A Look at Self-Government, the Bedrock of Free Enterprise
My dear friend,
Like me, you probably know fellow Chinese students who have been back to China recently. Nearly everyone is very positive about the emerging market driven economy. Very little is said, however, about the rising crime rate accompanying our rising economy (Legal Daily reports serious crime jumping twenty percent during the first five months of 1994), or of the fraud being perpetrated on the people by budding entrepreneurs concerned about one thing – making money fast. “The sacrifice of quality for speed, violation of standard operating procedures for faster completion of projects, and disregard for business ethics for greater profits are frequent phenomena” complained an editorial in a recent issue of the newspaper Liberation Daily. Likewise, the Standing Committee of the National Peoples’ Congress reported 75 percent of the products for Chinese consumption inspected in Shanghai in 1993 did not meet international standards. (AP 11/28/94)
Many of us mistakenly regard these moral problems as necessary evils associated with the development of a country’s economic prosperity. Yet we are often unaware that the single most important element for the success of a market-driven economy is the ability of the people to be self-governing. This letter will attempt to communicate this vital truth.
China is on the move!
The gross national product (GNP) of China is predicted by some experts to surpass that of the U.S. by the year 2020, thus establishing China as the world’s preeminent economic superpower. After decades of hardship and struggle, the ingenuity and industriousness of our people seem destined to at last be recognized.
Many of us have become convinced that the privatization of our economy is all that we need to insure prosperity. What many of us do not understand, however, is that in order for a market driven economy to succeed over a long period, the people driving this economy must possess certain moral qualities. Without these qualities, a short term improvement is the best for which we can hope.
Running directly contrary to this truth is the teaching of Karl Marx. Regardless of our feelings toward the political indoctrination we have all received, it is clear that certain elements of Marxist economic theory have managed to keep their hold on our minds. Marx’s central economic axiom states that “the mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life” (Critique of Political Economy). In other words, the level of economic development does not just affect, but it also determines the people’s moral values, culture, religious life, and law base. This belief, whether conscious or subconscious, enables us to overlook enormous problems arising in China as we assume that prosperity will cure our moral ills. In truth, however, our moral short comings, if not corrected, guarantee the eventual failure of our market driven economy.
Self-Government: The Hidden Power of a Market Economy
A market economy, in order to be successful, requires a significant percentage of its citizens to be able to govern themselves in their daily lives in a moral and upright manner. We will refer to this as the principle of self-government. Put another way, a free society can endure only when its citizens have little need for external laws to govern them because their motivation for following civil law comes from within.
No doubt most world leaders today wish that more of their citizens were moral, hardworking, law-abiding people. In China, as in many other nations, numerous schemes have been attempted to elicit better performance from its citizens. Patriotic education, coercion, learning from Leifeng, and many other ploys have been attempted with temporary benefits at best.
Unfortunately what many leaders do not understand is that the only possible way for an individual or a society to become truly self-governing is through the wholehearted embracing of the Christian God, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus is capable of changing the human heart by removing our selfish thoughts and ambitions, and replacing these with His just and perfect laws found in the Bible.
The Bible teaches that Jesus Himself promises to write His laws upon the heart of anyone who will follow Him. Countless millions throughout the ages from around the world have happily testified to how Jesus removed their selfish ambitions and replaced them with His perfect law of love. That is not to say that they have become perfect people, but that their internal motivation and priorities dramatically changed when they became Christians.
Marxist thought, as well as other philosophies and religions, teach that the human heart and mind do not need a radical transformation, but merely maturing, evolving, or educating, so that the inherent “goodness” within each person can emerge.
This belief is popular because it plays to the human ego that we are all really okay; it’s just a matter of bringing out the “good” that is our true nature.
For a long time, we thought that through education people could be changed into socialist men and women who were hard-working and unselfish. But now we all realize that there are certain evil tendencies that the Communists have not been able to remove despite 40 years of compulsory education.
May I suggest that it is time to re-examine the premise upon which our education has been built. Let us consider two brief but poignant questions that shed light on this central issue.
First, if man is basically good, then why don’t we have to teach our children to be selfish? As any parent – Chinese or American – will agree, even small children do supremely well at being selfish without anyone ever having to teach them the “art” of being selfish. On the contrary, children must be trained to be unselfish. Likewise, when a culture does not have sufficient self-government in its people it is like a society of selfish little children in adult bodies.
When Mother or Father (i.e., the government) is not closely supervising, the child takes an extra cookie, strays beyond his playground limit, or hits his little sister. Unfortunately, this is what we are beginning to see happen in China as people without the ability to be self-governing are given economic freedom. For example, I know from personal experience that many Chinese wisely will not venture into local restaurants for fear of what the owner might put in the cooking pot, or for fear of the low quality of food being used, or for fear of low sanitation standards.
Daily reports of similar stories manifesting throughout China have many of us worried about the future. It is vital that self-government be infused into our society as a foundational building block in order to support a market-based economy.
When freedom is given to people who possess little self-government, crime and chaos are the result. As society deteriorates, this untenable condition will always lead to the re-emergence of a totalitarian government to maintain some form of national order.
