How did this happen? This article argues that this is not an acute technical error – in fact, it is more the result of a systematic knowledge bias. For years, a number of Japanese political philosophers and social scientists have warned that the scientific rigor of American and European knowledge has been eroding due to the obsession with democratic values. Keishi Saeki, for instance, posits that the seemingly unbounded faith in democratism has crowded the judgements of American and European experts.
Rather than critically investigating how different types of political systems can learn from each other, the faith-based episteme of regime type introduced teleological “scientific” indices which tell the same simple story: democracies always perform the best under all circumstances.
In line with this, GHSI is built on EIU’s Democracy Index and Risk Briefing, both of which emphasize transparency, accountability, and human rights.
Like the inventors of GHSI, I firmly believe that democratic values are useful for the sake of human progress. Yet there should be a sober recognition that personal faith can systematically distort scientific research. This is why science must be based on facts, and not on normative values. In the wake of the current corona crisis, many European observers confidently asserted that authoritarian regimes like China inevitably fail to manage global health crises because the lack of transparency hinders timely and effective policy response.
To what extent is such claim driven by democratic faith, rather than dispassionate investigation of facts on the ground? As discussed above, many “authoritarian” regimes which have deep ties to China managed to contain the initial waves of corona contagion. Conversely, “transparent” and “democratic” Western European nations largely failed to devise a timely and effective policy response. And indeed, European policy failures occurred despite a distinct second-mover advantage. By observing Wuhan’s total lockdown after January 23, European policymakers knew that a dangerous virus was spreading and they had the luxury of time to prepare for it, but still they did not act decisively until the pandemic became too widespread to be contained. Italy instituted the country-wide lockdown on March 9, nearly 40 days after the first corona case in Italy was confirmed on January 30, 2020.
By prematurely singling out “authoritarianism” as the sole reason for China’s initial policy failure, the faith-based episteme of regime type appears to have created a false impression that Western European “democracies” are safe. Zoénie Deng, a young Chinese doctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam, recently questioned on OpenDemocracy
: “was the old dichotomy of the liberal-advanced-rich West and the non-liberal-backward-poor East alive and well? Did this line of thinking also inﬂuence western governments in tackling the pandemic?”