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    A discussion of Zhao Tingyang’s paper




    Laurent Murawiec 1Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C.

    February 20, 2008

    Political theory has a raw material without which it cannot operate: the raw material of man in history. To issue a theoretical recipe for organizing world affairs, it is necessary to start from the anthropological reality of Man in the way he exists empirically in organized societies, as history displays them.

    Historically, the nation has been the locus in which large groups of people have vested their identity and extended their loyalty, beyond the mere familial, clanic or tribal forms. Except in the case of nomadic peoples, when a group occupies and exploits a large territory, the family, the clan or the tribe become inadequate to organize various functions of society, be it law, defense or others. The nation has

    2historically shown itself to be a solution to that problem.

    Polities have been organized around nations. Often associated with a language and a culture expressed in that language, nations have been an essential form of political organization, and a rather universal one. This is the case in East Asia, e.g., with Vietnam, Japan or Korea, in the Middle East, with especially Persia and Egypt, in Europe and in pre-Columbian America, with Incas or Aztecs. The salience of the nation is fundamental: China’s Chineseness lies not it its familial-ness (granted a key

    component), in any tribal nature or anything but in its Chineseness.

    Can we, and should we, reconcile the empirical diversity of nations with the hopeful notion of a unity of the whole?

Unity of the “world”?

Zhao Tingyang’s central argument regarding the “unity of the world,which he

    postulates is desirable and feasible both, begs a question: is the notion of a “unity of

    the world” a given, is it an apriori or a self-evident concept? Does it not presuppose

    the existence of a “world,” that is, of a view of the world by human beings, broad and

    encompassing enough that it transcends the narrow confines of their respective


    A discussion of Zhao Tingyang’s paper

    nations, cultures and regions, and becomes a somewhat coherent view of the entire world, and practical enough to be a envisionable reality rather than a nice fiction?

    It was a common conceit of Romans, Persians and Chinese to think of their empires as “the world.” Man is born provincial, and his glance does not spontaneously embrace the entire oekumen, especially what is remote and little known, what is alien and not readily visible. He is like Plato’s men in the cave and only sees the local shadows, not even the shadows of the entire world. For thousands of years, the “world” was a series of rather disconnected, essentially self-contained regions, as Ferdinand Braudel has elaborated. Prior to Ferdinand de Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the planet, we can say that there was no “world” but “islands” big and small floating in relative isolation or connection. Once there is a world, we can start thinking of its potential unity but not before: prior to Magellan the “world” was a concept but not a fact.

    After him, it was a potential concept.

    “Unity of the world” is more of a Kantian regulative ideal of reason, a heuristic fiction, and something to be striven for, but it is not an elementary datum given to sense-perception or even to spontaneous thinking. Unity may be constructed as a result of a

    process of globalization, since the “natural” (empirical, anthropological) state of mankind is division. The world qua world cannot be developed if the anthropological

    differences, coined in the currency of different cultures, or civilizations, remain forces intent on preserving their difference and enshrining it in political-institutional terms: how would the Zhou system fare in today’s Islamic Umma? Ask the Afghan Buddhas

    of Baymian destroyed by the Taliban. But India, for that matter, and Japan, just to mention those two Asian centers, have their own representation of what the politics of the world are and their own role therein may and should be. So does Russia. The world-as-polity is of another nature as the world-as-interaction. Can it be more than

    3an ideal representation?

    4There is an empirical unity of the human race. Men are biologically or racially one.

    Though Men are one as parts of the human race, their history has splintered the oneness of the species not only into superficially different “races,” but also culturally

    distinct sub-species. Thus arose the innumerable ethnic Gods and their secularized nationalistic versions.

    Tribal exclusiveness (“them” vs. “us”) is grounded in belief in an own, unique, species-like being. Bedouins believe their bloodline to be unique and superior, and they believe and behave as if there was a species difference between them and the rest. This is a frequent phenomenon in world history: the limpieza de sangre (purity of

    blood) doctrine of the Spanish aristocracy after the Reconquista; the racial conceit of

    tha superior Japanese “People of Yamato” concocted in the early 19 century by the

    Mito branch of the Tokugawa dynasty that became the toxic national ideology in the

    5Meiji and even more in the Showa era, and countless other such follies.


