Fourth, the Chinese challenge is no longer just economic; it’s moral and intellectual. It’s a clash of two value systems. And many people around the globe now believe that Beijing’s values are better.

We used to think China would democratize. Wrong. We used to think the regime would liberalize. Wrong. We used to think the Chinese people would rise up and join the free democratic world. Wrong.

A fascinating essay by Wenfang Tang in American Affairs makes for humbling reading for anybody who thinks we can take the superiority of our system for granted. Chinese people have more trust in their governing institutions than Americans do. In a 2008 study, 78 percent of Chinese said their government responds to their needs, compared with 33 percent of Japanese and 21 percent of South Koreans. Chinese society has much more trust and social capital than American society. China, Tang notes, has the second-highest level of social trust in the world, after the Netherlands.

If we don’t learn to make the case for our system, if we don’t make our system better, a lot of people everywhere will say: I’ll take what they’re having.