Culture Politics

China: The Last Nail in the Coffin of “Modernization Theory”

China is proof positive that the “Modernization Theory” is finally dead, for good.

The theory in its most basic outline postulated societies passing through certain stages in history, culminating with the “modern” age. The main transition was formulated differently by different theorists. 

For Karl Marx, the crucial transformation was from the stage of Feudalism to Capitalism. For Ferdinand Toennies it was the replacement of Gemeinschaft type of society by Gesellschaft. And for the “Father of Sociology” Emile Durkheim, it was the progress from a Mechanical to Organic type of social solidarity and division of labor.

Two main variants of this theory (Marxist versus Structural-Functionalist) postulated different “constitutive elements” of modernity.

Marxists thought capitalist industrialization was what made “modern” societies so unique.

For Structural Functionalists it was a long list of other factors including literacy, urbanization, democracy, rationality, Protestant Ethics and bureaucratization (Max Weber), etc.

Marxists were certain that modern industrialization would trigger an age of revolution and the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” which translated as “freedom for the masses” in their book.

Structural functionalist, on the other hand, were equally certain that modern industrialization would render liberal democracy and individual freedoms inescapable. It would also mean peace since “liberal democracies don’t fight with each other.” 

Thanks to China, we can lay both variants to rest.

China is industrializing like crazy. Its doors are wide open to all kinds of capitalist investment and businesses, with the full participation (and according to some, “complicity”) of the West.

It’s a society becoming increasingly complex (“organic solidarity”), with rising levels of education and material welfare.

Yet, China continues to be one of the most repressive regimes in the world. It is still ruled by a single party that would never relinquish power through free elections.

It has invaded Tibet and Eastern Turkestan (both in 1949), absorbed Hong Kong, and never hidden her designs over Taiwan.

As these words are written, Tibetan monks and nuns are beaten and arrested for protesting the current state of Chinese oppression. According to one report 99 Tibetans have already been killed by the Chinese troops.

China is getting ready for the 2008 Summer Olympics on the one hand, and banning YouTube and certain Google searches with keywords like “Freedom,” on the other. 
The richer China gets, and the more successful it is in its capitalist industrialization, the LESS “modern” it becomes in both the Marxist and Structural Functionalist sense of the term.

The Chinese Communist Party neither provides the kind of political freedoms to the working masses that Marx has envisaged, nor does it support the liberal democratic values and peaceful foreign policy that the Structural Functionalists have hypothesized.

Well into its “modern stage” of “industrial development,” China excels as an authoritarian state in which the proverbial trains “leave on time,” as was said for Mussolini’s Italy. Capitalism and Fascism have never been this compatible.

We need a new theory of social change as much as we need a new China.

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