    A discussion of Zhao Tingyang’s paper

    While not conceding anything to these ideologies, Zhao settles on the family as the mainstay of positive, organized human existence. His paper presents the family as harmony, or as the harmonious form of human existence, and the twin notion of “family-ship” as representing a “concentrated pattern” that almost “exhaust[s] the

    essence of humanity, so much that it is a best ethical paradigm to be universally promoted to all political levels… a widely recognized Confucian principle in China.”

    I would submit that it is more a neo-Confucian view than that of the old Master

    himself, who knew and expressed the importance of rebellion when it is needed

    Mencius went even further on that account. Family is good, Heaven’s Order is better what Aristotle expressed as “I am a friend of Plato, but I am even more a friend of truth.” I would additionally propose that the family does not come close to exhausting the essence of humanity. Is the essence of literature, poetry, music, art, exhausted in the family? Do the virtues of family reach the sum total of human virtues? One of the five Confucian relations, friendship, goes beyond family-like bonds. By no stretch of imagination can the paternalistic family model be described as representing

    thper se an ethical, fair or just model of rule. Lu Xün, Lao She and numerous 20

    century Chinese novelists have written novels that make the point convincingly.

From start Zhao’s use of the Zhou’s all-under-heaven” concept is laden with an

    onerous problem: the Zhou’s concept says “the world,” but it means, incontrovertibly

    and indubitably, “China.” It emphatically does not mean “the world.” It reflects a conception of China as the only “real” tianxia, the rest of the world being a margin, an

    afterthought, a footnote to the essential wen hua, China’s, the nation which is central

    to the world, zhongguo.

As noted in Zhao’s paper, at the time, the existence of a “world” outside the Chinese

    universe was only vaguely recognized and definitely not known. In medieval times, European cartographers inscribed the “white” areas of their maps for which no information was available with the Latin words Hinc sunt leones, “here are lions.

    Zhou maps had lions everywhere except within China. The Zhou system is not a world-system but a China-system. Even if the cultural unit known as China was then still in the process of being shaped, broad similarities made it an increasingly homogenous area: there was at least a proto-China. The Chinese plains were known, not the Mediterranean waves. The proto-China of the Zhou system was not a “world,”

    except a world unto itself. In other words, it was possible, though improper, to consider a linear extension of Zhou China as “the world,” but radically impossible to extend the Greek kosmos to claim it to be “the world.” The Greeks never did.

Unless the constitutive heterogeneity of the world its plurality and therefore its

    pluralism - is recognized, no “system” can be erected but merely an extension to the world of notions that are properly Chinese. The chief problem in trying to extend the Zhou system to the world is that the world is larger than, and different from China! There is no congruence between the world and China, but manifold intersections and interactions. Today’s world is structured in ways that have been bequeathed by the


    A discussion of Zhao Tingyang’s paper

    reality of history. We may or may not like those ways, but they have the weight of historical reality; they are neither arbitrary nor perfect, but they are real.

The radical heterogeneity of the world the Greeks by necessity shared with empires

    (Egypt, Persia, the steppe people, etc.: see the Histories of Herodotus) precluded a

    concept of world organization that would have been not merely utopian but completely fanciful. Geography is destiny the rich trade and ethnic interactions of

    the maritime Mediterranean world, the small-scale valleys, sea inlets and mountainous geography of the Greek world differed wholly from the vastness of the North China plain and its relative homogenous uniformity. Hebei or Henan do not look like ancient Ionia or the Peloponnesian. Ancient China was a large universe unto itself, whose culture was unrivaled by any other in its vicinity. Greek culture grew in an environment saturated with other cultures, with Otherness.

    No “world” can be “shared” with empires whose driving force is aggrandizement by force, based on the ideological representations I outlined above. No concept of a “united world” may be brought forth which ignores that essential difference.