Few of us want this result.
My second question is this: If the human race is steadily evolving into a more tolerant, more compassionate family of people, then why will the 20th century be remembered as the bloodiest in all recorded history? In fact, more people have been killed in this century – 120 million – by their own governments than in all the other centuries combined!
You see, dear friend, freedom – whether economic or political – is too great a temptation for even the most noble, well-intentioned people when they are left with only their will power to live up to their own lofty goals. I am sure that examples of leaders come to your mind who had idealistic plans, but when given too much personal power sank into the very lifestyles that they originally condemned.
Only Jesus Christ can remove the selfish tendencies inherent in all people. And only a society thus transformed can successfully handle the individual liberty associated with the private ownership of business.
As John Adams, the second president of the U.S., said in 1804, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The Early American Example
Unfortunately, the first Americans to whom John Adams spoke were vastly different from modern Americans.
Freedom came to this nation not because someone had a good political idea but because the majority of Americans had first been freed internally. Internal freedom – being free from selfishness – will always lead to external freedom. This truth can be called the principle of internal-to-external. It was this internal freedom that would eventually lead to the external structure of freedom outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
The Pilgrims and Puritans, the first groups to come to these shores in large numbers, became the dominant influence in shaping American culture. These were men and women who had been changed internally by the power of Christ. They were passionate devotees to their Savior to the point that they were willing to leave the relatively comfortable lifestyle of Europe to enjoy the freedom of putting into practice their Christian ideals. That first winter of 1620, half the Pilgrims died of sickness and starvation, yet those surviving patiently endured unbearable hardship.
William Bradford, their beloved leader and first governor of Massachusetts, recorded in his personal diary, “A great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation … for advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world, even though they should be as stepping stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”
So many of this little band of Pilgrims died, just as Jesus had done before them 16 centuries earlier, that they became the “foundation stones” of the first nation in modern times to be established on the principles of freedom. It would take yet another 150 years before the birth of the United States of America in 1776, but the self-government the Pilgrims possessed would eventually work its way outward until it touched every area of life. The law base, economic base, education base, and political base would all reflect the concepts of justice and liberty found in their hearts and in the Bible they loved.
Daniel Webster, a great American political leader, said the following at Plymouth, Massachusetts, on December 22, 1820, at the bicentennial of the Pilgrims’ landing:
“Let us not forget the religious character of our origin. Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light, and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary. Let us cherish these sentiments, and extend this influence still more widely, in the full conviction that this is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree of the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity.”
No, my friend, these were not the proud, arrogant, undisciplined Americans of the 1990’s. Objective research reveals an enormous contrast between the character of these first Americans and the character of modern Americans. It forces one to inquire as to what could have caused the great decline of this once noble culture.
“But what about the Indian massacres?” you might ask. “And what about the blight of slavery?” These are certainly pertinent questions which will have to be addressed thoroughly in future letters. Suffice it to say, however, that there were certainly injustices in early America, and certainly not all Americans followed the teachings of the Bible. When taken in proper historical perspective, however, a much different story emerges than the revised accounts presently taught in China and the U.S. One would do well to read the earliest U.S. history books, personal diaries, and eyewitness accounts for an accurate understanding. The classic work, The Light and the Glory, by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, would be a good place to start.
Because of the great dedication to God and sacrifice of early Americans, the U.S. prospered beyond anything the world had ever seen. Freedom gained a foothold here that would eventually spread around the world.
Losing the Ability to be Self-Governing
Sadly, however, America gradually began to forget the source of her prosperity and liberty. Slowly the hearts of the people grew cold towards God as they became lazy and selfish. By the second half of this century Christianity, once the bedrock of all law had become largely irrelevant to public policy. As Christian character weakened every manner of evil rushed in to fill the void. Taxes skyrocketed as the state took more and more power from the people. Public and national debt soared as biblical teaching about indebtedness was ignored. SAT scores plummeted for 30 straight years after prayer was removed from public schools in the early sixties. (See graph on page 15.) Crime soared and continues to soar. Promiscuity, homosexuality, and sexually transmitted diseases became epidemic. Divorce, child abuse, drug abuse, and abortion raged out of control as self government steadily declined. And on and on -
Into this society in transition have come the Chinese students and scholars. We must be careful to make accurate judgments. Clearly there are valuable lessons for us to learn from America, the oldest experiment in freedom.
The Hope of China
What, then, shall we do? Shall we support a market-based economy? Yes, because it is a biblical concept and does bring prosperity. But we must simultaneously realize that the real answer for our success begins in our own hearts. Or, if you would permit me, dear friend, the answer lies with you. The great hope for one billion-plus people begins with one person at a time. Will you dare to examine the secret recesses of your own thought life and conclude that you are in dire need of a Savior who can cleanse you and remove the selfish ambitions and poisonous thoughts? Jesus promises that He will supernaturally write His laws internally on the heart of anyone who will answer His call and surrender control of their life to Him. You are the hope of China, my friend. May you heed the call. May self-government begin with you.
- Wang Jiapu