Confucianism as 'Soft Nazism..', ed responds

Said, 'useless tree'

Can a global diffusion of Confucian ideas increase the world-wide political power and influence of the PRC? I think a fair amount about this question, since I am rather actively involved in spreading Confucian and Taoist ideas to Americans ("ancient Chinese thought in modern American life" and all that) but I am also a critic of some aspects of PRC politics....

….Granted, Confucianism might expect a greater measure of loyalty than certain strains of liberalism, but this is not to say that Confucius or Mencius expects something like blind loyalty. Quite to the contrary, Confucianism encourages the noble-minded to speak up when those in positions of authority abuse their power or act unjustly. Similarly, the story of Shun, as recounted by Mencius, shows us that sons may sometimes have to disobey fathers in order to serve a broader filiality. And the general resistance among Confucians to reduce complex ethical problems to simple rules that can be applied regardless of context suggests a sensitivity to the uniqueness of each person and each situation, a sensibility that is conducive to a kind of moral individualism. This is not the individualism of neo-classical economics (thank goodness) but neither is it an absolute collectivism.
In other words, the interpretation and flexibility of the central Confucian notions of Humanity (ren), Duty (yi), and Ritual (li) open up more possibilities for adaptation to modern conditions than Jian may realize. Whether that ultimately serves the interests of the PRC is another matter altogether. The realization of some sort of "soft power" is complicated by a point I made in a post two years ago: Confucianism is not nationalism."

Let's not forget the west has its variant of 'Confucianism/Legalism'. It's called the 'Protestant ethic'.(ref, Weber's 'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism') Whilst the Protestant (work) Ethic may not be the main fuel behind western, or American, economic advance at present, that which it blinded people to at its influential period is that which determines much of what they see at present. The thing about the secularisation of society is that perspectives which took its meaning from the (perverted) meaning of religion simply had the 'God' taken out of it whilst its practice continued. Hence, amongst others, we still have the selfsame class system as that of Christendom except that the ecclesiastics traded in their cassocks for suits, and moved from holding back the influence of hell to penning in the oceans of proles for the purpose of maintaining a heaven-on-earth for the elite.

However, with western 'democracy', it had the effect of softening the negative impact of the Protestant ethnic.

One could say that the reason why China, amongst others, can 'miraculously' move ahead upon globalisation is due to the congruence between its Confucian/Legalist perspective and that of the global capitalist ethos. Without bothering about human-rights, discrimination, unions, and other such tiresome 'western' notions, the population could be mobilised, relocated, reassigned, amongst others, for the purpose of serving as cogs and wheels of an elite-led system. Confucianism can also very easily be classed with 'Conservatism' or, putting it another way, doing one's best within a bad situation without taking on the said 'bad situation'. In this way, popular 'activism' is contracted or 'localised' to refer to working hard, taking up insurance for 3 generations ahead, focusing on 'nest-eggs', and leaving politics in the hands of 'professionals'. This, therefore, diminishes their human personality to the point that they can recognise as 'success' that which would disgust other more humane and perspectivally developed others.

Instead of Confucianism being a 'soft power', it could very easily be argued that it is 'soft Nazism' or 'fascism' as it frowns on difference, promotes historical replicationism, conformity, cultural continuity, everyone knowing their place through the 'rectification of names', subservience toward authority, amongst other negatives that in turn gives birth to further negatives such as bigotry, popular intellectual decrepitude, apathy, et cetera. One of the consequences of this, in a globalised village, leaves them little option but to utilise the funds extracted from a prostrate population to buy up foreign capital, bring in foreign talent, copy and undercut foreign products, urge their citizens to seek their fortunes elsewhere, and so on. The west would have headed this way, if not for its relative historical cultural, philosophical, and political instability, and thereafter, democracy. That served as a significant check on the potential of the Protestant work ethic to lead the people down the same fascist path as Confucian/Legalist societies.

In consideration of your final paragraphs, I have to add that I am aware of, and certainly laud, the 'human-heartedness'(ren) that Confucius proposed, along with his frowning upon capital punishment and coercion, and promotion of moral internalisation. However, the exhortations to be subservient and abide by 'proprieties' as enumerated in the Confucian principles of proprietous behaviour and attitudes, 'zheng ming'(rectification of names) amongst others, shows that more efforts had been made in being systematic when it comes to the maintenance of order than when it comes to the promotion of humanity and popular intellectual individualism - a stark contrast to India. This serves as the check on 'noble-minded' opposition to the status quo. This is that which allowed Confucianism to go quite well with Legalism - which can be seen as the 'hard power' behind Confucianism. At the end of the day, Confucius quite left it to the discretionary 'benevolence' of the government as opposed to the power of the people.

In that, one could say that Confucius was a 'harmony fetishist' - appreciating harmony as an 'ends' that whitewashes the means and consequences of a system because he relied to heavily on the arbitrary benevolence of the ruler. This allowed rulers to accustom their population by force to their schemes before the economic results made it more palatable, and to the point that their people lost the taste for more. Isn't that quite typical of 'Confucian' societies? And isn't that what determines the meaning of 'ren' (human-heartedness) thereafter. In fact, doesn't it contract the meaning of 'ren' to include only the family unit despite others? When one accustoms a people to not view themselves as political animals, human-heartedness becomes little more than empathy constricted for application solely within the familial. Hence, we have a society where opportunism, apathy and self-absorption reigns.

When the Duke of Chi asked Confucius about governing, he replied, "Let the lord be the lord, the minister be a minister, the father be a father, and the son be son.'

And in this may be found the basis for the 'harmony' in Confucian states. Power, popularity, majority defined along racial/cultural lines, bigotry, etc, are natural corollaries of such a mindset. Any wonder why that is so in Xinjiang, Tibet, Singapore, amongst others? Confucianism may not be ‘nationalism’ per se, but it certainly seems to serve as the basis for its far-right demeanour.

Thank you for this article. It provided much for consideration.


postscript: the above perspective is not an indictment of the Chinese people but of a system of governance that can have untoward effects on all whom are interned within regardless of ethnicity. Confucius himself was a product of the Chou era which is well-known for its perspectival vibrancy and multifariousness. Hence, his oversights can be understood as he did not think that it would be fused with Legalism and hence reorient(pun unintended) its perspectival trajectory.

Therefore, Confucius' other exhortations, such as, 'Don't do to others that which you don't want them to do to you' were displaced by the Legalism-induced perspective of 'doing unto others that which you don't want them to do unto you but only to the point that society does not self-destuct or within that which is legal'. 'Legal' became the source of morality and that rendered empathy irrelevant. This is how Confucianism was minimised. However, his end-vision of harmony was brought about after a people had been diminished enough to confuse peace as an end in itself - wherein they could ply systemic-induced opportunistic traits - without bothering about its unjust foundations - This is how Confucian societies can still be mistaken for 'Confucian' per se. The success and affluence that is garnered is thereafter perceived as the validation of a system people had been empathetically-reduced enough to appreciate as good.


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