Home Political science China’s Ethical Revolution and Regaining Legitimacy: Reforming the Communist Party through Its Public Servants
Tension Between Pleasure and Suffering
Another low-level official working in a county government explained the compulsion to obey the dysfunction associated with the poor outcomes that come from top-down bureaucratic decision-making in the Party:
The so-called bureaucracy is that subordinates must obey their superiors, (bypassing the immediate leadership) and people are very concerned about the hierarchical order. Bureaucracy stresses hierarchy with too many levels, resulting in the top level people not understand the people at lower levels. The top leaders are not able to see practical problems on the ground, therefore, his countermeasures are wrong sometimes.
The fundamental problem of bureaucratism is that the privilege seeking activities of high-level officials can distort their duty to do (for the masses) and their duty to be (for the masses). For many of the lower-level officials whom we interviewed, bureaucratism is systematic and leaving the Party makes them vulnerable. For example, a low-level official working in a county government told us:
The biggest harm of bureaucracy, might not be seen in a short period of time, but in the long run, we will be abandoned by people, because we will not be able to provide what they need. I think even low level officials like section members can have the style of bureaucratism. No matter how inferior in title you are, you are always an official. It is through bureaucracy that a document is issued according to insights from personal imagination and sensation without ever listening to the voices from all parts of the organization. Fallacy of composition is also bureaucracy.
How can this situation change? In subsequent chapters, we will further develop the notions of guilt- or debt-induced behaviours (to act in a morally acceptable manner). In other literatures, the themes of personal transition and change are associated with surviving tests and through redemption, that is, salvation through suffering. As Foucault argues, ethical subjects of governing and ethical beings are produced through a life of tests. In many ways, lower-level officials, in particular, are the vanguard for change. They suffer the displeasure resulting from the arbitrary power of delivering inadequate and dysfunctional service and have a keener sense of the impact and perceptions of the Party through the eyes of ordinary people with whom they have affinity. In this context, the official has to gauge where they are in relation to what they were, the progress they have already made, and the point they must reach (Foucault 2005: 431). This is also seen in the Confucian notion of self-cultivation, in which the man having been chosen by Heaven for greatness is first tested and steeled with suffering. Thus self-cultivation is necessary both as the remedy for inexperience and to provide the possibility that perfect virtue is accessible to anyone (Nivison 1956: 58). They must both confront reality and then check their thoughts at the same time as they are faced with this reality (Foucault 2005: 432). Personal will, pleasure and power seeking, thus, function as a kind of ethical heuristic, facilitating further reflection, experimentation and reformulation towards the untouchable desire (Foucault 1997: xxxvii).
As we shall further explore in subsequent chapters, the ultimate test for officials and for the Party is they must constrain their personal will when governing the masses. Thus, this test further relies on the dichotomies between those who are ethical officials and those who are unethical (Foucault 2005: 440). The test constitutes at the same time the general, educative and discriminating form of life (440). Furthermore, those who cannot endure this test would be deemed by the Party as disqualified and thus should be expelled from the Party. From this perspective, bureaucratism becomes a symptom of the unethical practice of officials who have failed the test imposed by duty.
As we will discuss in Chap. 7, it is “life as a test” that incorporates the care of the self into one’s way of dealing with the events of life. One must live so as to establish the best possible relationship to oneself. One lives with the relationship to one’s self as the fundamental project of existence, the ontological support which must justify, found and command all the techniques of existence (Foucault 2005: 448). Similarly, it is “work as a test” that incorporates ethics into duty. Officials must work with the masses and the ordinary people so as to establish the best possible relationship with the masses. As a low-level official working in a county government deliberates:
The most fundamental solution to bureaucracy is to reverse the relationship between master and servant. You are the one in power to serve the people. But most of the time, some of our officials regard themselves to be the masters, which is embodied in the sense of official as superior, with bureaucratic airs, and domineering attitudes, they become remote from the masses. They do not recognize where their power comes from.
Furthermore, bureaucratism not only leads to distance between the Party and the people, it can also lead to cleavages and distance between officials, which adds to the Party’s dysfunction. For example, as a low-level official working in provincial government told us:
Bureaucratism involves breaking away from the masses, the people and in this context officials are more and more far away from each other. Besides, it will cause an official oriented society, rather than an orientation towards the service of the ordinary community. I think, once breaking away from the masses takes place, officials consider themselves to be different from everyone else, their views on power, values and extravagance will change. Then, they will break away from other officials also.
Bureaucratism piles up dysfunction upon dysfunction:
The bureaucracy that is too simple, the accountability system is not enough.
It is now an ex post accountability system, not ex-ante or intermediate accountability system. Once there are some unreasonable practices, or problems of political design, some flaws in the process should be kept track of. But now, if you can hide it while doing it, there will be no problem. (Low- level official working in a county government)
That is to say, as there is a temporal space left in this tension, the subject has freedom to manipulate the duty “to do.” In other words, “work for privilege” is thus hybridized with “work for the masses” in contemporary officialdom. The official continues to explain:
It is the supervision and accountability lag, which causes bureaucracy. An official won’t be accountable to what he has done immediately, and in most cases, he needs not bear the consequences of his decision. So there is no need to do the work well. Formalism and bureaucratism are closely connected. Formalism pays attention to the appearance, while bureaucratism focuses on being officials, and becoming higher rank official through promotion is more important than the responsibility to be a good official.
To “become a higher rank official” is also associated with the ambition of attracting more prestige and also privileges for the self in the process. Thus bureaucratism exacerbates and facilitates the irresponsibility of unethical and immoral officials towards their duty to serve the people. These practices are immoral because they seek privileges through serving the people. It is also unethical because they are primarily motivated to seek privileges and thus have not done what they ought to do, that is, serve the people. The problem of morality and ethics are thus connected by the problem of privilege seeking. In this tension, it can either generate “work for privilege” (bureaucratism) or “inactivity” (formalism) among officials, and both lead to increasing distances between the Party and the people.
I think the biggest harm of bureaucratism is all about being an official rather than solving society’s problems and provide public services. This is the competition among different political interests. Why does human society need politics, political Party, political organizations and political institutions? Because the society needs public service, public governance, public products, the essence of these political institutions is to provide public goods. Bureaucratism exists just for officials, the status of officials is seen by them as being more important than providing public services. (Low-level official working in a Policy Research Department)
The process of governing has, therefore, for many officials, become a process of privilege seeking. As a result, the relationship between the self and the others, that is, between the Party and people has become contaminated. In this state of affairs, the contaminated Party will eventually be diminished and the self will no longer know the self, unless drastic action is taken.
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