Minben 民本 as an alternative to liberal democracy

Essay by Rongxin Li: “Although theorists have proposed non-Western types of democracy, such as Asian Democracy, they have nevertheless actively marginalised these non-Western types. This is partly due to Asian Democracy’s  inextricable link with Confucian traditions – many of which people commonly assume to be anti-democratic. This worry over Confucian values does not, however, detract from the fact that scholars are deliberately ignoring non-Western types of democracy because they do not follow Western narratives. ..

Minben is a paternalistic model of democracy. It does not involve multi-party elections and, unlike in liberal democracy, disorderly public participation is not one of its priorities. Minben relies on a theory of governance that believes carefully selected elites, usually a qualified minority, can use their knowledge and the constant pursuit of virtuous conduct to deliver the common good.

Liberal democracy maintains its legitimacy through periodic and competitive elections. Minben retains its legitimacy through its ‘output’. It is results, or policy implementation, oriented. Some argue that this performance-driven democracy cannot endure because it depends on people buying into it and consistently supporting it. But we could say the same of any democratic regime. Liberal democracy’s legitimacy is not unassailable – nor is it guaranteed.

Indeed, liberal democracy and Minben have more in common than many Western theorists concede. As Yu Keping underlined, stability is paramount in Chinese Communist Party ideology. John Keane, for example, once likened government and its legitimacy to a slippery egg. The greater the social instability, which may be driven by displeasure over the performance of ruling elites, the slipperier the egg becomes for the elites in question. Both liberal democratic regimes and Minben regimes face the same problem of dealing with social turmoil. Both look to serving the people as a means to staying atop the egg…

Minben – and this may surprise certain Western theorists – does not exclude public participation and deliberation. These instruments convey public voices and concerns to the selected technocrats tasked with deciding for the people. There is representation based on consultation here. Technocrats seek to make good decisions based on full consultation and analysis of public preferences…(More)”.