one parament interest – the State. Concentrating power allows Communist leaders – like Fascist leaders – to coerce, dictate, suppress, silence, and kill.
Soviet leaders did this for 70 years until the West refused to go along, refused to let “Communism” call itself legitimate, and challenged communism’s systemic oppression of life, liberty, and individuality.
Ronald Reagan, backed by a Western consensus, including Polish Pope John Paul II, Britain’s “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, Germany’s Helmut Kohl, and a coalition of raised voices, ended Soviet claims to moral legitimacy, bringing to a crashing end their contempt for freedom and human carnage.
Reagan challenged communism’s basic underpinning, its right to suppress individual liberties – of the kind we see codified in our Bill of Rights. He refused to accept that communism was legitimate. Of course, he was right. “Legitimate” governance requires self-determination, transparency, accountability, and respect for individuals governed.
The right to govern at all is about “sovereignty.” We are born with a conscience, preferences, and innate rights – as individuals. Aggregating individual choices is what democracy or a republic is about, a limited government that works to enforce self-set limits preserving the greatest freedom for each.
The right to self-rule belongs, at the beginning and end, to the People – not to an ideologically pure, coercive, or power-concentrating elite. Might does not make right; right lifts a society to might.
Simply put, the right to govern does not flow from the top-down, but bottom-up, from the People to leaders they expect to represent them, aggregating their preferences, honoring their individual rights as a baseline priority, keeping government limited since that maximizes retention of their rights.
All this is the opposite of communism, which suppresses liberties in the name of control, order, concentrated power, in effect an elite commissioning itself to decide all things for you – including your life and death, premised on conformity.
So, is communism a legitimate form of government? No, it is the operational definition of moral repugnance, the opposite of self-determination, stealing from individuals their birthright to basic freedoms – speech, worship, conscience, movement, grievance, self-defense, fair trial, due process, equal protection, confronting accusers, avoiding captivity, unjust punishment, torture, and suppression of freedoms as basic as raising a family, defining work, prospering individually and in groups.
When Communist China echoes former Soviet pleas for legitimacy, the real and right answer is what Reagan might say today – with Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and moral philosophers of all ages: Communism is not a morally legitimate form of government, period.
The second threat is China’s implicit contention that America – and representative republics – fail by dividing on themselves, that they cannot get and stay unified. China’s powerful influence operations are working overtime to prove that proposition. We must work hard to disprove it.
Democratic republics are, by definition, diverse. That is their strength. They aggregate differences, distill the majority position, use an independent (non-political) judiciary to assure that position does not crush any minority, and then implement policies that allow the greatest possible range of individual freedom.
In short, they take the countless, differing, wonderfully independent preferences we all have, and in the “marketplace of ideas,” let the best surface, as in free markets, they let supply and demand find balance. That is the magic, the marvel, the miracle of self-government.
What does this mean? It means we need to know ourselves better, appreciate who we are, how we got here, the unique legitimacy of self-determination, and utter illegitimacy of communism – including in China.
We need to stop letting China ink our water, confusing America’s legitimate system of government, aggregation of disparate interests, basic identity, and self-determination with their illegitimate system. , spilling falsehoods, distracting from the truth.
Sometimes the obvious eludes us – yet there it sits, in plain sight. Chinese influence operations are everywhere the same, only newly burnished to push the idea that communism is legitimate, and democracy fails by division. Our job is to push back – and make clear; both propositions are false.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.