SHANGHAI -- As the U.S. presidential election shifts into high gear, Washington hosts China's Vice President Xi Jinping, heir apparent of the emergent super power. The world's most powerful electoral democracy and the largest one-party state meet at a time of political transition for both. Many have characterized the competition of ideas between the two giants as one between democracy and authoritarianism. This false perspective needs to be dispelled.
The West's competition of ideas with China is not between democracy and authoritarianism, but between two fundamentally different outlooks on political systems. The former sees democracy as an end in itself; the latter sees any political system as barely means.
Democracy, as the term is understood in the modern West, occupies a small fraction in the long history of human governance. Athens lasted a century and a half - a quick failure, really. The modern experiment is even shorter. If one defines democracy as one-person-one-vote, American democracy is only 92 years old. In practice it is only 47 years old, if one begins counting at the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- far more ephemeral than even China's shortest-lived dynasties.
The foundation of modern Western democracy is faith, not empirical evidence, namely the individual is rational and the individual is endowed with God-given rights. It is precisely such absolute faith and the resulting ideological hubris that are driving modern democracy toward its demise.
The full version of this piece was published in the New York Times/International Herald Tribune under the title Why China's Political Model is Superior. It can be found here.