Assuming we can rely on the translated quotes and paraphrased statements in a Financial Times report, Chinese president Xi Jinping’s defense of his totalitarianism helps understand certain aspects of authoritarianism (“Xi Jinping Marks Hong Kong Handover With Call for ‘Patriots’ to Bring Order,” July 1, 2022):

In his first big speech in Hong Kong since before it was rocked by pro-democracy protests in 2019, the Chinese president said on Friday the territory must be governed “only by patriots” while navigating a “new stage of development, from chaos to order”.

One advantage of this pronouncement is to remind us that “patriot” can refer as much to those who are subservient to the state as to those who love their country. Another point of interest in the quote lies in its implicit rejection of the idea that a certain degree of chaos, in the sense of anarchy, is necessary for an efficient social order— “efficient” meaning that the order caters to the preferences of all individuals, presumed equal, as opposed to the preferences of the rulers.

Much has been made of “the Xi Jinping thought,” which is now written into the Communist Party’s constitution and whose study is mandated by the government (see also “Xi Jinping Thought’ School Lessons Alarm Chinese Parents,” Financial Times, August 27, 2021). The “thought of Xi Jinping” does not look crystal clear, from either a logical or historical viewpoint, as the July 1 Financial Times story suggests:

Xi also stressed that Hong Kong should maintain its capitalist system “with a high level of autonomy”.

But he left in no doubt Beijing’s determination to continue its crackdown on dissent, despite accusations it is failing to respect the 50 years of “one country, two systems” autonomy it guaranteed Hong Kong after the end of British rule on July 1 1997.

“All Hong Kongers should be able to respect and safeguard the fundamental socialist system of the nation,” Xi said.

Xi apparently wants both a “capitalist system” and “the fundamental socialist system of the nation,” which is either a contradiction (if “capitalism” is taken to mean economic freedom) or a confusion. The confusion might be between economic freedom and crony capitalism.

In his renewed pursuit of Marxism, Xi obviously ignores the Marxist-Leninist ideal of “the withering away of the state” that Lenin called for!

Anarchy is good, not in the sense that is has no rules, but in the sense that the development of rules is spontaneous and multicentric. At the very least, if a totally anarchic society is not viable, it is desirable that the development of rules not be the preserve of a central coercive power.

To authoritarians or totalitarians like Xi Jinping (the West also has some authoritarians in its midst), we must oppose some ideal of “ordered anarchy,” to use an expression dear to James Buchanan. Anarchy must be the guiding ideal. This is obvious in the economic area, as was so well expressed by French philosopher Raymond Ruyer in his 1969 Éloge de la société de consommation (In Praise of the Consumer Society):

Real anarchism, feasible and actually realized, as opposed to mere sentimental talk, is simply the [classical] liberal economy and everything it brings with it: political democracy, civil (and not only civic) liberty, free, unsubsidized, and unplanned culture. Only the liberal economy can promote the “withering away of the state” and of politics, their withering away or at least their limitation; centralizing socialism cannot do that.

[French original:] L’anarchisme véritable, réalisable et réalisé, et non resté à l’état de déclaration sentimentale, c’est tout simplement l’économie libérale, avec tout ce qu’elle entraîne : démocratie politique, liberté civile (et non simplement civique), culture libre, et non subventionnée et dirigée. C’est l’économie libérale qui, seule, peut favoriser le « dépérissement de l’État » et de la politique—le dépérissement ou du moins la limitation—ce n’est pas le socialisme centralisateur.

It is also useful to remember the historical opposition between the Chinese imperial model and the comparatively anarchic development of the West. Perhaps it can serve as an antidote against the authoritarian temptation that the Chinese model represents for certain people. As French sociologist and historian Jean Baechler wrote (quoted in Walter Scheidel’s Escape from Rome),

the expansion of capitalism owes its origins and its raison d’être to political anarchy.