I have previously suggested the idea that:
In this age of mass democracy, elections are the essence of democratic constitutionalism. Elections, like some purifying elixir, cleanse all (political) sins of states that indulge in the practice. An act of sovereign will, by which the people of a state convey their political power to agents who act on their behalf, elections conform the appropriate relationship between state apparatus and the sovereign masses. Elections have proven crucial for legitimating states and their governments. There is a strong connection between democracy and elections. One is impossible without the other. Together they implement notions of popular sovereignty in the construction and operation of government. (Larry Catá Backer, Democracy Part XIX: Electoral Legitimacy in Honduras and Afghanistan, Law at the End of the Day (Nov. 29, 2009)).
Is this exogenous relationship the only way of structuring a democratic state? Might the democratic impulse be implemented in other forms? If the central problem of the expression of democracy—popular elections—ignores the effectiveness of democratic function within modern governments, and indeed, remains exterior to it, then might an alternative path to democratic expression also serve to legitimize the democratic constitutionalism of a state? These questions are central to the constitutional discourse of states,especially China, that have developed a strong constitutional discourse but are organized on Party-State principles.
One of the most interesting variations of this approach to the construction of a socialist democracy within Chinese constitutional discourse is the notion of collectivity in the decision-making structures of Party and state in China. Hu Angang has most recently drawn on this general theory of democratic governance through collective action, and more specially on its theory of socialist democracy organized around a collective presidency. He is part of a line of theorists who are developing a theory of democracy that looks beyond the exercise of elections to the exercise of power within state and political entities. Hu suggests that if the ideal of a constitutionalist state is the exercise of democracy through representative and accountable institutions of governance, then it is possible to implement that ideal both by focusing on popular elections (traditional view) and by increasing responsive democracy within governmental and political institutions (Chinese socialist democracy). In both systems, the core democratic principle of legitimate constitutionalism is exercised. In one case (Western democracies), democracy is operationalized through the exercise of the franchise to elect leaders. In the other case (Chinese democracy), democracy may be embedded in the exercise of democratic and representative practices within the institutions of state, and as a critical part of the operation of the democratic functions of the party in power in one-party (or vanguard party) constitutional states. Either way, systems are instituted that enhance rule of law governance grounded in principles that reflect the political community as a whole in whose collective interests the representatives act.
Xi Jinping suggested the continued importance of moving away from an old style European Leninism to chart a course forward for the Chinese Communist Party as the party in power with Chinese characteristics. That movement necessarily focused efforts at democratization within the vanguard elements of the polity—represented by the Communist Party, and its own efforts at internal mass democracy, producing a stable political order that is better able to meet its core political objectives:—increasing popular welfare through the application of the structural political and economic premises on which the state is organized. This is a substantially distinct view of democracy, one in which the internalization of democracy as an operative principle within the structures of government and politics displaces the traditional Western approach to externalizing democratic principles to the selection of its representatives in government and politics.
There is indeed great advancement in the development of political theories that focus on China and its operational system. Yet I find the theoretical foundations of the mechanics just as important. The analysis suggests they are critically important for elaborating ideological basis of both the democratic and constitutional elements of the current Chinese system on their own terms. That foundation, in turn, lends legitimacy in explaining the characteristics of the collective presidency, both as a coherent innovation within the ideological framework of the Chinese political order and as an authentic and normatively sound variation of democratic constitutionalism. That exercise remains to be expanded in Chinese political theory, but its contours are well expressed by Hu Angang. Hu understands the collective presidency as a deeply embedded collectivization of decision-making—and thus an expression of democratic representative governance—reproduced at the highest levels of Chinese political and administrative governance. He relates that collectivization, and its internalization of the democratic element, to the ideological foundation of the Chinese political order. Indeed, Hu suggests in the collective leadership principle a rationale grounded in Chinese Marxist theory, the application of the normative premise of mass action effected through the collective wisdom of the vanguard party. Indeed, the collective action of the collective presidency merges and extends the “collective action” premise inherent in Marxist class struggle with the Leninist notion of government through a vanguard party. Both are applied in the form of the collective presidency through extending principles of Chinese socialist democracy to the mechanics of the operation of the “party in power” itself. In effect, Hu Angang has hit on the foundational principle of Chinese socialist democracy—the CCP itself should mirror in its organization and operation the organization and operation of socialist society by adopting the notions of collective action and organization to its own internal organization and operation. For Hu Angang, this suggests an important distinction between a dictatorship of the proletariat and the practice of effective personal dictatorship within the Communist Party. The concept of a dictatorship of the proletariat (now a people’s democratic dictatorship in China) is increasingly understood as a collective mechanism grounded in the sensibilities and normative values of an economic/political class, In contrast personal dictatorship within the Communist Party, a leadership style in which a single individual takes for herself a representative authority over the entire operation of the Communist Party, is itself contrary to Leninist principles of internal democratic decision-making within the vanguard party, and fails to reflect the collective nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat).
