One thing I like about blogs are the comments that often follow. Some of the blogs with a lot of followers can generate a fair number of comments, many of them insightful, many of them not so much. In regards to comments that fall in the latter category the one that elicits the most eye rolls from me is the claim that the United States is the most corrupt country on the earth. The United States has undoubtedly seen a decline in regards to our civil liberties and corruption, but I can think of many governments that are far more corrupt than the US; Venezuela anyone?
The United States, even as far as it has fallen, is still in a much better country than many of its contemporaries. While the United States justice system is flawed, and has been abused by the unscrupulous, I would rather be accused of wrong doing in the United States rather than China. China does have the kind of legal system where I think a fair trial would be a dubious prospect but what would really frighten me would be the possibility of Shuanggui.
Shuanggui, pronounced shang gwei, is an extra-judicial method of enforcement and imprisonment that the CCP uses to suppress dissidents, silence rivals and combat local corruption. Since it is an extra-judicial means of detainment it is rife with human rights abuses. Torture is common place, and individuals have been taken under mysterious circumstances only to show up dead a few days or weeks later. One of the best cases of a faked 'accidental' death was one where a man wound up in the hospital, and later died, after he drank boiled, i.e boiling, water. Many of those caught actually do commit suicide, as in the event they are returned to the justice system it is usually only to receive either a lengthy prison term or a sentence of death.
Whenever the central government wishes to clamp down on corruption, you can rest assured that shuanggui is involved. Shanggui is frightening because no one is safe, not even very popular populist politicians like Bo Xilai. It was most often used by Mao to purge his party of potential threats but it has long been a part of Chinese culture. China has always spent a great deal of time and energy trying to keep unrest at a minimum and prevent upstarts from stirring regional trouble. This is what makes Shanggui so damming for the Chinese. Breaking their eternal cycle of peace and instability is difficult enough given their geography and demographic size but Shanggui is part of the problem. While extra-judicial punishment helps to keep the population under control initially, eventually it becomes the driver of unrest and is unable to contain dissidents. Perhaps most frightening is when extra-judicial means become and ends for rival power factions to secure power.
Though the West, specifically the United States and the rest of the anglosphere, have been free from this sort of thing at least since the fall of the short lived Common Wealth of England in 1659 there is precedence for this sort of thing. The Reign of Terror during the French revolution being one of the better examples during the modern era, however, once again Rome serves as the best example for what could happen to the United States. As I said in Part V of the Death of Rome, Sulla's reign as dictator marked the end of the Republic. The infighting had bankrupted the treasury and destabilized Rome so much that Sulla instituted a bloody reign of terror to purge Rome and fill its treasury. When he was made dictator of the republic he passed his infamous proscriptions. Individuals who found themselves on the list were declared enemies of the state, their citizenship nulled, all legal protections denied and a reward to those who turned over a proscribed. No one, not even patricians from the most noble of houses, were safe. It was a truly terrible event, and while individuals had been declared enemies of the state, mass proscriptions were unheard of during the Republic.
This is something that Americans should truly fear. Though the prospect for proscriptions and extra-judicial punishment seem fanciful and the problem of lesser nations, the fact is that the United States has been very fortunate in this regard; however I sometimes fear that worsening economic prospects and rising socialism will change this. For many nations extra-judicial punishment is a fact of life, and those nations are lesser because of it. One of the reasons why the United States became as great as she did was because, instead of utilizing extra-judicial punishment to keep the peace, we used the Rule of Law. And the Rule of Law is very different from Shanggui, proscriptions, or any other extra-judicial methods that can be thought of.