CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – One question that should have been asked about the Chinese Communist Party’s just-completed leadership transition is whether the entire elaborately choreographed exercise was akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The installation of a new leadership may matter little if the end of CCP rule is both foreseeable and highly probable.
Many observers would find this assertion shocking. The CCP, they insist, has proved its resilience since the Tiananmen crisis in 1989 and the collapse of Soviet communism in 1991. Why should predictions of the collapse of CCP rule be taken seriously now?
While the future of China is unpredictable, the durability of its post-totalitarian regime can be estimated with some confidence. China may be unique in many ways, but its one-party rule is hardly exceptional. Indeed, its political order suffers from the same self-destructive dynamics that have sent countless autocratic regimes to their graves.
Among many of the systemic flaws of autocracy, degeneration at the top, epitomized by ever-weaker leaders, is progressive and incurable. The exclusive and closed nature of autocracy bars many talented individuals from rising to senior government positions, owing to a pattern of succession that rewards political loyalty over capabilities. In fact, savvy autocratic rulers favor less talented successors, because they are easier to groom and control on their way to power.