    To quote Zhao, the Zhou system as described prescribes (principle 1) that “the successful solutions to the problems of world politics should [my emphasis, LM]

    resort to a universally accepted system of [the] world instead of resorting to force.” But the prescription does not apply to invaders! It should resort, but what if it cannot?

    Principles (2), a central political institution, and (3) creating harmony, are whole dependent on (1). They rise and fall with it. Once again, the “should” manifests the normative or the prescriptive, not the empirical or the feasible. Once should not mix up the ideal (Kant) as something to be striven for, worked on and crafted, with the feasible. Else, one should take Christianity, which does not prescribe any form of polity or any content for “social” or economic policy, as one’s model, since it precisely preaches the equality of all under God. A more harmonious system is hard to conceive.

One should also remember Aristotle’s definition of man as a zoon politikon, a

    political animal, i.e. that the nature of man is political (rather than familial, in the

    sense of oikonomikon) and that the business of the city as a polity is to manage

    human affairs beyond the family level, since some business cannot be transacted at the

    level of the family, e.g., common defense, law, that is, the relations among families and the relations with “aliens,” etc. Any notion of extending the “principles” of family

    6life to lateral and vertical levels falls short. Another important point in this regard is

    expressed by the German medieval saying that “city air makes man free” (Stadtluft

    macht frei). The polis vested the individual with liberties unavailable elsewhere. Contrary to Carl Schmitt’s blindness to the content of the polity (he only considers the

    external clinamen of billiard balls, as it were), the Greeks started politics with the issue of managing the affairs of the city, and with a notion of Hellenism as a broader


    A discussion of Zhao Tingyang’s paper

    cultural universe (see Homer, an archaic reflection of it) in a universe that was not defined by Hellenism.

    Further to the Zhou system: I see in the dynasty the development of a control-system by means of fiefs attributed to the lords close to the royal family, the gong, hou, bo, zi

    and nan, with the Wang celebrating the divine ancestry of the dynasty’s founder, the

    legitimizing factor for the dynasty. The system indeed was “family-based,” not only

    with the attribution of fiefs, but also the occupation of the “ministries” of government

    to relatives, which was also reflected at lower echelons. This is nepotism, rather than family virtues. The weakening of the Zhou stemmed from the very system of tributary feudatories they had erected as they become hereditary. By 600 B.C., Zhou rule has

    become so subverted as to become as fictional as the rule of the Emperor in Japan under the Shoguns, and that of the Shoguns eclipsed by the Shoguns of the Shadows. I would object to a description of a working rule of Zhou and subsequent peace over “800 years.” It lasted 350 years at most. It was not destroyed in 221 B.C. by Qin, but it dissolved much earlier as a result of its own problems. Zhou concepts certainly remained as an idealized legitimizing factor, e.g., Confucius certainly based a lot of his conceptions, including very innovative ones, on the notion that they were just a return to Zhou virtues a traditional Chinese way to lend prestige and valor to ideas by rooting them in a more or less imaginary past.

Regarding the content of the “Zhou system,” it is described as being an

    “open network of… general government of the world and the sub-states…

    [with] each nation… eligible,” as being “in charge of the universal institutions,

    laws and world order, responsible for the common goods of the world,

    upholding world justice and peace as the judge of international conflicts

    among the sub-states. Controlling the shared resources such as great rivers and

    big lakes as well as very important minerals or materials, and especially

    enjoying the authority to examine and recognize the political legitimacy of the

    sub-states, as well as the authority to lead a punitive expedition, if a sub-state

    breaks the universal law or order” (p. 5).

    The putative world government is thus (according to points 2 and 3) the supra-authority in the executive, legislative, judicial, military, economic spheres: this extraordinary accumulation, or accretion of power, is thus truly totally in charge of the entire world.