This is a constitutional system that expresses democracy differently than Western models. That difference, focusing on internalizing representative democracy within the structures of the political and governmental organs, represents an innovative advance from a 20th century expression of Marxism and Leninism to a 21st century expression of democratic socialist democracy. This is the aspect of Chinese political theory that offers an alternative to foundational Western conceptions of the core nature of democratic organization. The key to the collective presidency model is in its structure—the central element of that structure is its application of the principle of representative fiduciary duty. That principle imposes on individuals an obligation to serve solely in a representative capacity, the incarnation of various key elements of government and party—and in that role serve as decision contributing stakeholders—“Different members represent different institutions." That kind of representative decision-making, Hu Angang argues, produces representation-reinforcing structures that also produce efficient decision-making.
But, of course, this endogenous system works only to the extent that individuals exercise their responsibilities in a representative rather than personal manner. And that project may require further institutionalization through a cage of rules.And like traditional exogenous democratic systems, endogenous democracy must be "caged by law", rules which frame the system and minimize risk of abuse. Yet, as in exogenous systems, these rules and principles can only protect the system to the extent of the willingness of the community to enforce its own rules. Those rules, well known and long established among exogenous democratic systems, remain a work in progress. These rule systems are very much more a work in progress in endogenous systems. We might consider some of the legitimacy reinforcing rules necessary to appropriately frame endogenous democratic systems. If democracy is internalized in government and party, then the fiduciary and representative element of Party work must be emphasized and inculcated as a basic part of the political education of cadres. More importantly, perhaps, the rules discussed ought to be specific and enforceable. Rules without enforcement procedures, and direction without accountability, are meaningless.Additionally, collective action requires rules with respect to the meaning of votes in a system in which majority voting is viewed as undemocratic. While voting is sometimes necessary, consensus is more in keeping with the culture of socialist democracy and the character of the CCP as a vanguard element. A need for a vote, and a voting split, may therefore suggest the need for greater research and more discussion of the appropriate values to guide decisions than it suggests a vigorous democracy. Lastly, voting opens the way for factionalism within the CCP in ways that would detract from the vanguard role of the Party and the objectives of socialist modernization. In a sense, it also brings the CCP closer to the potential error of bourgeois politics and provides a backdoor for the more significant error of personal aggrandizement through factional politics. To remain true to the core principles of socialist collectivization of decision making as an expression of internal democracy, a better approach might be to use voting to determine where more work is necessary to reach consensus, rather than to use voting in the Western style (where this approach makes sense given the logic of that system) as the means of decision making. Voting within the collective leadership in order to determine policy, in this sense, may be antithetical to and inconsistent with the core values of collective leadership and socialist democracy.
This issue, central to the operation of endogenous democracy within government, is closely tied to that of accountability, what might in China be understood as the mechanism of criticism/self-criticism. It is understandable that this device might be viewed with some suspicions, given its abuse during the time of the Cultural Revolution.Yet it is also true that a safe space for collective self-criticism may be useful to hold leaders acting in a representative capacity accountable, and to guide appropriate attitudes and avoid perhaps unconscious slipping into individualism. The danger of the perversion of this mechanism into an instrument of control and dictatorship, though, should not be dismissed lightly. Consequently, there may be value in Hu Angang’s redirection of criticism-self-criticism into the learning mechanism to be undertaken only in the context of seminars and symposia around particular issues of research. But more is needed than a research and learning context. Disciplinary mechanisms are also needed. In exogenous systems these include recall and impeachment. In endogenous systems something related must be developed. In China that might be focused on its Party disciplinary systems--shuanggui.
