Times Wang is a lawyer from Montreal living in the United States.
In the 1950s, an American political scientist traveled to a small town in the south of Italy to understand why the region seemed mired in the ways of the feudal past. The answer, he concluded, was something he called “amoral familism,” a value system that prioritized loyalty based on blood relations, even at the expense of the common good.
The parallels between amoral familism and the value system implied by the actions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been striking as of late. This week, the CCP issued an edict disqualifying any would-be Hong Kong lawmaker who is deemed to have supported Hong Kong’s independence, refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China over the city, asked for political help from foreigners, or jeopardized national security. Following that move, four elected officials – Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung – were removed from the legislature, while the remaining pro-democracy lawmakers, all democratically elected themselves, resigned in protest en masse.
To begin, it’s worth pointing out that the most practical and immediate problem with the government’s latest loyalty tests is that, for all intents and purposes, the CCP is the sole arbiter of whether they’ve been met.
But the deeper problem is that, as with amoral familism, demanding blind allegiance to the People’s Republic of China – which is functionally no different than demanding allegiance to the CCP – is itself a recipe for societal backsliding. Indeed, it is one more piece of evidence that autocratic societies like the PRC are, in essence, mafia societies. That’s a conclusion that many disillusioned CCP insiders have themselves reached after years inside the system, including high-profile names such as Cai Xia, who spent decades teaching at the CCP Central Party School, as well as lesser-known figures such as Cheng Ganyuan, who spent nearly 20 years working for or with the CCP’s United Front Work Department.
Defenders of the CCP’s loyalty tests complain that they are no different than democratic societies asking their officials to pledge allegiance to, for instance, a federal constitution. There are two problems with this comparison, however. First, what the CCP is doing in Hong Kong has no real parallel in modern democracies. It would be as if the Canadian government forbade Quebec sovereigntists from serving in Quebec’s legislature. But not only does Canada not do that, it does something akin to the opposite, as evidenced by the Bloc Québécois’s 32 seats in the House of Commons.
Secondly, and more to the point, modern democracies don’t demand loyalty to people – and a political party like the CCP is nothing more than a group of people – but to principles, often embodied in a constitution enacted with the consent of the governed. Indeed, for all their differences over the relationship between Quebec and Canada, members of Parliament, including those from the Bloc, agree that the resolution of those differences should occur democratically, rather than by force. This is the foundational principle of democracy, and it is why Donald Trump’s ongoing refusal to concede that he lost the recent U.S. election is such an unnerving development for democracies around the world.
But what are the principles to which Hong Kong lawmakers are being asked to swear fealty? Certainly not a system for resolving political differences. What about Marxism, or “Xi Jinping Thought,” or the “twelve core socialist values”? Again, no, which is unsurprising given the intellectual and moral incoherence of those ideas.
No, what is now being asked of Hong Kong’s lawmakers is, in effect, what is being asked of everyone under CCP rule these days, and what appears to be the sole remaining pillar of the CCP’s founding ideology: unconditional loyalty to the Party itself. Indeed, under Mr. Xi’s rule, the political entity known today as the People’s Republic of China seems increasingly held together by little more than simultaneous appeals to the quality of being “Chinese” on the one hand, and territorial integrity on the other. In other words: blood and soil.
Friedrich Hayek once warned that “fascism is the stage reached once communism has proved an illusion.” For the sake of Hong Kongers and mainlanders alike – and, frankly, for the sake of humanity as a whole – one can only hope the CCP will prove him wrong.
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