    This requires obviously a virtually total surrender of all essential attributes of sovereignty by all states in the world. The assertion made by point 4 that “the sub-

    states are independent in their domestic cultures, social norms and values, that is, independent in all forms of life except their political legitimacy and obligations” is

    thoroughly contradictory with (1) and (2): all essential powers being vested with the supreme world authority, the margins of independent executive, legislative, judicial,


    A discussion of Zhao Tingyang’s paper

    military and economic action of the sub-states are virtually nil; their tax policy is not theirs, since the world government decides what contributions they have to make, “in proportion of their products and natural resources,” including for “disaster relief and water control.”

    The more power is concentrated, the more remote it is from the points of actual decision, the more inefficient it becomes. The Soviet Gosplan was only fictitiously

    running the economy: if was fictitiously running a fiction, with fictitious reports circulating up and down the chain of command. The bill had to be paid in the end: it came in the form of a complete collapse of the Soviet economy. Friedrich Hayek’s seminal 1945 paper "The use of knowledge in society" made the point emphatically: the more concentration at the top, the greater the loss of information, ergo the more

    7inappropriate and inefficient the ensuing action. The decentralization of decision

    making is crucial not just on grounds of vague (or value-based) reasons of democracy, but on the simple ground of efficiency in a complex society. A technological society cannot be run like a tribal, agrarian society.

    Further, European constitutionalists make a valid point when they speak of “subsidiarity,” the notion that decisions should always preferably be taken at the

    lowest possible level of society, since the latter will know best what regards their local affairs. It affects any notion of world government that aspires to hoist decision-making at the highest possible level. In practice the concept of subsidiarity derives from a European tradition typified by the Magna Carta of 1215; it is a compact

    between ruler and ruled that is based on the consent of the ruled.

    A long debate, and many struggles, occurred in the European tradition (from Old Testament, Greeks and Romans to Western and Central Europe and America) and received its lasting elaboration in the form of the American E pluribus unum, the

    notion that there can be at the same time plurality and unity. This is of some

    importance regarding Zhao’s discussion of the concept of harmony.

A short comment on “Perpetual peace” and conflict might be in order here. The most

    “Daoist” passage of the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes, 3:1-8, states:

    To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

    A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which

    is planted;

    A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

    A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

    A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace,

    and a time to refrain from embracing;

    A time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

    A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

    A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.


    A discussion of Zhao Tingyang’s paper

    Conflict is not an indecent unpleasantness that troubles the inherent harmony of men. As the Biblical text implies, conflict is a normal feature, even the texture of human life.

“Harmony” is a complex concept, not a simple, self-evident one. It is a founding

    principle of Western metaphysical thought, in the Pythagorean-Platonic line. Epistemologically, harmony is treated by them as the result of an accepted plurality

    E pluribus unum that never suppresses the many-ness in the One: this is the problem tackled, and largely solved, in the Parmenides (I am not discussing the political order

    presented in Plato’s Republic but the epistemological problem). The solution given to

    this most difficult ontological paradox of human existence by Plato is not a “stable” one, that is, one that keeps an accepted validity for all times: it needs to be rediscovered by each new generation, and may remain forgotten or unseen for long periods of time, until rediscovered or recreated in new form. It is rooted in the ontological problem of human finiteness in a universe that predates and outlasts the individual. The tribal solution denies the individuality of man, and denies the individual a social status, a “solution” to this problem attempted many times – which

    says nothing of its validity or desirability.

    Further, conflict is neither good nor bad. It is the absence of conflict that is unnatural. Stasis, the absence of conflict, is unnatural. In the West Machiavelli was the first thinker to and integrate positively the reality of conflict. Conflict is not merely a

    rupture of a prior harmony (most often pretended or postulated rather than real); it is a moment that expresses change; change breaks an existing equilibrium, or even meta-equilibrium; the inability or unwillingness of existing structures to reflect the change that has occurred caused conflict. The integration of conflict and its results creates a new equilibrium. May I introduce Machiavelli as a Daoist thinker, or Lao Zi as a


Carl Schmitt’s concept, Zhao to the contrary, is not “a very honest representation of

    Western political thinking” but a very concentrated expression of irrationalist-tribal,

    romantic-reactionary, anti-Western thinking and inclusively, Nazi political practice. It takes an extraordinary amount of omission, from Plato and Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Renaissance and Enlightenment thinking, to make such an assertion. It applies only to anti-Westphalian, anti-liberal, anti-modern and anti-democratic thought: the Jacobins, Joseph de Maistre’s reactionary Romanticism, the

    Nationalist-Romantic Germans, the Russian Slavophiles, Marxist, Bolshevik, Nazi and, more recently, Guevarist-Castroite and Islamic doctrines.