It would also require strengthening, as with exogenous systems, though transparency. In the Chinese context, for example, such a broadened reaching out by the CCP to the masses would be consistent with the mass line (from the people to the people) and with the obligations of the CCP under principles Sange Daibiao, especially in its third prong. This may include the need to publicize the work of the collective presidency. This is offered as a means of disciplining any tendency to highlight the efforts of any one individual and to drive home the point among the masses that personality cults should be strictly forbidden. It would also aid in the process of deepening respect for collective leadership as the essence of socialist democracy if the collective leadership’s specific reports and decisions would be circulated as well. Indeed, it appears to be an explicit insight of the mass line itself, when it refers to refining the vanguard party’s mass opinion and its publicizing and explaining these refined opinions and decisions back to the masses. That sort of openness would further the CCP’s political work as well by providing a clear and specific guidance not merely to its cadres, but to the people (especially when decisions affect the operation of the administrative organs of state).
Both endogenous and exogenous systems of democratic governance face the same fundamental difficulty--the acceptance of a common meaning of and a consensus for the practice of legitimate "representation" in government.
1. In exogenous systems, like that of the United States, the issue of representation now is appears in two quite distinct forms. The first goes to the way in which a representative approaches her job. Does she advance her own beliefs or those of the people she represents. This issue is nicely captured in the debate about Catholic representatives voting against abortion limiting measures or gay marriage (two current controversial issues) where the majority of voters, including those who voted for the representatives, are strongly in favor of abortion and gay marriage rights (e.g., here and here). The second goes to the issue of the representative character of the elective body as an institution. Thus for example, there was much discussion in the United States that the 2014 election for the national Congress produced winners, in the aggregate, that do not represent the ethnic, racial and religious composition of their districts, specifically, or of the nation as a whole. (See, House, Not So Representative, Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2014 ("We take a look at the membership of the U.S. House of Representatives and contrast it statistically to the U.S. population")). Thus exogenous democracy worries about how representatives, as a body, mirror at are deemed to be politically important characteristics of the polity and the limit of individual discretion in voting.
2. In endogenous systems, like that emerging in China, the issue of representation also appears in two forms. The first goes to the internal procedures for selecting representatives. This problem is bound up in the structuring of the relationship between the vanguard party and the people for whose benefit they exercise leadership authority. This implicates the structures internal democracy of the vanguard party. But the object of that internal democracy is not the same as that of exogenous democracy. Because endogenous democracy might be understood as founded on the application of the principle of collectivity--that all political action must reflect collective action and consensus for the benefit of the collective (and not the individual decision-makers)--the issue of selecting representatives assumes a different character. Rather than develop structures that permit competition among individuals for the support of the polity--a process focused on individual merit and character, what makes an individual special and worthy--internal democratic structures in endogenous systems focus on developing protections against the authority of the singular individual, whose will will be reflected in her exercise of political authority. This is nicely captured in the problem that cults of personality (and consider here), and factional cronyism, pose for systems of endogenous democracy (e.g., here, here, and here). The second goes to the way in which the representative exercises power within government. The issue of the fiduciary character of the role of the representative within the state forms the fundamental problem of endogenous democracy. The individual ought to disappear within the web of fiduciary obligation that her actions represent. While it may not be clear what the collective might want, what is clear is that the collective would not want decision making grounded in personal agendas. To move beyond theory to practice--to develop rule and accountability systems to implement this approach presents the greatest problem to the operationalization of endogenous democracy. Thus endogenous democracy worries about how representatives practice democratic action within government and how to avoid actions that serve individual rather than collective objectives.
If a core objective of democratic organization within political systems in which the exercise of democratic power must be undertaken through popular representatives who, within a government established for that purpose, is to exercise power in the name of the people in a representational capacity, it is possible to consider two quite distinct tracks for the implementation of that objective. The first and most common focuses the exogenous exercise of democracy--in the choice of those individuals to whom are devolved political authority. The second choice, far less common and far less developed conceptually, focuses the endogenous exercise of democracy--in the way in which power is exercised within government collectively not by but through individuals. Each system requires a rule set to avoid systemic perversion--cults of personality (dictatorship) in endogenous systems and oligarchy (through control of voting processes) in exogenous systems. The possibility of a working endogenous system will substantially broadened the current discussion of democracy. It might, as well, provide alternatives especially with respect to that growing number of states in which the structures of cultures of exogenous democracy do not seem to produce positive results.