    Finally, the problem of the “Other” is probably one that has received far more extended treatment in the European than in the Chinese tradition. Exchange and mutual learning could certainly occur in this field. “Europe” in good part defines itself,


    A discussion of Zhao Tingyang’s paper

    nearly from the beginning, from the Greeks, by its keen interest in the Other, and its willingness not only to investigate him, but to accept him in his own terms, rather than claiming a superiority. This is certainly the case with Herodotus; but Aeschylus’s

    Persians or Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus are very representative of that trend.

    Montaigne’s Essais and their disquisitions on the American Natives, Montesquieu’s

    Lettres Persanes, among other major and hugely influential writings, are well representative of its continuing importance. Austro-American Islamologist Gustav von Grunebaum elaborated the point in theoretical terms in his “The Problem of

    9Cultural Influence.” How much does a culture try to understand itself through

    understanding other cultures? How much has this effort counted in its own self-understanding over the centuries?

    How do we deal with the Other? Should he be blithely denied? Can we pretend that his otherness really does not matter? The role of nations in the affairs of the world forces us to investigate them in this respect: if peoples lodge their identity with nations, how do nations relate to other nations?

The Westphalian principle and its enemies

There have been other forms of organization. The city-state exemplified by the Greek

    polis, was later replicated by merchant republics of Italy, the Netherlands and the Baltic Sea; the supranational empire, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hellenistic, Roman,

    Chinese from Qin Shi Huangdi onwards (with the takeover of non-Han areas), the Holy Roman Empire, the Indian empires, Maurya, Gupta or Mughal; Mongol, British, Spanish, Portuguese, French. We also find the religion-based polity, typified by the

    10Muslim Umma. The nation-state is a late European development, developed in fact

    ththfrom the 12-13 century, as England, France, Portugal developed as unitary polities.

    thIt was consecrated de jure with the Westphalian Treaties in the 17.

    The innovation was deceptively simple: the sovereign nation-state is the only subject under international law. No universalistic claim could trump that sovereignty, whether it was an emperor’s or a religion’s. “The King of France is Emperor in his Kingdom,” medieval French jurists had asserted against papal claims. Westphalia now enshrined the principle in legally binding form.

    In practice and in legal terms, the principle grew out of the distinction between the universal religious principle (the Church) and the European monarchs’ claim to be

    unsubordinated to any internal or external power: sovereign is he who is legitimately able to decide. The ambitious medieval Papacy had claimed temporal sovereignty for itself, a movement that culminated with Pope Boniface VIII’s Bull Unam Sanctam of

    1302: it meant that a universalistic, spiritual claim, the Pope’s, trumped the particular,

    11temporal claims of kings. The English barons who imposed the Magna Carta to

    King John, negated that ambition, as did the king of France Philippe IV,.


    A discussion of Zhao Tingyang’s paper

    What the Westphalian Treaties did for Europe was to create an internationally accepted legal concept whereby no universalistic claims of any sort, spiritual or other, could claim universal rule or universal validity and pretend to represent universal interest.

    Historically, this was a watershed. The great issue of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Ancient World, had been precisely the opposition of national and proto-national units to the universalistic claims of all empires, that of Assubanipal the Assyrian and that of Rameses the Egyptian, that of Darius the Persian and Alexander the Macedonian. The glory of the Greek city-state, of Athens in particular, had been to assert and victoriously defend their autonomy against that sweeping allegation of supremacy, usually backed by military force. When the Mongols later spread through Eurasia, it was in the name of a universal claim of the same nature.

    The Greek city-states had succeeded in preserving their independence from the eastern empires, but they proved too weak to hold off western monarchs. Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, was their first conqueror. He also was the one to import the imperial principle from Persia to the West where it had been unknown. It included, most importantly, the divinization of the Emperor, assimilated to the Gods. The universalistic claim was thus a conjunction of the religious and the political. The same principle was upheld by the Roman Empire in both its Western and Eastern incarnations, although in different ways in each, and continued both on the spiritual and the temporal sides, by Pope and by Emperor in the West, by Byzantine Cesaropapism on the other.

    The same scenario played out again in the rise and fall of European merchant city-states in the Renaissance, which proved unable to resist larger polities and their military might: Florence and even the mighty Venice, the great cities of the Hanseatic League, the United Provinces of the Netherlands, could not match the fiscal and manpower strength of large kingdoms and empires. The Habsburg Empire’s megalomaniac motto proudly restated it: “Austria Est Imperare Orbi Universum

    (Austria is meant to rule the entire universe). Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, whose dominions included large chunks of Europe, the Americas and Asia, could truthfully say “The Sun never sets on my empire.He was now making a sweeping

    claim to supremacy in the name of Empire.

    The Westphalian Treaties overthrew that principle. No king, no emperor, no religion, was legally empowered to claim total sovereignty. They were a general agreement, born out of the devastation and bloodshed of a long war, to accept limits to one;s power, provided the others accepted to abide by the same limitation. The Treaties did not “abolish war” or turn Europe into an earthly Paradise, but they set certain rules and drew lines a definite improvement on the continental “civil war” that had prevailed beforehand, a “war of all against all” as Hobbes had phrased it.


    A discussion of Zhao Tingyang’s paper

    So deeply hardwired into human nature are the greed for universal domination, and the ideological desire to impose one’s “truth” upon the entire world that a great

    challenge to the new Westphalian principle was not long in the coming: barely 130 years had elapsed that the French Revolution decreed on the strength of its “good”

    intentions to “liberate” the rest of the world - that it had the right to invade

    whomsoever it pleased and at any time of its choosing. If you own the truth, why not? After 1792, French armies fanned across Europe. They promptly turned from “liberators” into hated occupiers. The occupation of Europe, continued by Napoléon,

    was based on the notion that the Revolution, with its principles of “Liberté, égalité,

    fraternité,” had universal validity and absolute truth that entitled its promoters to universal and absolute power. France invaded Europe “for their own good” just as

    Robespierre was going to make the French virtuous “in spite of themselves.”

    The French Revolution rejected the Westphalian compromise: in the name of its revolutionary principle, with its quasi-religious underpinnings; it claimed a right superior to any sovereignty: it asserted that its “truth” was a license to rule, that sovereignty resided not in legitimacy, not in territory, not in tradition: sovereignty resided in doctrine. It thus inaugurated the modern era of ideology. For the next two centuries and more, the world was prey to a series of totalitarian ideologies that all held the same doctrine, that their unique possession of the only truth was an entitlement for them to take over the others and impose their will upon the entire world.

    To the contrary, the Westphalian principle had implied the pragmatic recognition of the Other as endowed with an right to exist as he wished equal to mine. It had established a genuine pluralism in world affairs. But in the wake of the French

    thRevolution, various forms of rejection of the principle blossomed in the 20 century.

    Let us note the correlation of pluralism within and pluralism without: once the plurality of legitimate political sovereignties is accepted, it is but a hop and a jump to acknowledge the legitimacy of domestic plurality. The essential content of pluralism

    besides the historically leveling effects of equality, as per Tocqueville’s

    understanding is not elections. It is, as developed by James Madison (Federalist

    12Papers, 10, resting notably on Voltaire, Lettres philosophiques) the acceptance of

    the pluralism of ideas and interests in a society: democracy postulates and implies that this plurality is legitimate. This fundamentally differentiates it from other political conceptions that deny the legitimacy of difference. There is not one proper way, one

    correct view, one perfection, but only approximation, trial and error, compromise among competing programs. Whether this is admirable or not is a moot point: disagreement and diversity constitute the empirical reality of history, and correspond to anthropological constants.


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